A “Traditional” Passover Seder or How to Make Everyone Happy Around Your Table

Soup in Aunt Belle's China

Okay, so we all know there are these lists of the do’s and don’ts over Passover.  But like so much in Judaism, there are multiple rules that can be completely contradictory to one another – just ask someone of Sephardic background what counts as chametz then ask someone with an Ashekanazi upbringing.

This matters a great deal to me this year because a friend and I are planning to host a Seder together and he says he wants a “traditional” meal.  I’m excited about cooking a full Passover Seder, except I don’t really know what “traditional” means. (an orange on the seder plate?)  I didn’t grow up Jewish and so often I hear that you are expected to follow your family customs at Passover – especially in determining what counts as kitniot. But my family is Christian and they typically eat ham (and among other things, butter shaped like a lamb) for Easter – so that is not going to be a very helpful guideline for me now.

But even beyond my own limited personal experience at menu planning for a Passover Seder, I am expecting a very diverse group of dinner guests around my table – at the very least there will be non-Jews, kosher omnivores, vegetarians and vegans.  So far we’ve decided to serve a nice “traditional” grass-fed organic kosher brisket, with lots of vegetables from the farmer’s market, and homemade gefilte fish made with conscious fish choices.  We haven’t yet discussed what will constitute as kitniot (I’d like to do something with lentils or should I just stick to quinoa?) but that’s okay because at the moment I’ve got matzah balls on my mind.

I was planning on doing a vegetable broth matazh ball soup, but so everyone at the table can enjoy the soup, I’m wondering if there a good way to make vegan matzah balls?  If I can’t use eggs to bind the matzah, what is a good substitute that will hold the matzah together while retaining a fluffy poached ball?

But what else makes a “traditional” Passover Seder?  Any good dessert suggestions?

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28 Responses to “A “Traditional” Passover Seder or How to Make Everyone Happy Around Your Table”

  1. Allison Says:

    I am in the same vegan matzah ball boat. I’ve heard that you can use tofu, but I don’t eat kinyot. I’ve been wondering if you could use potato starch to make it stick together and seltzer to make it fluffy. I know that there is sometimes baking soda that is certified kosher for passover, maybe that and vinegar? That is sometimes a vegan egg solution.

  2. Elizabeth Stein Says:

    No suggestions w/r/t vegan matzah balls.

    On dessert:
    As far as I can tell based on my own family, when it comes to desserts, what is “traditional” is for people who never bake for the entire rest of the year to get it in their heads that now that flour is off-limits, this would be a wonderful time to bake a cake. So they buy horrible cake mixes made with matzah cake meal, or make something from scratch which is equally horrible due to the inclusion of matzah cake meal, and then resume their customary posture of not baking until the following Pesach.

    We have for years eschewed this “tradition” in favor of desserts that work well naturally without chametz, i.e., recipes that need little or no tweaking for Pesach: chocolate mousse (although many mousse recipes are dairy, some of the best recipes are not), flourless tortes, molten chocolate cakes (did I mention we like chocolate?), almond brittle (in Recipes 1-2-3 this is made of just almond, sugar and lemon juice, so that dessert even vegan-friendly) and of course fruit.

    Good Pesach.

  3. alix Says:

    flourless chocolate cakes are a common one, but so are cakes with almond meal instead of flour. if you or someone you know has claudia roden’s world of jewish food, there are some excellent pesadik cake recipes in there. i’ve made one with orange syrup that is from the spanish jews, and it is delicious!
    as for the vegan/pesach conundrum, i have been asked about that before, and i draw a blank each time. passover is also known to me as the egg holiday because that’s what i end up eating so much of, and i can’t imagine any pesach kugels or other traditional foods without them.

  4. Lisa Says:

    We grew up eating lots of chocolate for dessert. After we piled up our plates with Passover-friendly cakes and cookies, the chocolate trays and boxes circled the table several times.

  5. J. Says:

    Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews do *not* disagree on what constitutes Chametz. That’s a pretty glaring error. Rather, Sephardic Jews do not have the minhag of avoiding Kitnyot during Pesach, as do Ashkenazic Jews.

    And re: family tradition. Those without a family minhag follow the minhag of their rabbi.

