By JE Staff
When it comes to picking a favorite holiday, Passover probably isn’t the highest on the list. Or at least it’s probably not high on the list as far as favorite foods, what with the whole no bread thing and the salty herbs.
But as far as traditions go, whether your family goes through the whole seder or does an expedited version, there are plenty of unique ways to celebrate, and there’s always room for new traditions.
Here is a glimpse at the seder table of Exponent staffers through the years and some favorite recipes to help the matzo go down:
For several years growing up, my family had joint seders with assorted cousins on my father’s side of the family as part of a “cousin’s club.” As many as 40 or 50 people attended the seders, which were held in a restaurant or country club.
Unbeknownst to me was the wrangling that went on during the event planning, according to my mother, Barbara Gotlieb.
“There was a lot of discussion (and disagreements) on where to hold the seder, the menu and the seating. Much time was spent on how to seat everyone. We discussed round tables, long tables, tables in a T shape, tables in a U shape and on and on,” she wrote.
Growing up, my mother’s sister, Sandi Cohen, recalled quick seders.
“We used to have a 5-minute seder: blessing over candles, wine, matzo, Four Questions, eating greens, eggs, maror, charoset, then the meal. I think we sang ‘Dayenu’ and ‘Elijahu,’” she wrote. “One year when I was maybe 10 or 11, because of what I learned in Hebrew school, I insisted we go through the entire Haggadah. Everyone was rather annoyed with me!”
My aunt also recalled Liss’ Bakery, which made kosher-for-Passover cookies she called bagel cookies because of the large hole in the center.
And speaking of cookies, my mom’s other sister, Beryl Rosenstock, contributed a cookie recipe from my great-Aunt Ann Rapp.
“Warning: They probably taste like sand and dirt, like most Passover desserts,” she wrote. “Just eat ice cream.”
Passover Farfel Cookies
1 cup matzo meal
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅓ cup oil
½ cup chopped nuts
1 cup matzo farfel
Optional: “a bit” of coconut
Mix all the ingredients except the farfel. Fold in the farfel. Drop the mixture onto a cookie sheet with a spoon. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Remove the cookies from the cookie sheets with a spatula while warm.
To grandmother’s house in Brooklyn we used to go to celebrate Passover most years. And while it was always nice to see her and some of my cousins, what I mostly remember is the seders she’d bring us to at the nearby JCC on Ocean Avenue in Flatbush.
I’m not sure how old I was at the time. But what sticks out in my mind was it seemed like those seders would never end. The rabbi must’ve done every prayer in the Haggadah, and it seemed like we’d never get to the shulchan orech — eating the Passover meal. Finally, though, it would be time to eat.
Then after enjoying the meal, it was back to the Haggadah. Not only for the birkat and the search for the afikomen, but more prayers than any kid would possibly want to sit through. Admittedly, we weren’t the most observant, even though my mother came from an Orthodox family, so perhaps this was a normal seder to others.
At last, though, we’d get to “Chad Gadya,” the end of a long, long night. And then head back home the next day.
But the times for whatever reasons we didn’t go up to Brooklyn, we’d have the seder in our home in Elkins Park. I can remember our next-door neighbors peering in to see what was going on because we seldom ate in the dining room. My other memory has to do specifically with the Haggadah itself, in this case that red and yellow one you used to get when you bought matzo and wine.
My dad used to mark directions in his Haggadah of which parts to skip and which page to turn to. When we’d pass out the Haggadahs, he’d make sure to get the one with all the markings. It was tradition.
And that tradition would continue even after he was gone. For years, when I was with my own family and we’d have the seder, we always made sure we gave Bernie’s Haggadah to the leader. That way he — or she — would always know which way to go.
Repeating the same recipe for another Passover seder must be a shanda in my family.
We tend to dine with a complex group of picky eaters — somehow roasted chicken or any green vegetable is a hard pass — so it’s difficult to find a recipe that sticks.
Aside from food, one seder tradition has stuck since I was in elementary school. The family that hosts our seder each year created kid-friendly games as a way to read the Haggadah. (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Passover Edition still holds up.)
