As someone who doesn’t get too jazzed about holidays in general, I really like Passover. The themes of renewal and liberation, the components of storytelling, cultural continuity, remembrance and gratitude are poignant and universally appealing. And, of course, there’s the food: Matzoh ball soup, charoset, horseradish, copious wine. Sitting around the table with friends and family, recounting the story of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, celebrating our freedom and giving thanks for our blessings is a wonderful way to usher in spring, the season of rebirth. This year, I decided I wanted to host my family’s Seder.
When I was a child, I found the Seder itself somewhat excruciating: the reading of the Haggadah in Hebrew, the endless prayers, the seemingly interminable wait for food to appear. The highlight was when the kids got to hide the afikomen (a special piece of matzoh that serves as a symbolic “dessert” and must be present at the Seder’s conclusion) and then “ransom” it back to the person leading the Seder for a dollar.
The hell that my dad and his cousins raised during the Seder is part of the family lore; my cousins and I continued this tradition with scatological jokes, lots of giggling, and general irreverence. Now that I’m grown up, though, I find myself drawn to tradition and ritual, comforted by the familiar rhythms of the Passover feast. My family’s version of the Seder is mercifully abbreviated – we don’t read through the entire Haggadah – but this year, I found myself lingering on certain passages, wanting to read more deeply. I enjoyed every minute, and was almost sorry when the time came to eat (almost).
We started with these cocktails. I made matzoh ball soup (of course), charoset, rice pilaf, and a frittata with asparagus, goat cheese, and arugula. My mom contributed two gorgeous salads (a carrot salad with mint and coriander, and a green salad with satsumas and shallot vinaigrette). For the matzoh balls, I used a standard recipe from the Joy of Cooking, dressed up with ground coriander, dill, and scallions. I made the broth from vegetable scraps my last roommate and I had been saving in the freezer. When I made the frittata, I lined the sides of the skillet with parchment for easy release. It worked really well, but may have been overkill. I pan-grilled the asparagus that went into it, imparting a bit of delicious, smoky char. The charoset was a Sephardic/Ashkenazi-style hybrid of dried apricots, raisins, apples, toasted almonds, and lots of red wine, flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, and orange and lemon zest. Dessert was strawberry shortcake with biscuits I’d made at work (my family is pretty lax in our avoidance of chametz, or leavened foods), vanilla ice cream, and strawberries that I macerated with vanilla beans and cardamom.
It was a sweet and nourishing way to celebrate new beginnings, community, and delicious food.
Charoset symbolizes the mortar that the Isrealites used on Egyptian building projects during their enslavement. It also represents the sweetness of hope in the midst of struggle.
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1 apple, minced
1/2 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1 inch piece orange zest
1 inch piece lemon zest
1 T finely minced fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
3 cups of red wine
Combine all ingredients except the almonds and ginger in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on low for about an hour. Alternatively, you can soak everything overnight, as I did, and simmer the day of until it reaches a consistency you like. When the mixture is reduced and the fruit it soft, remove from the heat and stir in the almonds and ginger.
1/3 cup + 1 T seltzer water
1 cup matzoh meal
1 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1 T fresh dill, finely chopped
1 T thinly sliced scallions or chives
1 t ground coriander
Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and seltzer. Gently fold in the matzoh meal, pepper, dill, scallions, and coriander until just combined. Cover and let rest in the fridge, at least one hour or overnight. Scoop a scant tablespoon of the mixture and form into balls with wet hands, using a light touch. Set on an oiled plate and cover with plastic wrap or a wet towel while you form the rest of the balls. Drop into gently boiling salted water or broth and cook for 30 minutes. Serve in broth with the garnishes of your choice (I used rainbow carrots, arugula, and dill).