    Re: vegan matzah balls. I have one word: don’t. Make Mollie Katzen’s Not-Chicken Soup, serve the matzah balls on the side for the ovo-lacto crowd, and put in potatoes for the vegans. I always cut the veggies smaller and leave them in to make a heartier soup. It’s always very popular.

    A few more vegan suggestions:
    roasted portabello mushrooms with garlic
    quinoa pilaf w/ nuts and dried fruit
    roasted asparagus w/ orange slices
    baby new potatoes with herbs
    avocado dip served with veggies and matzah pieces
    chocolate-dipped fruits

    A platter of dried fruits, nuts and chocolate, attractively arranged, makes a lovely dessert.

    Pears poached in wine, or in fresh ginger syrup
    (ginger root and sugar water) is another simple, elegant desert.

    Hag Sameach!

  6. Michael Croland Says:

    Word on the street is that Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipe for vegan matzoh balls is the best: http://www.theppk.com/recipes/.....cipeID=147

    Here’s her 2007 guest post on heebnvegan about vegan cooking for Passover:

  7. Adam Jackson Says:

    There’s also an interesting difference of opinion on lamb at the seder meal: many Ashkenazim have grown up thinking it’s forbidden to eat lamb at the seder because it looks like eating the Paschal lamb sacrifice. In fact that’s just a particular communal minhag (custom). Some other communities actually eat lamb specifically. Egyptians even make a cold, boiled lamb dish called “zeroa” (meaning “bone” in Hebrew).

    As an historical aside, the fourth question of “Mah Nishtanah” actually originally asked why on all other nights, we eat meat cooked in various ways, but on this night we only eat roast meat. It was then replaced by the question about reclining or not when the idea of reclining at table had become an unusual practice, rather than the norm.

  8. susan g Says:

    Since 1977 I’ve been making vegetarian seders, sometimes vegan. Usually my rule is not to try to mock a food; I’d rather do something else. I have developed a soup base with chickpea miso that is our seder staple. In a cookbook called “Oats Peas Beans and Barley” there is a loaf made with soaked chickpeas that can fill the gefulte fish slot. When I started this, I got giddy with the thought that our chickpeas had laid eggs! Just keep a sense of humor, honor tradition and enjoy…

  9. lee Says:

    Last year I spent hours trying to make vegan matzo balls. they will not hold without eggs (boiling)you can however bake them using tofu if you eat tofu.But the taste nothing like the boiled ones..

    I make a thai chicken less soup for everyone. Those of us that eat eggs have matzo balls and for my vegan daughter I make chick pea balls with chick pea flour,onion and tofu

  10. Michael Makovi Says:

    J. is correct that kitniot is not an issue of hametz, but rather, a separate matter. Everyone agrees nuts and beans are not hametz, but the Ashkenazim avoided them because they were stored in the same sacks, or appeared similarly when ground into flour, or other similar reasons. In fact, some Sefardim do not eat rice (although they do eat nuts and beans), for similar reasons.

    However, one need not follow the minhag of his rabbi. Minhag is based either on minhag Avot (what your forefathers did), or, more often, on minhag haMakom (community bylaws and practices). In Europe, the Jewish communities all refrained from kitniot, and so individual members had to do so as well. Similarly, any community practices regarding kashering meat, marriage and divorce, etc., also had to be honored by the individual. When an individual moved to a new locale, he had to adopt the new locale’s practices.

    Obviously, in America, there is no minhag haMakom. And of course you, Mia Rut, have no minhag Avot. So either which way you cut it, you have no reason to refrain from kitniot, even if (for reasons that I cannot understand), nearly everyone besides me refuses to make this logical conclusion (based on the absence today of minhag haMakom) that we need not keep kitniot anymore.

    As for the minutae of individual recipes, I have no culinary knowledge whatsoever, and I cannot assist, sorry.

    As for lamb: I have never heard of anyone refraining from lamb per se. In any case, my mother used to often cook lamb for Pesah, and she’d also tell me, growing up, that even though we were usually Ashkenazim, she said we were Sepharadim vis a vis kitniot; we have no relationship to Poland or Hungary or Lithuania, so why should we act like we do?

