How Joan Nathan Preps for Passover
5 Ways to Make It Memorable
Joan Nathan, Jewish food authority and James Beard award-winning cookbook author, designed our Passover Dinner for 8. Nathan’s book, King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, is available in select stores or Amazon.com.
Every year, I happily host a big seder with family, friends and lots of delicious food. The meal can be as complicated or as simple as you like. At my own table, I like to combine tradition and innovation, reflecting our nation’s and the Jewish people’s immigrant heritage.
If anyone asked me for the secret to a good seder, I would say lists and lists! Don’t be a martyr. Say yes to flowers, yes to help setting your table or tables, and consider saying yes to a few dishes from my new book, King Solomon’s Table. You can order them from Whole Foods Market ready-made — all you have to do is heat and serve!
With that in mind, here are a few more tips to make your seder a memorable one:
The Seder Plate
To prepare my seder plate, the ceremonial dish used during the service that precedes the meal, I always buy several bunches of parsley to dip into saltwater to remind us of the tears shed. Next I buy dozens of eggs, one to be boiled ahead, then scorched with a match or roasted in the oven to remind us of the circle of life and the sacrifice in the Temple. You’ll need a shank bone to be burned or roasted (sometimes I do this ahead, then freeze until the seder), and of course, you’ll need fruits and nuts for the harosets, to remind us of the mortar used while the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. I’m a bit ambitious, and like to make at least five different harosets, representing the wandering of the Jews who have kept up this custom all over the world. Lastly, I buy horseradish root to represent the bitterness of slavery.
Of course, as soon as there is a special on matzo, I buy a large case for the week, as well as a few individual boxes of egg matzo, which I like slathered with unsalted butter served sprinkled with salt on top. Also pick up your matzo meal for matzo balls and desserts.
Tip: Shop early for Passover staples, as they go quickly!
It is traditional to serve gefilte fish at my seder, but you certainly don’t have to. I love my homemade version – especially with a sweet-and-hot homemade horseradish sauce with beets. I start with fresh horseradish root, which I peel and grind in a food processor. Then I add beets, which gives the sauce a bright red color.
Tip: If you’re planning to make gefilte fish, order the fish in advance and ask to have it boned and skinned, then grind the fish in a food processor at home.
Matzo Ball Soup
You’ll want to buy chicken and fixin’s for chicken matzo ball soup. (Whole Foods Market carries Kosher Valley kosher chicken in select stores, and it is delicious.) Or use your favorite vegetable broth and veggies for a simple vegetarian matzo ball soup instead.
Tip: To save time, I clear away and clean space for Passover in my kitchen to cook the soup way in advance, and then freeze it. You can also make your matzo balls in advance — just float them in your soup, then freeze.
Ah, here is where I have trouble! What to do with all those different dietary restrictions? I serve brisket or chicken, a quinoa salad and lots of other seasonal make-ahead salads, like roasted peppers, asparagus and the Tunisian Carrot Salad that Whole Foods Market is offering. One dish I would like to make, but is very messy and time consuming, is Fried Artichokes Jewish-Style. Whole Foods Market’s chefs are making the authentic recipe that I found in Rome, so all you’ll have to do is pop it in the oven. All are colorful, seasonal and representative of the Jewish Diaspora. By having several dishes, everyone will find something to eat. Also, I like to use kosher meat and skip any dairy products during the meal, so I don’t offend guests who observe the dietary laws.
Tip: The beauty about these salads is that you can make them several days in advance. You can make your brisket ahead and freeze, then buy the Double-Lemon Roast Chicken this year from Whole Foods Market.
At my house, we have a buffet of old and new desserts including chocolate soufflé rolls and schaum torte (meringues) with strawberries. Some with us since the beginning of my love affair with Passover. Others are brand-new – after all, I am a food writer and always discovering new dishes.
Tip: Some tortes and cakes in the bakery department at Whole Foods Market can purchased ahead and then frozen at home. Ask a bakery team member for advice.