Passover Seder Dinner
Including what, precisely, to put on the seder plate (and why).
What Is Passover?
Passover is the Jewish festival in celebration of the Jews' freedom from slavery and flight from Egypt. Although traditions vary throughout the world, the basics are as follows: The holiday lasts a total of seven or eight days (depending on where it's being celebrated), and the first night of Passover begins with a ceremonial dinner, called a Seder, where the story of the exodus is told.
The food and wine customs of a given Seder are elaborate, and they differ between regions and families, but some factors remain constant.
- Each participant in the Seder drinks four cups of wine throughout the evening, at fixed points, for the four promises of redemption associated with the exodus story.
- The major dietary restriction during the week of Passover is the ban of leavened bread, or chometz. Chometz is as bread made from (wheat, oat, spelt, rye, or barley) flour that has been in contact with water for more than 18 minutes and therefore had a chance to rise. Before Passover, the house is traditionally cleansed of chometz.
What Are the Six Items on the Seder Plate?
Fundamental to the Seder table is the Seder plate, which has on it the following items. If you're looking to purchase a beautiful seder plate, check out our story 10 Beautiful Seder Plates for Passover.
- Zeroah, a lamb's shankbone symbolizing the ancient Passover sacrifice
- Beitzah, a roasted egg symbolizing the temple sacrifice and the continuing cycle of life
- Haroset, a paste of fruit and nuts symbolizing the mortar used to build the pyramid of the pharaohs
- Mar'or, a bitter herb (like horseradish) to represent the bitterness of slavery
- Karpas, a green vegetable (usually parsley) representing spring
- A bowl of salt water to dip the karpas symbolizing the slaves' tears
Some traditions also include chazeret, a second bitter herb, usually the roots of romaine lettuce. Also necessary are three matzos (unleavened bread, symbolizing the haste of the flight from Egypt — there was no time for the bread to rise), either wrapped in cloth or covered, and broken and eaten at set points throughout the evening.
What Do You Serve at a Passover Seder?
The actual Seder meal is also quite variable. Traditions among Ashkenazi Jews generally include gefilte fish (poached fish dumplings), matzo ball soup, brisket or roast chicken, potato kugel (somewhat like a casserole) and tzimmes, a stew of carrots and prunes, sometimes including potatoes or sweet potatoes.
This is a brisket worthy of a celebration. Most Passover briskets are made with just the flat. Ours is a whole cut (which includes the flat and the point), that is braised in white wine and chicken stock with a mix of sweet onions, leeks and pearl onions. The result is super tender meat with an almost French onion soup-like sauce that is perfect for a crowd. A fresh salad of raw shallots, scallions, parsley, mint and a splash of vinegar tops the roast, providing a bright counterpoint to the richness of the slow-cooked onions and meat.
This is a classic matzo ball soup. Using chicken fat from the broth as well as seltzer creates incredibly light and fluffy matzo balls. The crystal-clear broth has robust chicken flavor. This one-pot dish is a perfect side, but the leftovers hold up beautifully and can stand on their own.
Matzo brei is one of Molly Yeh's all-time favorite foods! It is typically eaten on Passover since it is customary to avoid leavened bread. Matzo, a cracker-like unleavened bread, gets soft and chewy when it's soaked and scrambled with eggs in this traditional dish. Some people like sweet matzo brei sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, but this one is savory - filled with spinach and melty cheese and served with hot sauce.
Instead of roasting a whole chicken, speed things up by cooking chicken quarters - which remain moist and juicy while developing crispy skin. Potatoes, radishes, scallions and carrots roast alongside the bird, soaking up all its lovely juices. This dish is finished with a squeeze of lemon and fresh dill.
Mike Solomonov, Philly-based chef and restaurateur, presents a recipe that doesn't involve a live fish. Then, there's the quick pickled carrots, which pair perfectly with the soft texture of the gefilte fish. And finally, the flavor base. Up until now, gefilte fish has always stood alone, or at the very least as the mostly flavorless vehicle for matzo and horseradish. Mike starts with a sofrito (think sauteed onions, peppers and tomato paste) and bakes the fish right in the delicious sauce
Countless reviewers say that this cake is now a staple at their Passover seder dinner tables. It has a rich, moist texture and complex flavor thanks to ground cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla extract, dates and bittersweet chocolate. A shower of toasted walnuts take the presentation over the top.