Categories: Reflections and opinions

The celebration of the beginning of Passover is a very busy time in the kitchen. Sarah Newman explains what will be on her table this Seder

Seder is a ritual meal in Jewish homes across the world at the beginning of Passover—the major Jewish spring festival—which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. It is held on the first night of Passover in Israel and the first and second nights of Passover in other parts of the world.

We have a very structured meal, during which the story of the escape from Egypt is read from a book called the Haggadah. Readings are interspersed with eating the particular dishes that make up the Seder feast.

The food and wine customs of Seder can be very elaborate and differ between families, but some factors are essential. Fundamental to the Seder table is the Seder plate, a specially created ornamental plate with sections for the following items: a lamb shank bone, a roasted egg, a mix of fruit, nuts and honey, a bitter herb (often horseradish), a green vegetable which is typically parsley, and a bowl of salt water.

Some also include a second bitter herb, usually the roots of romaine lettuce. Each of these items are symbolic of the Jewish peoples’ experience of and escape from suffering in Egypt.

Thin unleavened bread
Another central part of the meal is matzo—a thin unleavened bread baked to the consistency of a cracker made of wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oat flour. Matzo meal, an essential part of much Jewish cookery, is made by taking the matzo sheets and grinding them to a consistency slightly thicker than flour.

There are a lot of dishes that make up the Seder, but matzo is important because it is unleavened and eating leavened products during Passover is forbidden. This stems from the fact that the Jews had to leave Egypt in such haste, that they only had time to prepare unleavened bread.

One of the most popular dishes for the Seder ritual is charoset, which is a mixture of chopped mixed nuts that have been sweetened. This year I’m making an Iraqi charoset, which is simply walnuts and date syrup. For dessert, I’ll be making matzo sheets covered with melted chocolate and nuts, which makes a kind of chocolate bark for the children. And of course, I’ll be making matzo ball soup.

Other dishes that feature on most Seder tables are things like gefilte fish (poached fish dumplings), a sweet beef brisket dish and a potato dish. The main point is really to gather the family together to commemorate and celebrate the beginning of Passover.