How to prep your Passover Seder in advance

Parsnip Matzo Ball Soup-13032018-0001
Plan for Seder dinner by prepping the matzoh ball soup in advance. Need recipe inspiration? Try this Parsnip Matzo Ball Soup from Abe Fisher’s Yehuda Sichel.

Hosting a successful and delicious Seder is no small feat. Luckily, there are many steps you can take in advance to help shed some of the Passover planning stress.

The following tips and tricks will help you get started now, so that when March 30 and 31 arrive, mealtime can feel (almost) as simple as everyone’s favorite two-ingredient matzo.

To help plan, we’ve also included several recipes from some of the area’s top Jewish chefs, ranging from a make-ahead cheesecake to a parsnip matzo ball soup to an easy paprika- and sea salt-smothered chicken.

Each chef has provided some key planning words of wisdom to heed before diving into menu planning, your first pre-Seder step.

“Don’t leave the small tasks for the day of the Seder, like boiling eggs or washing herbs,” said Tova du Plessis, owner of Essen Bakery in East Passyunk. “And buy the Gefilteria gefilte fish — it’s frozen and just needs to be placed in the fridge the night before to thaw. It’s the best gefilte fish your guests will have ever tasted.”

Chef Yehuda Sichel of Abe Fisher agreed that not all culinary tasks, especially when it comes to starter courses, need to be reserved for the day of.

“I always recommend serving premade appetizers, like roasted eggplant or carrot salad, dishes that are perfect when served at room temperature,” Yehuda said. “Make them the day before and finish with fresh lemon juice, herbs, and maybe a drizzle of olive oil right before Seder begins.”

The planning doesn’t need to stop in the kitchen, either, according to  Marci Gropper Schindler, owner of Moish & Itzy’s Deli-Restaurant & Catering.

“I do my floral arrangements, and set my table a couple of days beforehand,” Schindler said. “I’ll also order anything I need for ingredients or linens on Amazon three to five days before the Seder.”

As you start to think about your own Seder, take a look at the recipes below to get  those inspirational juices flowing. Then peruse through the rest of the schedule, designed to help you fit a different preparatory piece into each day leading up to the feast. By breaking the work into a series of smaller tasks, the experience becomes significantly more relaxed — especially on the big day.

Good luck, and chag Pesach sameach!

Planning

One week out:

  • Put pen to paper and plan your menu. This will help you identify which dishes can be made, or at least started, in advance.
  • Next, write a detailed grocery list. The multicourse nature of a Seder makes it incredibly easy to forget an ingredient or two at the supermarket. Be sure to thoroughly look over each recipe on your menu as you complete this task.
  • Don’t forget to add Seder ritual items to your grocery list, and check with your local grocer in advance about items like the shank bone. Some supermarkets, like Whole Foods, give away  shank bones during Passover on a first-come, first-served basis. Nervous about your herbs lasting until the Seder? There will be one more scheduled opportunity in the week to go grocery shopping, but heartier herbs like parsley can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Six days out:

  • Go grocery shopping. (Pick up a treat for yourself while you’re there. The hard work is underway, and you’re going to need a little reward.)
  • Marinate the brisket. Brisket freezes beautifully, making it a prime contender for pre-dinner cooking.
  • Clear some space in your freezer. You’ll need it for the instructions that follow.

Five days out:

  • Now that the brisket has bathed in a marinade, it’s time to fire up the oven. Give the brisket a good roasting according to your recipe’s directions, and then let it cool overnight.
  • While the brisket is slow-roasting, start simmering your matzo ball soup broth. If you time it right, the broth should be finished right around the time your brisket it coming out of the oven. Transfer the broth to a container  and put it in the freezer. (Leave it in the refrigerator for a night if you want to skim the fat from the top before freezing it.)

Four days out:

  • It’s time to finish the brisket preparations. Skim the fat from the top, then slice and place the brisket in plastic zipper bags to be stored in the freezer. Give yourself a pat on the back; two of the larger tasks are now complete.
  • Keep yesterday’s baking momentum going by starting the desserts. Flourless brownies and coconut macaroons typically freeze well and can be made in advance, as can the cheesecake recipe from Essen Bakery. Owner Tova du Plessis has created a kosher crust recipe using almonds and matzo meal, which gets topped with a classic cheesecake filling. Make it in advance, and on feast day, dessert becomes a simple task of removing the cake from the freezer an hour or two before serving.

Three days out

  • Take a day off from cooking. Today, spend your Seder prep time not with an oven mitt but with a vacuum cleaner. Use this as a dedicated cleaning day. Dust off the mantle, gather your dinnerware, pull out the pillows, and assemble all the other details you’re going to use in creating your table spread and your Seder atmosphere. Store everything in one spot so  when the day arrives, you won’t be running around the house in search of extra bowls for the karpas or other last-minute details.

Two days out

  • Prep your matzo balls. (These can keep for several days in the fridge, so feel free to move this task around in the schedule as you see fit.)
  • Do any last-minute shopping necessary  for items like fresh herbs and other perishables, or for ingredients you  may have  forgotten on your first trip to the store.

One day out

  • Prepare all dishes that will keep for a day or so in the refrigerator, like salads and kugels. The more cooking you can complete, the more relaxed you’re likely to feel tomorrow.
  • Set the table. With all the rituals conducted each Seder, this isn’t as simple  a task as it may seem. Check it off the list today and leave one less task for tomorrow.