The 10 plagues consisted of boils (bubble wrap), wild beasts (masks of animals snouts), locusts (stray toys let loose on the table), and death of the firstborn (my older brother was forced to wear a black beaded necklace).
Those traditions have lasted a little too far into adulthood, but my father is the gourmet chef of my family as well as those picky eaters, and his food never fails, even for them.
In fashion, he chose another new recipe this year, fried zucchini made with matzo meal. Fritto misto (translation: various foods deep fried in batter) always tend to be a crowd pleaser.
Although not traditionally a Passover dish, it is found all over the world: in India with sliced cauliflower; in Italy as fritto misto di mare (fried seafood). However, I suppose due to the holiday, we’ll have to hold the shellfish.
The chutney is also great with brisket, chicken or fish (caution: yet to be tested on the gefilte variety).
Additionally, eggplant, yellow squash or cauliflower would be a great combination or substitution.
Fried Zucchini with a Tomato Chutney
2 zucchini sliced thin and for fancy on the bias
1 onion sliced into thin rings
½ cup matzo meal cake flour
½ cup course matzo meal
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ to ¾ cup oil for frying (you need about 2 inches in a large skillet)
(You can also replace the two matzo meals with 1 cup of Passover-friendly panko crumbs.)
- Slice the zucchini using a Japanese slicer (mandoline) or knife into thin circles or biased cut slices. Long strips would work for an appetizer.
- Slice onions into thin rings.
- Combine zucchini and onions into a medium bowl.
- In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper and garlic powder.
- Pour dry mixture over the vegetable coating well. Set aside for 30 minutes.
- In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the veggies in small batches until golden brown and crispy. Continue until all is fried.
- Drain on paper towels and lightly toss with salt.
Spicy Tomato Chutney
1 lb. ripe tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
¾ cups cider vinegar
½ cup red wine vinegar
¾ cups white or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cups chopped scallions
- Chop tomatoes and red pepper into small, unified pieces.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the vinegars, sugar, salt, pepper, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes and scallions to a boil.
- Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about one hour.
- Stir more frequently toward the end of the hour as the mixture thickens and develops a shine. Reduce the mixture to about 1½ cups.
- Cool completely.
- Will keep for up to two weeks chilled and covered.
My family’s Passover seders were always bound with tradition.
The youngest sang the Four Questions, though it was more of a group activity in my family. My sister, Allie, is younger than me but somehow I still had to sing. (“I wasn’t a solo star,” she said.)
The English parts were always divided, going around the table with everyone contributing. The role of the Wicked Child was reserved for Allie, though.
The matzo was always covered with some remnant from a Hebrew school or preschool craft activity that my Mom-Mom kept. She kept everything, as it turned out, from matzo covers to Haggadah covers.
The seders were always sped up to get to the “Let’s eat” part, much to my Pop-Pop’s dismay as he tried every year to get us to do the whole thing.
The race to find the afikomen after dinner was always taken very seriously. Hint: If you were at the seder at MeMe and Pop-Pop’s, you had a good chance of finding it between the Bette Midler CDs on top of the speaker. But even if you weren’t the first to find it, you would get money anyway.
The table was always set with kiddush cups from my Mom-Mom’s grandfather, engraved with his Hebrew name. They were used for dipping for plagues, but no seder was complete unless Mom-Mom knocked one over and spilled the wine. Blame it on Elijah. Or just Mom-Mom endearingly being a klutz (it’s genetic, as I’ve learned).
As far as food, in addition to all the usual Passover trappings, we’ve tried to be creative — well, as creative as you can be when you’re working with matzo. From fried matzo to a matzo roll-type substitute for sandwiches, my mom particularly has come up with some good carb alternatives.
Though I have to give a quick shout out to Barton’s Milk Chocolate Lollycones that are were my and Allie’s favorites, even when it’s not Passover.
Here’s one recipe that my sister and I love when my mom makes, passed down from a family friend (hi, Marlene!).
2 cups cake meal
2 cups matzo farfel
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup oil
4 large eggs
1 cup chocolate morsels
- Combine everything in a bowl.
- Fold in the chocolate morsels.
- Make heaping tablespoons into loose balls with wet hands.
- Place on greased cookie sheet and flatten slightly.
- Bake 20 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees until light golden brown.