Seder Accomplished

Well, after several years of doing this on my own, I think I’m getting the hang of Passover. This year was the most painless yet; between portioning out tasks to guests and roommate, trimming down the menu to the basics, and knowing what to do when, almost everything went smoothly.

For most things, I stuck to the faithful recipes that I grew up with: haroseth with apples, walnuts, and dates; hazereth with beets and just a bit of grated horseradish. I was raised on gefilte fish Passovers, but I’ve discovered that baked white fish is much more universally popular, so I made some broiled fish with olive oil and a light sprinkling of spices. I’ll have to remember the broiling trick for the future; all I had to do was prepare the fish ahead of time on its pan, cover it in the fridge, and stick it under the broiler when the main meal began. By the time we’d eaten the eggs and the matzo ball soup, it was perfectly cooked.

Sadly, I couldn’t say the same for the soup. Last year, I remembered a friend recommending a particular online recipe for vegan matzo balls. One of my roommates is celebrating an Eastern Orthodox Lent (no meat, milk, dairy, eggs, olive oil, or alcohol), so I wanted to make sure that everything except the actual fish and meat courses were okay for her to eat, and I decided I’d use it as an opportunity to try out the recipe. I made vegetable broth according to the recipe, and that should’ve been my first warning sign; it came out bland, flat, and disproportionately parsnip-sweet. After I added a liberal blend of herbs and spices and boiled it down, it ended up tasting quite nice, but at that point, I couldn’t really credit the original recipe for it. The matzo balls, on the other hand, tasted fine, but half of them crumbled apart in the course of cooking. It may have been my own fault; I made my own matzo meal from matzot, instead of buying the finer-textured preground stuff, and I might have had the water at too high of a boil. However, I’ve never had trouble making matzo balls before, so in future, I think I’ll just stick with what I know and give the vegans something else to eat.

At any rate. The main course was simple but tasty: roasted vegetables and potatoes, prepared by my roommate; a basic chopped salad, prepared by a friend; and beef tzimmes with sweet potatoes, prepared by me. I used a recipe I found online that originated from Faye Levy, my favorite Jewish cookbook writer, though I substituted sweet potato for the butternut squash because that’s what the supermarket had. The result was, if I do say so, one of the best stews I’ve ever made, and a universal success; the beef practically melted in the mouth, melding with the sweet potatoes and prunes to provide a rich, savory sweetness. I made the stew yesterday, so all I had to do today was reheat it, and I think that the overnight rest helped it develop and harmonize its flavors even further. Definitely a recipe I’ll make again, if I ever feel like something slightly gluttonous but honest.

At any rate, all the logistics worked perfectly: everything was cooked and of the appropriate temperature when I needed it, and there was just a little left over from every dish, which is exactly what I aim for. Even the haggadah went well, despite the fact that I had to patch it together today from online sources, as my own copies are at my parents’ house. I pieced one together that included everything but the long rabbinic excursuses that I’m used to skipping anyway, and checked out two official Haggadot from the library so I’d have the Hebrew version to reference. Everyone seemed to really appreciate the ritual and readings, both enjoying themselves and learning from it. And that’s what this is all about.

Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Israel and the appointed times.

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