How to Make a Simplified (But Still Special) Passover Seder Meal
It's all about focusing on what's most important.
Every year, Passover seder-goers ask the question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" But in the age of the COVID-19, the better question might be: "Why is this year's Passover different from all other Passovers?" Thanks to social distancing, families who usually come together to celebrate cannot share a physical table. As a result, many people will be hosting a seder for the first time ever —sometimes for only themselves or another 1 or 2 people in their immediate household.
But despite the restrictions, there is still plenty of joy and deliciousness to be had this Passover. Some people are turning to Zoom to host virtual seders for far-flung guests. And others are finding creative ways to bring long-standing traditions into this very unusual year. To help you transition with ease, Food & Wine curated a pared-down Passover checklist with everything you need to make this year’s celebration a success.
Whether you strictly observe Passover dietary restrictions or spend the week eating carbs as usual, you’re going to need some matzo! (And possibly matzo meal for matzo balls, frozen gefilte fish, jarred horseradish, grated coconut and almond flour for desserts, and other Passover-friendly ingredients as well.) Most years, these ingredients are readily available, but the anxiety-fueled shopping that has left toilet paper shelves empty has touched the Passover aisle as well.
To make sure you have everything you need to cook, start sourcing now! Ask around to see where friends have found ingredients and try shopping at a variety of stores from Costco and Whole Foods to your local grocery store to cobble together everything on your shopping list. Check online retailers like kosherwine.com for wine (order soon!), growandbehold.com (same!) for kosher meat, and mercato.com for gefilte fish and matzo meal. Call local stores to see if you can order ahead for delivery or curbside pick up to stock up while practicing social distancing. Meanwhile focus on making dishes with fresh ingredients that are inherently kosher for Passover: fruit, virtually all vegetables, quinoa, eggs, fish, chicken and meat.
The Seder Plate
Any large round plate can be transformed into a seder plate - just top it with small bowls to hold the various symbolic items needed. Traditionally families use a roasted lamb shank bone to commemorate the ancient Paschal sacrifice. But if you can’t find one, a roasted chicken leg or wing works too. And some vegetarians have taken to using a roasted beet!
Meanwhile, charoset—the fruit and nut relish that symbolizes the mortar used by the Israelites when they were enslaved in ancient Egypt - is inherently pantry-friendly. The traditional Ashkenazi (Eastern European) recipe uses nothing more than apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and sweet wine or grape juice. But if your pantry is better stocked with dried fruit, this Greek-inspired version has you covered.
Cooking a Pared-Down Menu
Passover is like the Thanksgiving of Jewish holiday meals—people tend to pull out all the stops to impress family and friends. But while you want your seder to be festive and delicious, this might not be the year to braise a 6-pound brisket! Instead, focus on dishes that are comforting and manageable.
Matzo ball soup is a must, and you can keep it simple with an easy chicken broth, (or your favorite mushroom broth if you want to keep it meatless), some matzo balls you've made from the recipe on the matzo meal box, and some dill. Or go the extra mile with this slightly fancified version, swirled with a very Passover-appropriate dill-horseradish pistou.
Braised chicken is a great move, especially since scoring a brisket can be tricky right about now. And with chicken thighs, it's that much easier to scale up or down according to how many people are eating (and your appetite for leftovers). This chicken-thigh braise takes just 30 minutes to simmer, but has holiday-caliber richness thanks to the combination of rosemary, olives, and tomatoes. This lemony, smoked paprika-spiced braise is equally satisfying and simple. Not into olives? This braise features leeks, herbs, and fennel—a very springy combination.
If Passover just doesn’t feel like Passover without the brisket, go ahead and braise one! This horseradish-spiked recipe by Gail Simmons has just enough of a twist to keep things interesting.
Quinoa is officially a Passover-friendly grain, and it makes for a delicious side dish without having to start peeling potatoes for kugel. A fresh-tasting quinoa salad, spiked with roasted sweet potatoes, crunchy apples, and herbs, is just the ticket.
Asparagus is easily one of the fanciest—and easiest to cook—springtime vegetables. Roasting makes this recipe even more hands off, and feel free to mix it up with some fresh lemon zest or a shower of parsley.
The best (and most addictive) Passover dessert has always been Chocolate Toffee Matzo (kosher-keepers can sub parve margarine if serving these after a meat meal). Add fresh berries and citrus as you please, or just enjoy it all by itself.
Love Your Leftovers
Passover leftovers are a special treat unto themselves. Leftover chicken soup can be strained and used as the stock for other soups later in the week—or for this creamy avgolemono soup after Passover ends. Leftover braised chicken can be shredded and transformed into chicken salad. Chopped roasted asparagus can get thrown into a hearty frittata—and you can repurpose leftovers in hash, scrambled eggs, or in a matzo sandwich along with some spicy arugula.
Gather Everything Else You Need
If you usually spend Passover at a friend or family member’s home, chances are you don’t have a haggadah (the booklet used during the seder) or other items needed to host a seder of your own. Get yourself in order by snagging a few copies of Tablet magazine’s brand new Passover Haggadah: An Ancient Story for Modern Times. It is packed with tradition but also peppered with humor, contemporary commentary, and even 10 plague-inspired cocktails.
For other staples—a matzo cover, yarmulkes, candlesticks, and a seder plate if you want something less DIY - try Etsy or a Judaica store like Eichler’s.
Cultivate Moments of Joy
There is no easy way to say it—for many people, this year’s Passover will be tinged with disappointment and the sadness of not being around loved ones. So go easy on yourself and seek moments of joy where you can find them. Set up a remote pre-seder cooking party where you cook and chat in tandem with a friend or family member. Wear comfy sweatpants to the seder (no one will see them on Zoom)! And with each of the four cups of wine, toast to someone around your virtual table so guests can feel the love—even while far apart.