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Seder with a Twist: Updating the Classics

Passover, maybe more than any other Jewish holiday, calls on us to individualize our holiday experience — we are celebrating our freedom from slavery. Despite having seemingly endless restrictions and laws, there’s still ample room for personal interpretations. For some families this comes in the form of using props to explain or playfully re-enact the 10 plagues, for others it’s selecting a Haggadah that fits their politics or religious beliefs. For me and other passionate cooks, nothing compares to the opportunity to express my thoughts about the holiday through food. The Seder provides the ultimate opportunity to engage with a narrative through the dinner plate.

This year, for the first time, I will plan what my family eats for our second night Seder. To prepare, I’ve read through countless articles and recipes. I’ve looked for dishes that balance tradition with modern twists, updating the Seder to make it feel more contemporary and personal. Several recipes I selected highlight a theme of the Seder — be it spring, bitter herbs or recalling the ten plagues — literally putting the story of the Exodus on the plate. For many, straying from a traditional family menu that’s been honed over decades is a risk, but one that might be worth it if it allows you to make the Seder more personal. Try mixing some of the old with some of the new with these delicious picks from around the web.

Please share your non-traditional Seder recipes with us in the comments!

Matzo Balls

As non-traditional as I am in the kitchen, I couldn’t imagine a Seder without matzo ball soup. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a standard back of the Manischewitz box recipe. Bon Appetit this year offers a recipe for a light and elegant matzo meal gnocchi soup. For a Sephardic feel, the LA Times suggests an herb inflected matzo ball recipe enhanced by a broth flavored with cilantro, asparagus, cumin, turmeric and a chili/garlic relish. A gamier taste is brought to the classic with Saveur’s recipe for Hungarian matzo ball soup which replaces chicken with goose.

If you’d like to forget the soup all together, the Chicago tribune reprints a recipe for matzo dumplings, aka, fried matzo balls. Or, skip the matzo balls in this Greek-inspired egg lemon soup with matzo and swiss chard

Main Course

Last year the James Beard Foundation hosted a Seder where elements of the Seder plate inspired each dish that was served. The harissa smothered smoked lamb shank served as the main course was a succulent reminder of the tenth plague. Taking a note from Mile End, which created the dish, try this recipe for a roasted rack of lamb with rosemary and thyme from Saveur or borrow from Iraqi tradition and prepare ground lamb meatballs.

New York Times Dining contributor Melissa Clark replaces a classic brisket with vermouth-braised short ribs made with herbs and honeyed shallots.

If you are going for an Italian theme, follow your matzo gnocchi with this roast chicken made with fennel, potatoes and citrus from Bon Appetit. For something with a more American feel try matzo meal crusted fried chicken from Blue Ribbon.

Side Dishes

Vegetable side dishes are not only the saving grace of Passover for vegetarians, they also allow cooks to play up the theme of spring in their meal. Borrowing from the Seder plate, the New York Times offers a bitter greens and herb salad with a garlicy vinaigrette. If you’re serving a vegetarian meal, try Saveur’s shaved Brussels sprout salad with grated pecorino and chopped walnuts. If you prefer your greens cooked, roast broccoli with smoked paprika and marcona almonds

Sweet and savory maple syrup-roasted tomatoes are a nice compliment to a red-meat meal, as is Tuscan onion confit with raisins and pine nuts. And mushroom bourguignon (replace the flour with matzo meal, serve over quinoa) stands in for meat all together.

If you’re an adventurous cook, try swapping quinoa for rice in these sweet and sour stuffed grape leaves.


Dessert is often the saddest part of a Passover meal. Kosher for Passover cakes, most of which do not include dairy are bound to fail. Instead, try homemade raspberry macaroons from Smitten Kitchen or a berry crisp topped with matzo crumble. Chocolate olive oil mousse is an elegant end to the meal.

Using nuts as the base of a baked dessert is another way around Passover restrictions these recipes for almond-lemon macaroons and almond cake with cardamom and pistachio are fit for the end of a king’s feast.


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