The Complete Guide To Hosting a Seder
Hosting a Passover Seder combines the culinary expectations of Thanksgiving with an Iron Chef like challenge: Cook an entire multi-course meal without leavening. It’s pretty daunting. But, with a bit of planning, it makes a great cooking project for a family or a group of friends, the results are delicious and it gives you culinary bragging rights for a full year.
At 28, I’ve helped cook Seders for almost 20 years and hosted several entirely on my own. Along the way, I’ve picked up wisdom from my ultimate Seder hero (my father, who can whip up a tender brisket with his eyes closed) and some master cooking tips from chefs like Mark Spangethal at Kutsher’s Tribeca , Bill Telepan and Yotam Ottolenghi . If you still have questions about your Seder or recipes, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to help any way I can.
Saturday, April 5
Getting Started: The first step of any good dinner party (yes, the dinner may take ages to arrive on the table but Seder is a dinner party) is planning your menu. Decide if you want to prepare an homage to your bubbe’s kitchen, or try something more modern. Either way, I have you covered with lots of recipe options below.
Make a shopping list for your ingredients, divided by which stores you will have to visit for which items, or if you plan to do all of your shopping at a market like Whole Foods, organize your list by sections: produce, pantry, protein and dairy.
Head to the Store: Purchase your pantry items including matzo, ingredients to make your matzo ball soup and dessert. Stop at a wine store to pick up a few bottles — here are six great recommendations. Leave the rest of your shopping for later in the week so that everything is fresh.
Sunday, April 6
In the Kitchen: Today is the big cooking day, so pick out your favorite Pandora station and get to it. If you can’t spend a full day in your kitchen, divide up these steps and complete them on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
In the Morning: If you plan to make your own chicken stock, put a pot on to simmer as early as possible. The longer you leave it, the better your soup will taste. And nothing smells more inviting than a pot of soup cooking. Next, start to make your matzo ball mix. It will need some time in the refrigerator so clean up and have some lunch.
In the Afternoon: This afternoon is all about baking. Both flourless chocolate cake and macaroon cake both freeze beautifully.
Once the cake is in the oven and your matzo ball mix has cooled, make your matzo balls. If you have kids, this is a great time to call them to the kitchen. Cook your matzo balls in a separate pot from your stock, so that you can freeze them separately. When they are done cooking, remove them with a slotted spoon and allow them to cool on a plate. Taste your stock, if it’s ready, turn off the heat and allow it to come to room temperature.
End of the day: Everything that you made today will go into the freezer. Pour your stock into large Tupperware containers, place your matzo balls into strong Ziplock bags and wrap your cake tightly in plastic wrap and then foil.
Thursday, April 10
Table Prep: Take out all of the items you will need to set your table including chairs, extra leaves for your table, tablecloths and napkins, silverware, plates and glasses. Decide which serving platters or bowls you will use and set those aside too. Wash or polish anything that needs it and dust off your Haggadas. Don’t set your table yet, you’re done for the night.
Friday, April 11
To Market, To Market Head to the grocery store to pick up the rest of your ingredients: meats, vegetables, eggs and everything that you will need for your Seder plate. Don’t forget to bring your shopping list!
Saturday, April 12
Set the Table: Since you already have your stacks of plates, silverware and glasses, setting your table will be easy. Decorate it with tangerines or clementines — it’s always nice to offer something for guests to enjoy during the long lead up to dinner and they will add a pop of color to your table.
Sunday April 13
Prepare Your Seder Plate: All of the items that belong on the Seder plate, can be prepared today. Clean your carpas , boil your salt water and egg, roast your shank bone, grate your horseradish (or open a jar) and make your charoset . Place everything on the Seder plate and cover it tightly with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. If you like to serve extra charoset , horseradish and salt water, put them into serving bowls, cover them and into the refrigerator they go.
It’s All About the Sides: Most Passover sides are fine to make the day before including: kugel, tzimmes and quinoa. For salad, clean your greens and chop your veggies. Leave the dressing on the side until tomorrow night. If you are making your own gefilte fish (bravo!) it’s best to make it today.
Prepare the Main Course: Most meat (though not all) benefits from extra time tucked into a marinade. Preparing your chicken, brisket or other protein dish today will make tomorrow much easier. Store the meat overnight in a large glass bowl in the refrigerator and take out your roasting pan for tomorrow.
From the Freezer: Take out your stock, matzo balls and dessert. Transfer the stock and matzo balls to the refrigerator and the cake to the counter to defrost.
Monday, April 14
Day of the Seder: You have almost made it. Enlist everyone friends or family members to help out in the kitchen today. Follow the checklist below and you’ll have dinner on the table. Chag Sameach!
— Take your meat from the fridge and allow it to warm up a bit before tucking it into the oven.
— Place your Seder plate and bowls of charoset , horseradish and salt water on the table allowing them to come to room temperature.
— Bust out those boxes of matzo and place the sheets on a plate.
— Dress your salad.
— Reheat up your soup, plopping the matzo balls into your stock.
— Put your gefilte fish on a serving tray.
— Reheat your kugel or tzimmes . Carefully cover any casserole dishes with foil so that they don’t dry out in the oven. If you have a second oven, reheat these items on a low heat (around 200 degrees).
— Finish your dessert by placing it on a serving platter, icing it if necessary or decorating it with fresh fruit.
Matzo Ball Soup
Side Dishes and Salads
"This holiday we take for ourselves, no longer silent servers behind the curtain, but singers of the seder, with voices of gladness, creating our own convocation, and leaving ‘The Narrow Place’ together."— E.M. Broner
"The idea of opening the door is that we hope Elijah might actually be there this year – that we might actually have done enough to change the world to have had him arrive. And, if we don’t have even the tiniest bit in us that thinks he might be there, that thinks we have tried our hardest to bring around a messianic time, with no hunger, no war, no conflict, no pain – if we don’t believe that we have tried to end those broken parts in the world – well, then I tell my students – don’t do any of it."— Rabbi Leora Kaye
"The whole seder, for me, is the tension between two statements: We say, 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and now we’re free,' but before that, we pick up the matzoh, we invite the hungry in and we say, 'This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.' We are the most fortunate, liberated Jews in history. But on the other hand, there are lots of things that enslave us."— Rabbi Arthur Green