Passover Cooking Tips and Recipes From a Pro

I have to shop for Passover at 11 o’clock at night. Why? If I go shopping for my Pesach necessities during the day, I am deluged with questions about cooking as I power-walk the aisles of the supermarket. One year, I was at home when I received a call from an acquaintance who was standing in the supermarket. She overheard two women talking, and one said, “Well, Tina says not to double your matzah ball recipe in one bowl.” (She’s right: The weight of a double or triple mixture will deflate the batter and cause the balls to be heavier.) My friend’s panicked voice implored me for clarification since she usually doubled her recipe.

Before Passover 2015, I presented a workshop to address many of the Passover cooking questions that I’ve received in the past. The audience spanned many levels of expertise: seasoned cooks who were looking for new ideas for their seder, young women whose mothers had passed the baton to allow their children to make the seder, and women from interfaith marriages who, despite their limited experience, wanted to create a strong Jewish memory for their children. Through pictures, we went through the many steps of Passover preparations, and I answered audience questions.

Here are some highlights of that talk. I hope you find a helpful tidbit or two for your own seder!

Buy plenty of plain matzah: Egg matzah is fine to eat before the start of Passover and during the seder meal, but plain matzah must be the matzah of choice for all ceremonial ingestion.

Make the best matzah balls: Far be it from me to tell you which kind of matzah balls are better, light-as-air or sinkers; usually, whatever Mama made is what you love. If you like heavier matzah balls, just add more matzah meal to the mix and always allow the mixture to sit for 15 minutes or longer to absorb the moisture. Either outcome is achieved if you do one thing: Don’t peek! If you think the water is boiling too fast, lower the temperature but don’t lift the lid. The matzah balls are actually steaming in the pot, and if you open the lid, cold air comes in and the balls will immediately sink. You can always tell if the cook peeked by looking at the center of the ball; if the center is translucent and dark, they peeked (and didn’t read this advice!).

Easy-to-peel eggs:

  • Always hard boil your egg before you roast it. Otherwise, the egg will explode and make the smell of cooking gefilte fish seem pleasant.
  • Buy Grade A (not AA) eggs and buy them a week or so before Pesach. As the white breaks down, it pulls away from the membrane and will make peeling the egg easier.
  • Another trick is to let someone else bring the hard-boiled, peeled eggs so you don’t have to deal with it. You have enough to do! (The same goes for farming out the fruit salad or any other dish that seems like too much work for a busy host.)

Reuse your shank bone: I refreeze my roasted shank bone every year so I know I have it. Don’t have a shank bone? Don’t worry; thousands of households roast the leg bone from the soup chicken as a stand-in.

Provide some seder nibbles: After you dip greens in salt water, you can nibble on foods before the meal begins. On my seder table, you’ll often find celery, carrot sticks, chopped liver, eggplant dips, and/or Persian Kuku. I find that guests pay more attention to the Haggadah and the reason for the seder when their stomachs aren’t growling.

Spruce up your gefilte fish: No time or inclination to make your own gefilte fish? No problem. Empty the contents of jarred gefilte fish into a saucepan, then add some fresh onion and carrot and simmer for 20 minutes. It will taste just like Auntie Ida’s!

Make easy entrées: Make whatever you want for your entrée, but on this holiday, you may want to include prunes (for digestive reasons!) in your tagine, your favorite brisket, or your tzimmes recipe. I make three different entrées so that everyone is happy, but if you are overwhelmed with cooking, smear some Gold’s Duck Sauce on chicken or make an easy baked for surefire crowd-pleasers in terms of effort to satisfaction quotient.

Take sides: Side dishes are up to you, but remember that quinoa is not a grain and is gluten-free, so all guests can partake. Hint: When you cook quinoa, put a cinnamon stick and a bay leaf in the water for a subtle but delicious addition.

Don't forget dessert: If your guests aren’t stuffed by the time dessert comes around, we need to talk! Instead of big cakes, make mini, muffin-sized treats. Have a fruit compote or cookies or fresh-cut fruit (that your guest made…remember?) so people can try many options. I always follow this rule; the exception is my Linzer Torte.

When the seder ends, don’t think you have to eat leftovers all week to adhere to Passover’s food restrictions. Think outside of the box! Many of your favorite recipes can be made as-is or slightly tweaked to accommodate the holiday.

  • Migas are scrambled eggs mixed with sautéed onions and pepper and crushed tortilla strips. Substitute matzah farfel for the tortilla chips, and you’re good to go!
  • The best secondary benefit of the seder meal is the soup chicken. This fall-off-the-bone meat from the soup makes the very best chicken salad in the world.
  • In Dallas, where I live, there’s always a run on farfel because everyone seems to make at least two batches of Passover Granola. You won’t find any packaged Pesach cereal that’s worth the money, and the granola can be eaten with milk for breakfast, snacked on loose for an afternoon snack, or mixed with melted chocolate to make the equivalent of a Passover candy bar.

Enjoy preparing for Passover knowing that you are creating wonderful gustatory memories for everyone you love – and eat in good health!

Hosting a Passover seder? Use this shopping checklist to prepare.

Tina Wasserman is the author of Entrée to Judaism and Entrée to Judaism for Families and is a visiting lecturer and Scholar in Residence throughout the country. Copies of the recipes can be found on her website www.cookingandmore.com and she can be reached at asktina@urj.org

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