    Now, however, there is a related issue: Ashkenazim will refrain from eating any broiled meat on Pesah, because it resembles the Paschal lamb, and they want to remember we don’t have it anymore. Totally conversely, the Sefaradim go out of their way to eat broiled meat, in order to commemorate the Paschal lamb.

  11. Michael Makovi Says:

    Now, for those who keep kitniot, there are a few leniencies, even though most Ashkenazim will not willingly avail themselves of them:

    — Shu”t Be’er Yitzhak, OC 11, s.v. “L’shitat”: If, BEFORE Pesah, you mixed the kitniot in such a way that (1) You cannot visually recognize it as kitniot (eg., flour), and (2) The kitniot is less than 50% of the total mixture, then it is permitted. If DURING Pesah, this all only applies after the fact, i.e. if it happened accidentally, one may eat it; one may not, during Pesah, deliberately dilute kitniot in order to make it be nullified. (After one deliberately transgressed and diluted during Pesah, it may be actually permitted to eat, however. Nevertheless, to actually intend to dilute during Pesah is forbidden.) But if the dilution is done before Pesah, before the prohibition of kitniot exists, one can do this deliberately, just as one may nullify hametz (according to certain laws) before Pesah but not during Pesah. This is based on the principle of “nullification”, which here, only requires 50% dilution to be nullified. The actual kitniot cannot be visible, because then it is not nullified, even if it less than 50% of the mixture; it must be both less than 50% and not visually recognizable as kitniot. Nullification requires that either the mixture was an accident (you accidentally spilled milk into meat), or that it is done when the prohibition does not exist (a gentile may deliberately put milk into meat, and nullify the mixture, since the gentile has no prohibition of mixing meat and milk; this has important ramifications for kosher supervision today, when the manufacturers are gentiles). However, these are detailed laws which I really have not learned.

    — Shu”t Orah Mishpat, OC 111: Whatever leniencies apply to real hametz, apply to kitniot as well. That is, dry kitniot, or kitniot that got wet but was cooked within 18 minutes, is permitted, just as one may eat on Pesah, a dry ear of wheat, or wheat flour that is cooked within 18 minutes (i.e. matzah!).

  12. J. Says:

    Michael Makovi wrote:
    “Everyone agrees nuts and beans are not hametz, but the Ashkenazim avoided them because they were stored in the same sacks, or appeared similarly when ground into flour, or other similar reasons. ”

    Nuts are NOT kinyot, thank G-d. Let’s not get *that* started, *please*?

    Q: How do you start a new chumra?
    A: Tell a joke to a ba’al t’shuvah.)

    Kitnyot means legumes. That’s why some consider *peanuts* to be kitnyot. (Strangely, rice and corn, which are also not legumes, get grouped with kitnyot, illustrating that someone had problems with botanical identification way back when…)

    You’re right that Mia has neither Minhag Makom nor Minhag Avot. However, the overwhelming practice is for gerim to take the minhagim of the rav who does their gerut. If her gerut had been done by a Sephardic rabbi, she would eat kitnyot (presumably –there are variations in practice there as well.)

    Of course, she could marry a Sephard and increase her dietary options that way! Something to consider…

  13. stacey Says:

    For a traditional and vegan Passover appetizer, I suggest the walnut-mushroom mock chopped liver (which is really an unfortunate name for a delicious appetizer made of whole ingredients). http://www.jewishfood-list.com.....ver02.html

    For a vegan dessert, I’d suggest dark chocolate, candied almonds and fruit than anything too strange made from a Passover cake mix. While I love good dark chocolate, I grew up with jel-rings and lollycones and consider them part of the Passover experience.

  14. Michael Makovi Says:

    J., “kitniot” means “little thingies”, from the root “katan”, “small”. The translation “legumes” is a very poor one.

    One of the first sources to refer to kitniot, a 12-13th century Ashkenazi whose name I cannot remember, says we cannot eat kitniot because, he says, they are cooked into porridges like hametz (“maaseh kadira”), and because they are stored in silos as grainy substance, like hametz. Such a definition would cover many non-legumes.

  15. Michael Makovi Says:

    And J., my point is if a ger takes on his rabbi’s customs, simply because he believes he has to, he is wrong.

