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Ensure your Passover seder goes off without a hitch with these essential hosting tips.
Rosh Hashanah and Channukah are major Jewish celebrations, but no holiday puts one’s hosting abilities to the test quite like a Passover seder. For many, the seder (a highly scripted evening whose name literally means “order”) conjures up feelings of togetherness and tradition — but for the holiday’s host, it’s almost as likely to invoke anxiety.
Hosting a seder is a big commitment, and involves coordinating many moving parts, but with a little organization and advanced preparation, it doesn’t have to be stressful. Use the tips below and you’ll be pulling off a seder like a real balaboosta in no time.
1. Hit the shops early — weeks early.
Just before Passover arrives, grocery stores and delis stock up on seder staples, but once they run out, they’re out. To avoid running all over town trying to track down ingredients for your meal, purchase your matzo, matzo meal and horseradish from the grocery store a couple of weeks in advance. This is also a good time to call your local butcher and place an order for brisket and your fishmonger to order gefilte fish ingredients.
Passover is the perfect time to practise a skill even the most seasoned hosts struggle with: accepting help. Get your partner and children involved in cleaning the house (especially rounding up the chametz ingredients, which can be a fun scavenger hunt for the kids). If you’re in charge of cooking, designate either your partner or another guest in advance to be in charge of leading the ceremony, and buying the treats for whoever finds the afikomen.
If you’re not adhering strictly to kosher guidelines, ask your guests to bring specific dishes to alleviate some of the cooking. If you are keeping kosher and know of guests who are too, ask them to prepare food; for the guests who don’t, ask them to bring kosher wine or flowers.
3. Rely on a slow cooker.
Not only is a slow cooker a great way to cook some dishes on your list (such as brisket or casserole), but it’s also a terrific tool for reheating your dishes when oven space is tight. Just be sure to leave enough time for the slow cooker to reheat your food properly (at least a couple of hours), and if you’re using multiple slow cookers, ensure that they are plugged into different outlets to avoid tripping a fuse.
4.Set a hard close, and stick to it.
One of the issues with hosting a holiday dinner is that it’s easy to futz over your food (or table settings) until suddenly your guests are ten minutes away and you haven’t had a chance to shower or to dress. Set a hard deadline for yourself at least an hour before guests arrive and — this is the hard part — actually stick to it. Force yourself to take some time for self-care: shower, get dressed, and you will feel like a whole new person. Everything else can wait.
5. Schedule more, schvitz less.
If the thought of cooking all those courses is causing you to break into a cold sweat, take heart: almost everything can be prepared in advance. In fact, one advantage to Jewish cuisine is that many traditional dishes seem to improve after a stint in the fridge (or freezer). Whether that’s a happy accident or by some intrepid Bubbe’s design, we’ll never know, but it does make cooking a seder meal that much easier.
- Two weeks ahead: Make a list of all the dishes involved for both the ceremony (e.g. the salt water, the ingredients on the seder plate, etc.) and the dinner. Write out a full grocery list of things you need, subdivided by what can be purchased immediately (see: “Hit the shops early” above) and what can wait. If you’re trying a recipe for the first time, now is also a good opportunity to test it.
- One week ahead: Cook and prepare everything that can be frozen and reheated. Brisket, matzo balls, meatballs, and gefilte fish are all excellent contenders for this.
- Two days ahead: Begin thawing the frozen foods in the refrigerator. If you want to get really organized, write a list or draw a diagram indicating what dishes are going to need access to oven racks, stove burners, or slow cookers at what time, ensuring there is enough room for each dish.
- One day ahead: Prepare your charoset (and any other dips you might want to serve), peel, chop or trim any vegetables you’re planning on roasting the next day, and season or marinate your poultry dishes. This is also a good time to set your table and prepare the ingredients for your seder plate.
- The day of: Arrange your Seder-specific items on the table, cook any dishes that weren’t prepared in advance, and warm your dishes that were. You’re all set. Smile, and get ready to enjoy the celebration!
Remember: Flourless doesn’t have to mean flavourless! For menu inspiration (and some killer flourless dessert ideas), check out our Passover recipes.