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Traditional Foods for the Seder Meal

The most sacred holiday on the Jewish calendar, Passover celebrates the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. The name of this important Jewish festival pertains to God’s instructions that were given to Moses, which said “And the blood (when placed on the door post) shall be for you for a sign on the houses where you are, and I shall see the blood and I shall pass over you, and there shall not be among you a plague to destroy." (Exodus 12:13) These instructions come right before what is known as the tenth plague, the death of the first born. Thus, the Hebrews marked their door posts with lamb’s blood on the night of the plague and their children were spared.

Each year, Jews around the world mark the Pesach or “passing over” with an 8-day celebration that includes the reading of prayers, the giving of thanks, and the observance of several other traditions, including the Passover Seder meal. During this time, observant Jews eat no leavened bread. This is to commemorate the fact that the Jews fleeing Egypt had no time to allow their bread to rise before leaving, the resulting food being Matzoh, or unleavened bread.

What’s a Seder?

For most Jewish families, the first event of Passover is the Seder meal, a gathering that occurs so that those of the Jewish faith can continue telling the story of the exodus from Egypt. Those gathered at the table read from the Haggadah, an ancient work that includes a narrative of that important story as well as blessings, commentaries, and special Passover songs.
Symbolic foods are placed on a Seder plate, each significant to the telling of the Passover story. The foods on the plate include three matzoh placed within the folds of a napkin; bitter herbs or “maror”; a mixture of apples, cinnamon wine and nuts known as Charoses; a roasted egg; parsley or celery served with a bowl of salted water; and a piece of roasted lamb shankbone. Four glasses of wine are shared as well.

Eating Dinner Together

Of course, the foods on the Seder plate are each symbolic of the Passover but not enough to fill the stomachs of hungry guests.  The meal consists of much more than those six foods and four glasses of wine. Guests at the Seder also enjoy a hearty traditional meal that includes favorite foods that young and old all enjoy.

Classic Passover foods might include matzoh ball soup, made with chicken stock and matzoh meal; popovers, an unleavened substitute for dinner rolls also made of matzo meal; beef brisket, often cooked using beef stock or red wine; roasted asparagus; a potato dish or baby potatoes; tzimmes, carrots mixed with dried fruits; kugel, a sweet noodle pudding; and a flourless chocolate cake.  Roast chicken or leg of lamb may also be substituted for the brisket.

There are certainly traditional recipes available for these popular Passover foods, but many families have unique recipes that they’ve passed down for generations and straying from those traditions is sometimes frowned upon. However, many modern cooks are putting a new twist on tried-and-true Passover foods by adding new flavors or trimming the fat. Myriad recipes are available online and in Jewish cookbooks for those looking to start some new traditions of their own for the Passover holiday season.