Haggadahs must be rounded up; the books contain the order of the Seder service and tell the story of how the Jews were freed from slavery in ancient Egypt. With songs and recitations around the table, the Seder is more entertaining, universal and inspirational than yet another viewing of “The Ten Commandments,” Charlton Heston’s Moses notwithstanding.
There’s kosher wine to be gathered, brisket or fish to be ordered and extra chairs, table linens, plates and platters to be cleaned; it’s a structured sit-down affair, with props. Lots of grocery shopping to do. Many dishes benefit from being made in advance; finding space to refrigerate or freeze them requires a good bit of kitchen patrol.
With the following tips from the pros, it’s possible to step up your game or take on a first-time Seder with confidence.
Whether you’ve invited eight or 28 guests, writing things down is the best place to start. Committing the menu to paper will keep you from making too many dishes. It’s tempting to lay out a bountiful dessert spread, but at the end of a long night and after four ceremonial glasses of wine, a single chocolate truffle is all Susie Fishbein needs.
In fact, the first thing the New Jersey author of eight kosher cookbooks does is consult her paperwork from the previous Seder. She keeps photocopies of recipes in separate plastic sleeves; she reads over her notes about tweaks and techniques. Her shopping list springs from her previous year’s list of Passover products that became family favorites as well as total amounts of all recipe ingredients. That way, she can add up various egg yolks, whites and whole eggs to determine the total amount she’ll need.
Unless you’re vegan or watching your cholesterol, Passover is about as eggy as Easter: Eggs are used in cakes, souffled vegetable side dishes and weeknight frittatas. A cold egg soup is served between the gefilte fish and the matzoh ball soup at some Ashkenazi tables. Fishbein recommends buying eggs in bulk, from a big-box store.
Fishbein shared her favorite Seder tip in “Passover by Design” (Mesorah, 2008): she uses small bento boxes to pre-portion the symbolic foods that will be blessed at the table, plus a small sake flask and towel for ceremonial hand washing, eliminating the need for guests to have to get up and down when lack of elbow room can become the 11th plague.
Make better matzoh/matzoh ball soup
At this time of year, Passover’s most recognizable foodstuff is on sale in five-pack sets. They’re handy, but the cracker sheets within can’t compare with the taste of homemade. Yet who has the time or wherewithal to make maztoh from scratch?