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!
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.
- 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!