    In 1492, a massive immigration of Sefaradim to Ashkenazi lands occurred. In some communities, the Sefaradi immigrants outnumbered the Ashkenazi natives, and the question was, should the minhag haMakom [local custom] of the native Ashkenazim triumph, or rather should the more numerous Sefaradim triumph? Unfortunately, I don’t remember what the responsa say, but in any case, note that no one had a hava amina [suggestion] that everyone should do whatever his father did, i.e. have two different minhagim [customs] in one town. Everyone agreed minhag haMakom [local custom] trumps, but they didn’t know which minhag haMakom.

    In other words, minhag, by and large, is based on geography, not parentage. Obviously, in America and Israel, or, at least, in Modern Orthodox communities, there is no minhag haMakom, at least for issues such as these. Perhaps there is a minhag haMakom to say the bracha for the State of Israel, but no one has a minhag haMakom to avoid kitniot, or else even Sefaradim wouldn’t be allowed. In days of yore, a Sefaradi who moved to an Ashkenazi land, or vice versa, the immigrant abandoned his own custom and adopted that of his new home. Wherever there is true minhag haMakom, it is irrelevant what your father did. So the fact that Sefaradim can eat kitniot in America and Israel, shows there is no minhag haMakom, and therefore, even Ashkenazim are allowed to eat kitniot as well.

  16. Michael Makovi Says:

    I discuss minhag avot and makom in greater detail at http://michaelmakovi.blogspot......-avot.html

  17. Jaki Levy Says:


    I like your point about 1492. It raises an even bigger issue – how do you define your makom (community, or however you like to translate). This is one of the things that makes Judaism so great. Every generation must re-define itself and its minhag, and yes, that includes converts.

    Isn’t one of the many mitzvot to re-write the torah? Tell me which one – I know it is. It is up to us to be in constant dialogue with the laws and to integrate into our lives. This is what keeps Judaism alive – for everyone.

    Chag Sameach!

  18. Michael Makovi Says:

    Well, there’s a mitzvah to write a Torah scroll, derived from Parshat HaAzinu, when G-d tells Moshe to “write these words”, or something like that. Literally, this refers to the words of the song, but the Talmud interprets this as a mitzvah for everyone to write his own Torah scroll. Today, however, since we study from books and not Torah scrolls, to mitzvah is to shop at your local Jewish bookstore.

    I know of no mitzvah to “rewrite” the Torah. On the other hand, there IS a mitzvah to “go to the judge who will be in those days”, and Rabbis Moshe Shmuel Glasner and Eliezer Berkovits, following the medieval Sefer haHinuch and Drashot hRan, interpret this as meaning that the Oral Law should be flexible, fluid, and organic, and oral precisely to safeguard this, as against the tendency of writing to make matters inviolable. Cf. http://www.math.psu.edu/glasner/Dor4/elman.html, http://michaelmakovi.blogspot......l-law.html, http://michaelmakovi.blogspot......on-of.html, http://michaelmakovi.blogspot......-life.html

  19. Michael Makovi Says:

    (Biographical information:
    – Rabbi Glasner = late 19th to early 20th century Hungarian Mizrahist (Orthodox Zionist)
    – Rabbi Berkovits = ,mid-to-late 20th century student of Rabbi Glasner’s son in Hungary, then later student in Germany before WWII, then Orthodox rabbi in Britain, Australia, America, and Israel.

    For more information, see Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moshe_Shmuel_Glasner, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliezer_Berkovits)

  20. shev Says:

    For dessert: try a walnut chocolate torte, recipe by Dean and Deluca, YUM.

  21. D. Says:

    For a unique Haggadah, check out master Israeli artist Archie Granot’s Papercut Haggadah at http://haggadah.co.il.

  22. Richard Wolpoe Says:

    There are cases of transplanted communities EG KAJ Breuer’s claims to be the successor of the Frankfort am Main community

  23. Richard Wolpoe Says:

    Also the various Custom to NOT Roast is Limitted to the Seder Night

  24. Robert Says:

    The link for KOL Foods (grass-fed organic kosher Brisket) in the article above is incorrect. Try: https://www.kolfoods.com/shopexd.asp?id=216

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