Seder day(s)

  • Today’s the day! Start  with a few deep breaths, and then get to work on the remaining dishes that need to be prepared. Be sure to call on any extra hands around you — friends and family often make great kitchen helpers.
  • Passover is meant to be a celebration of freedom. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself today, whether that means doing 15 minutes of calming stretches in the morning or scheduling a quick hair salon appointment in the afternoon. And don’t forget lunch! You’ll need some fuel midday to keep you energized through to the ceremonial dinner you’ve been working on all week.

Get ready to celebrate!


Parsnip Matzo Ball Soup

8 serving(s)

Incorporate parsnips into your Passover matzoh ball soup with this recipe from executive chef Yehuda Sichel of Abe Fisher.

INGREDIENTS

For the Parmesan stock
½ lb. of Parmesan rinds
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
1 head of garlic, cut in half horizontally
1 carrot, diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 bay leaves
5 sprigs thyme
2 qts. water

For the soup:
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 med. Spanish onions, thinly sliced
3 large parsnips, thinly sliced
½ lb. unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt

For the kale mixture:
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium Spanish onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch kale
Olive oil

For the matzo balls: 
4 large eggs
1 cup matzo meal
½ medium Spanish onion, grated
¼ cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 scallions, chopped
A squeeze of lemon, for serving
Chopped fresh dill, for serving
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving

DIRECTIONS

To make the stock:

  1. Wrap the Parmesan rinds in cheesecloth and tie it with twine. Add all of the stock ingredients to a large stock pot, making sure the cheesecloth is submerged in the liquid. Simmer over low heat for 2 hours. While hot, strain the stock into a large bowl. Set aside.

To make the soup: 

  1. Add the garlic, onions, parsnips, and butter to a large pot, and season with a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Add the wine, and bring to a boil; cook for 4 more minutes. Turn the heat to medium, add the Parmesan stock and simmer for about 1 hour.
  2. Working in batches, pour the hot stock into a blender, adding the heavy cream, and pureeing until smooth. Strain the soup through a fine strainer into a clean pot to keep warm, and season with salt to taste.
  3. Wash and strip the leaves of the kale from the stems. Separate the leaves and stems, and roughly chop both. Set aside.
  4. Cook the garlic, onions, and kale stems with a splash of olive oil in a large saute pan over low heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until the stems are soft. Add the leaves, and season with a pinch of salt. Cook and stir the mixture until the leaves are wilted; then place the vegetables in a bowl to let cool.

To make the matzo balls:

  1. Combine the matzo ball ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until blended. Let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a simmer. Remove the matzo mixture from the refrigerator and portion the balls with a 1-ounce ice cream scoop onto a lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  2. Spray your hands with cooking spray. Shape each piece of matzo dough into a ball and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
  3. To serve, place a spoonful of the cooked kale in a bowl, ladle in the broth, and add one or two matzo balls. Garnish with a splash of lemon juice, dill, and parsley, and serve.

Executive chef Yehuda Sichel of Abe Fisher


Passover Cheesecake with Fresh Fruit

10 serving(s)

Owner Tova du Plessis of Essen Bakery creates a Passover-friendly cheesecake recipe using a flourless crust made from a base of almonds and matzoh meal.

INGREDIENTS

For the cheesecake crust:
¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted
½ cup sugar
1 cup matzo meal
Pinch of salt
10 tablespoons butter

For the cheesecake filling:
22 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup (6 oz.) sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
3 ounces heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, scraped

Fresh fruit or berries, for serving

DIRECTIONS

For the crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 300. Place toasted almonds in a food processor or spice grinder. Grind until fine. Add sugar, matzo meal, salt, and butter, and pulse until combined.
  2. Prepare a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and greasing it with butter or cooking spray. Press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan to form an even layer.

For the filling: 

  1. Place the cream cheese in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and salt, and then continue to beat until combined. Add eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla seeds, and beat again. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl; beat the mixture again until smooth.
  2. Add the mixture to the pan on top of the crust. Then create a water bath for baking. Find a deep dish that your cake pan will fit in. Place the pan inside the dish. Fill the dish with boiling water until it almost reaches the top of the cake pan. Carefully transfer the dish to the oven.
  3. Bake in a water bath for about 1 hour, or until the top is lightly browned and the mixture doesn’t appear liquid when  shaken.
  4. Place the cheesecake on a cooling rack to cool to room temperature; then transfer the cake to the freezer. On the day you’re ready to serve, take cheesecake out the freezer one to two hours in advance of serving. Unmold it and top with fresh fruit.

Tova du Plessis, owner of Essen Bakery


Paprika and Sea Salt-Smothered Roasted Chicken

Serves 5-8 people

Owner Marcy Schindler of Moish and Itzy’s Deli Restaurant crafts this turmeric marinated chicken recipe as a flavorful option to put on your Seder dinner table.

INGREDIENTS

2 3 1/2 pound whole kosher chickens (skin on), cut up, washed, and patted dry
2 cups Hellman's mayonnaise
5 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon black pepper
Truffle sea salt (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken into a roasting pan, skin side up.
  2. In a bowl, mix remaining ingredients until combined. Smother each piece of chicken with the mixture.
  3. Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil. Roast chicken for 20-25 minutes.
  4. Remove foil, and bake uncovered for an additional 20-25 minutes, until browned and crispy. If a crispier skin is desired, finish under the broiler for 7-8 minutes. Internal temperature of the chicken should be 165 degrees before removing from the oven.
  5. Serve, finishing with a sprinkling of truffle sea salt, if using.

-- Marci Gropper Schindler, owner of Moish and Itzy's Deli-Restaurant and Catering