So much to cook. So little time. This year the first night of Passover is April 8th, a Wednesday. Add a second Seder and Shabbat and we have to prepare meals for three holiday days in a row. If you work outside the home or have small children to care for or you’re just plain busy, how are you going to get it all done?
The key is to prepare as many dishes as possible that can be made ahead. For those foods that can’t be pre-made, try to get as much prep work done as possible. When the ingredients are cleaned and ready to cook, it makes the actual cooking much faster and easier.
I find it helpful to get the symbolic foods for the Seder out of the way first, making the haroset and hard cooked eggs 3 days before. That allows enough time for the flavors of the haroset mixture to blend and mellow; hard cooked eggs keep well for several days. I make double the amount of eggs that I will need for the Seders because it is our family tradition to eat egg salad during Passover. Egg salad is quick to fix and is a good choice for lunch and even as one of the main courses for a dairy meal – with smoked fish, cheese, and vegetable casseroles, for example — during the days ahead.
We eat lots and lots of vegetables during Passover – actually, we always eat lots and lots of vegetables — so I clean all that I will need for several days and keep them in vegetable-saver bags in the refrigerator. I clean the bitter herbs, make my grated horseradish and even roast the shank bone (then wrap it in aluminum foil and refrigerate); all this 2 days before the first Seder.
We frequently have matzo ball soup at the first Seder, though sometimes, if I can find good tomatoes, I will serve fresh tomato soup. Soup and matzo balls can be prepared 2-3 days ahead too, and, because I never serve the chicken with the soup at the Seder, I use the chicken for salad that we can eat for lunch (I prepare the salad dressing ahead too).
My grandmother and mother always cooked turkey the first night of Passover, and that’s what I serve too. Turkey can be cleaned and seasoned a day ahead (ditto a roasting chicken, veal or lamb roast*); just put it in the oven the day of the Seder. To accompany turkey, (or roasted chicken, veal or lamb*), there are endless numbers of side dishes that can be prepared ahead and either reheated or served at room temperature. For us that usually means Braised Eggplant and Tomatoes, another dish that gains from standing for a day or two. This dish tastes best when it’s at room temperature but can also be eaten cold or rewarmed.
We also have roasted or steamed asparagus, sometimes cool with lemony vinaigrette dressing, but this year I am serving it with a red pepper coulis spiked with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Often I will include spinach “kugel” on the menu; this is simply sautéed spinach, mushrooms and onions bound together with eggs and baked in the oven until lightly browned on top.
At one time I served the turkey with a matzo-dried apricot stuffing, but with matzo ball soup coming first and matzo at the Seder and matzo substituting for bread during the meal, well, it can be too much. We have potatoes, little crispy new potatoes that can be cooked ahead and, just before serving, sautéed to crisp with fragrant fresh rosemary. This dish is so easy it almost cooks itself (when I make this for fish dinners I confess to adding a blob of butter to the pan, rather than margarine).
Most desserts can be made ahead too. Macaroons, old-fashioned sponge cake, marinated fresh fruit, flourless chocolate cake (there’s a recipe in my book, Hip Kosher), among them. This year we’ll be eating Mango, Berry and Grape Salad. It’s light, simple and festive and takes just a few minutes to put together.
Our second Seder is for just our little family, my husband and myself, the married children and three grandchildren. We try to focus on making this Seder more in tune with the children’s needs. We still have all the symbolic foods, but more often than not this is a simple dinner comprised of dishes that are simple and very easy – either a roasted chicken or leftover turkey with a whole bunch of plain cooked vegetables, baked sweet potatoes and baked cranberries. And to make life easy on all of us, I will prepare a make-ahead one-pot meal for Shabbat dinner, either a braised brisket, with carrots, mushrooms and potatoes or Sautéed Chicken With Leeks, Carrots, Potatoes and Mushrooms.
*Please note that, with the destruction of the Temple, Orthodox Jews do not eat roast lamb at the seder. It can be eaten at other meals on Passover.
Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She currently writes regular features for the food and community sections of daily newspapers and has written articles for Newsday, Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer’s Digest, Connecticut magazine, and many other publications. She operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut and is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent is Hip Kosher (DaCapo, 2008).