How to Make an Easy Passover Seder
By Aviva Goldstein
There is no doubt that the Passover Seder is one of the most challenging meal plans that a housewife must make and then live with. With a bit of thought and planning not only can the meal be made easily and tasty but also the clean up can be quick.
Preparing the Passover Seder Meal Menu
If you are like me and my family, meaning that you have a basically traditional seder, then meal planning is easy. Take into mind that before you get to the meal, matza, herbs (and korach - the sandwich) and wine are consumed. This takes away a bit of the appetite that is normally present with the other holiday meals. Keeping this in mind, a simpler meal plan can be quite sufficient and acceptable.
In our house, my husband conducts the seder. We do not set the table with dishes and silverware until we are ready to eat since we all use a haggada and that is set on the table in front of each participant. All that is on the table food-wise is the seder plate, the matzas, and all that accompany the seder story.
In our house, my job is the food, my husband is in charge of the ritual department. This works out fine since he sets the table with the seder plate and all that goes with it. My responsibility is the food department which is fine with me.
Food for the Passover Seder
For food, I skip the normal first course of fish since there is a tendency to over eat. I serve a bit of salad as the first course; however, if you insist on fish with the first course, gefilte fish is the easiest to prepare just remember to serve it with charein, that is the horseradish. I normally make a chicken soup and fluffy knaidelach (small matza balls) as the next course (I have made this at times for the first course), I find easy to make and filling. You can buy the knaidelach as a powder in a box and prepare them a day ahead, keep in the refrigerator until time to serve. Add them to the soup fifteen to twenty minutes before serving - time to heat up but not fall apart.
In my house, since we have many guests, I offer a choice for the main course. Generally I like to serve tongue for those who enjoy meat, since tongue is special and for those who are not big on meat, I have chicken which the children generally prefer. However a nice roast is just as good as tongue, but I recommend that you cook it only 75% then slice it. Put it into a large frying pan to continue to cook it slowly in the frying pan and then when it is serving time, there is no delay for slicing. Potatoes are a great side dish.
Dessert for the seder meal is a rarity in our house since we are in a hurry to continue on with the seder and to eat from the afikomen. Remember the eating part of the seder is supposed to finish before midnight on the first night.
I will mention something important here that I myself do not do, but my husband does and that is pick up some small candies for the kids. It is very boring for small kids to have to endure a long seder and wait for the food so my husband keep small chocolate candies in his pockets and every so often he will ask the children questions and if they know the answers, they will get a candy. Also, since we enjoy singing parts of the hagadah, he encourages the children to sing by passing out candies to those who participate in the singing. This works wonders and I recommend it to all.
Setting the Table
The Passover seder table should be set very elegantly and with the best cutlery and dishes possible. I used to use my Passover china and fancy serving ware but now I personally use elegant disposables plates and cutlery so that you can just wrap it up and throw it all out, and have a good nights sleep as well. You can get inexpensive plastic or paper dishes, but be careful about cups; cheap cups have a tendency to be knocked over easily and it is my opinion that it is better to buy something a bit more sturdy and spend the extra money than constantly have to watch cups knocked over and then soaking up the spills.
It's best to have your beautiful table cloth covered with a clear disposable plastic cover so it can be tossed in the rubbish after the seder meal and your table cloth will look stunning for tomorrow.
Another point is to get decent plastic cutlery. Too often I bought the cheapest and it just ends up breaking when someone presses down to hard to cut something. My husband insists that even if I use plastic, HE wants real silverware - so o.k. he gets real silverware but the rest live with plastic and no one complains. Using all of this disposable items makes clean up easier and faster and I know that after the seder I am normally pooped out.
A good idea is to make certain that everyone takes a good nap that afternoon before Passover so that everyone can be up and in good spirits for the Seder. Nothing like coming to the seder table tired out. The holiday was meant to be enjoyed by all!
Be certain to have plenty of nice clean rags on hand to wipe up all the messy spills of wine and what not. There is always spills, so be prepared ahead of time.
Our meal ends with the afikomen, that is the matza that is eaten at the end of the meal. Our tradition, as well in many homes, is that the children try to steal it. Believe me, this gets out of hand sometimes since they know that they can ask from my husband a high price so it gets a bit wild. But since after the afikomen nothing more is eaten since we are to go to sleep with the good taste of the Passover matza in our mouths.
One more thing I do recommend and you may think it strange, but I think that it is important. I keep a log book of each Passover. I write down who came for what meals, what I served, what food was a hit and what flopped. I also write down how much wine, how much matza etc we used in order that the next year I can look at the log book to figure out what to do for the next seder. If you do this, you will find life so much easier. No relying on memory, just read what you wrote about this dish or that, and eliminate the flops and redo the hits.
Passover is to be a happy time. Too often we are so involved in the preparations we do not enjoy the seder. That is terrible! Do not make that mistake. A bit of planning and a bit of preparation ahead of time can work wonders for having a really great and enjoyable seder with your family and friends. We should enjoy the holiday; make it easy and take it easy.
Chag Semach, have a happy holiday and a great Passover Seder.
from the April 2011 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine