My Imaginary Seder Menu

March 21, 2013(updated on October 3, 2018)

Jewish cookbooks

One of the joys of living in a city with a huge extended family is that our holidays are chaotic and deliciously boisterous. These days, my cousins regularly host just the kind of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Passover gatherings I longed for when I was young and lived far away from any grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

However, there is just one (very small) downside to these large, collaborative holiday meals for me, and that is the fact that I never get to be in charge of the menu. I certainly always make contributions to the buffet and over the years have graduated from bringing secondary side dishes to the main course. But, as a food writer/blogger who reads cookbooks for recreation, I often find myself longing to craft the entirety of a celebratory menu.

kippered salmon snacks

I could certainly have secondary holiday gatherings and next year, when I’m not working on a book and life isn’t quite so frenzied, I hope to do just that. This year though, with Passover (and my cookbook deadline!) fast approaching, I thought that I’d indulge in a little fantasy menu planning instead of tackling the real thing. This way, I get all of the pleasure of flipping through cookbooks and imagining a meal, without any of the work of shopping, cooking or cleaning.

For my imaginary Seder, I pulled out four cookbooks. The Jewish Festival Cookbook (first published in 1954, but available in more modern editions), The Kosher Carnivore (a particularly good resource if you have kosher friends), The Mile End Cookbook (classic Jewish food with pages and pages of pickles), and The New Jewish Table (beautiful food). After a couple hours of reading, marking and stomach rumblings, here’s what I’d serve if I was hosting my family for Passover this year.

pickled heirloom beets with hard boiled eggs

For when people first arrived, I’d put out the Kippered Salmon Snacks and the Pickled Heirloom Beets with Hard-Boiled Eggs, both recipes from The New Jewish Table. Kippered fish has been salted and hot smoked, so that it’s fairly dry and meaty (more like the smoked salmon you get in the Pacific Northwest than the moist Nova salmon you put on bagels).

The pickled eggs with red beets are traditional in a number of cultures and are a nice symbol of the fresh, newness of spring. I did a version for Serious Eats last year that was quite tasty and very easy (you cheat with already-pickled beets). Chances are good that I’d also pull out a few jars of other pickles and chutneys that would complement these two official recipes.

Matza Knaidlach

After we made it through the Hagaddah, we’d move on to Matzo Ball Soup. I’ve long meant to make matzo balls according to the directions in the Festival book and this could be my chance (I love the line in the headnote encouraging young housewives to develop their knaidlach skills to win laurels as a cook). I’d use homemade chicken broth that was cooked ahead and pressure canned to save space in the fridge.

gefilte fish

I think gefitle fish gets a bad wrap. Most of the time, the stuff served at Passover comes from a can and tastes a little stodgy, fishy and funky. But homemade gefilte fish? It’s actually incredibly delicious and deserves a spot on the table. I’m hankering to try this recipe from The Mile End Cookbook.

Classic Brisket

For the meat eaters, I’d make brisket. And actually, this is the one thing I actually am making this year. I will take some cues from this recipe (she uses lots of aromatics for flavor) from The Kosher Carnivore and combine them with my own tricks (lots and lots of sauteed onions).

I’m also a believer in making brisket the day before you plan on serving it, so that it can rest in the fridge over night and develop more flavor. This also gives you an opportunity to skim the fat from the sauce and make a luscious puree from the juices and vegetables in which to gently reheat the brisket.

vegetable kishka

For vegetarians, the Vegetable Kishka with Sage and Paprika from The New Jewish Table seem like a good fit. And ever since watching a recent episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in which they made kishka, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with it.

Along with those main course options, I’d also make a big salad with baby arugula, sheep’s milk feta, and pomegranate seeds. Because any big meal needs a mountain of greens to balance things out.

homemade matzo

If there was time, I’d also make a batch of homemade matzo (I may actually make a batch of this in the next few days, with half whole wheat flour and some finely chopped rosemary. Because it sounds awfully good). For dessert, my beloved flourless chocolate cake.

For those of you who are hosting holiday meals in the next couple weeks (Easter is coming up soon, as well), what are you planning on serving? Are there any cookbooks that you’re using particularly heavily?

Disclosure: I received review copies of The New Jewish Table, The Kosher Carnivore, and The Mile End Cookbook for consideration. I bought my copy of The Jewish Festival Cookbook years ago. All opinions are my own. 

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17 thoughts on "My Imaginary Seder Menu"

  • Forget the actual cooking and serving–I want to skip to the fantasy meal! I don’t do fantasy football, but I’m loving the idea of assembling a fantasy menu from ideas that inspire me. Easier on the hips, too.

    Would you believe I’m not cooking a thing for Easter? My parents are visiting, and staying in a place with a dining room and have invited us to join them for an Easter brunch. Who am I to turn them down?

    Conveniently, I made a ham for Thanksgiving so I’ve got the blog fodder already . . .

    Thanks, Marisa!

  • Oh, that sounds sooo good. I am reading The Mile End Cookbook–so brilliant! And gosh, you just reminded me how much I love kishka. Never thought to make it before!

    1. I think that A New Jewish Table is pretty awesome for a new twist on this style of food/flavor. If you want something more classic, The Mile End Cookbook is pretty awesome. And then, there’s always all the books for Joan Nathan. Her stuff is great (I just didn’t have any of her work at hand today).

  • I am not Jewish, but have several friends who are. Two of them are coming up for brunch on March 31. Yeah…when we made the date six weeks ago, I had no idea that was Easter Sunday! I’m not Jewish, nor am I constricted by any religion, however, I am having my Jewish friends over for a meal while Passover is still on the calendar.

    Never one to shy away from a challenge, I am making a Sorta-Kosher-Meal for them. Won’t mix meat with dairy…(wondering how you serve feta at the same table as brisket) and nothing that will be baked with a leavening agent…

    So, my meal is the roasted feta with fig compote as an appetizer, (you had a link to this about 10 days ago and it sounds divine!) some olives and dried fruit and crostini, cold salmon with a creme fraiche dill sauce for the entree, cucumber salad, and a warm lentil salad. Trying to keep everything on the cold or room temp side, so I don’t have to do much in the kitchen…it’s small and I don’t have a dining room (so we’ll eat in the kitchen). For dessert I’m trying an apple Passover cake made with matzo. I hear its easy to make for those of us who have a baking deficit!

    We’ll see just how this turns out!

    1. Rose, no one in my family is actually Kosher, so we figure that as long as there’s no bread/pasta on the table, we’re good as far as being Kosher for Passover goes. No one has ever objected to a little dairy in a salad.

  • Your recipes are amazing and you know I am going to go out and buy one or more of the books you showed because you cannot have too many Jewish cook books. I am going to make for the first seder Honey Horseradish Chicken, chicken soup of course, my mothers recipe Passover Rolls, salad and I have not figured out dessert yet. I hope all who celebrate either Passover or Easter have a wonderful and meaningful time with their family and friends.

  • I too have graduated from Gratuitous Side Dish Bringer to a position slightly higher up the menu for family holiday meals, so I was vigorously nodding as I read this. I love the idea of a fantasy menu–not only less caloric, as noted above, but I can include a fantasy sous-chef to handle some of the prep and ALL of the dishes! And wait until you see my fantasy dining room! Talk about low-cost renovations. Happy holidays!

  • As a member of a blended family, and as the parent of the only person with food allergies (tree nuts and peanuts), I am in charge of contributing haroset (go figure!) for our annual “Passover for Christians and Children.” I usually end up making a few varieties and we take an informal vote on what should continue on in tradition the following year, and what needs to be tweaked before making it to the table again! My Christian children have fallen in love with matzo ball soup and request it for months following the seder–last year I taught my oldest how to make it. She’s becoming quite a wiz in the kitchen…..

  • Growing up in a family of passionate home cooks, we never had the same things twice. That said, my family and friends have designated so many “must haves” at our Seder that there’s now little room to try new things. Included on that list: Celery Parsnip Soup with Ginger Dill Matzo Balls, Salmon Gefilte Fish, Carrot Almond Ring (often portioned as mini-muffins) and Matzo Crack for dessert. For Jewish holiday baking, Marcy Goldman’s “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” is my go – to. The pesadich Chocolate Chip Cookies and Soufganiot and Chocolate Cake for Chanukah are worth the price of the book.
    My grandmother was famous for her homemade gefilte fish and kishke. I’ve conquered the fish, you’ve now inspired me to do the kishke. Have you found a good source for the derma?

    1. Betsey, the recipe in A New Jewish Table has you use aluminum foil in place of the derma. I think that I made it, I’d like it with parchment first, to prevent any metallic flavors.

  • “One of the joys of living in a city with a huge extended family is that our holidays are chaotic and deliciously boisterous. ”

    Exactly. So very true!

  • It made me smile to see the gefilte fish receipe reference to A Carp in the Bathtub! I used to love that story. Though gefilte fish at our family seders always comes from a jar; it’s all I know so I enjoy it!

  • I’m 100% behind you on making the brisket ahead -I’m picking up a 16 pounder (!) today to make tomorrow (and I’m the vegetarian). We also always have pickled beets on Passover, but we eat the hard boiled eggs in our matza ball soup. The thing I’m most looking forward to eating is roasted cauliflower and kale quinoa (which yes, you can have on Passover.) My mom is chipping in a bit, but I’m doing the bulk of the cooking for both nights. I’d better get off the computer and get to work 😉

  • I have owned Mimi Sheraton’s “From My Mother’s Kitchen” for the longest time. It’s a wonderful read as well as an excellent cookbook, I recommend it!

    I’m a shiksa with Jewish extended family, so we swing both ways. I started craving Matzoh ball soup last week and went to our local deli-style cafe for some, which was of course, a huge disappointment. I’m making some tonight for us, and will bring some to work next week as I have pals there who’ve never had it. I looked for brisket at the market yesterday and was dismayed to find only corned briskets available. Fooey.

    For our Easter spread, we’re deviling two dozen eggs. Seems to me they’d also be welcome seder fare. And because we were all out of town on St. Patrick’s Day, I’m also making Colcannon, and bringing fresh blood orange juice for mimosas.

    Thanks for a delicious post!