Passover guidelines for the novice
Photos: Dave Carlin
Chicken soup matzo balls

By Tina Wasserman

Looking over all of my Passover articles, I realized that so many of the recipes were included for the experienced Seder organizer (namely Bubbie or Mom) and that, over time, the next generation was taking over. My daughter decided a few years ago that she would stay in L.A. and provide a Seder for her friends who had no family nearby. She paid attention growing up to the way I organized our Seders, she had my cookbook and she had me on speed dial to ask me questions or to admonish me for not explaining a recipe step for the novice. So, I decided to dedicate this column to those who have little experience making a Seder and to those who need to brush up on logistics and/or some basic recipes.

Instructions to make your Seder progress smoothly:

Set up your Seder plate

  • Hardboil an egg first and then bake in the oven until it is brown.
  • Use a lamb bone left from a previous recipe for lamb shanks or use a chicken leg bone and put it in the oven with the boiled egg to brown.
  • Buy one piece of horseradish root with a gnarly top, use the top for the Seder plate and piece and slice the rest for each participant’s plate.
  • NOTE: These items can be frozen in a freezer bag for next year — really!


  • Open, in advance, only half the bottles of wine and juice you will be using for the Seder so that you don’t have lots of leftovers.
  • Always include at least one bottle of Manischewitz or Mogen David sweet wine for the traditionalists and the curious.

Table settings

  • Each place setting should have a small glass plate and a small bowl placed upon the dinner plate.
  • Set bowls purposely to the far left on the plate and fill with some water and a sprinkling of salt. The salt water is for dipping the parsley and flavoring the egg.
  • To the right of the bowl place a sprig of parsley, a dollop of charoset of your choice and a slice of the aforementioned peeled horseradish root.

The meal officially begins with the following:


  • Each bowl should have 1 peeled hardboiled egg placed in the salt water.
  • Use an egg slicer before you place the egg in the bowl. This is useful because it makes it easier to eat the egg than trying to cut it while it’s floating in the water.
  • Often a peeled egg looks ragged from the peeling; this way those irregularities are less noticeable.

Charoset and matzo

  • Place additional charoset in small bowls around the table for people to sample with pieces of matzo after the parsley is dipped in salt water.
  • Matzo should be readily available on the table for the ceremonial eating of the Hillel sandwich as well as eating as part of the meal.
  • Plain matzo should be used for the Seder and additional flavors of matzo can be added for enjoyment during the meal.

Gefilte fish

  • Place a lettuce leaf on a small plate and place a piece of jarred gefilte fish or a slice of homemade gefilte fish loaf on the leaf. It is customary to place a slice of cooked carrot on top but this is not required.
  • Have a few jars of prepared horseradish on the table for people to garnish their fish or put a dollop on the side of each fish on the plate.
  • Set up the plates in advance and keep them in the refrigerator unless you are having more than your refrigerator can hold.

Chicken soup

  • Chicken soup isn’t obligatory but everyone will be looking for their matzo ball soup!
  • See my recipe for chicken soup below.
  • If you are not experienced in making matzo balls, use the mix. Streit’s and Manischewitz make good mixes, but the only way to mess these up is if you lift the lid on the pot before the 20 minutes are up. The matzo balls will slightly collapse and the centers will be translucent and tough. So DO NOT PEEK!

After the soup

  • Go ask Bubbie, your mother, your mother-in-law or check out the TJP archives or my book for additional recipes!
  • Let your friends bring a side dish or a dessert that they remember from growing up.
  • Worse comes to worst, Passover macaroons, fruit and sorbet can finish out the meal.

Have a wonderful Pesach and be proud for your accomplishment.

Tina’s Tidbits:


  • Buy your eggs now and they should be Grade A, not Grade AA. The fresher the egg, the tighter the membrane and this makes it harder to peel. The eggs are still very fresh and will last you throughout the holiday.
  • Buy at least a dozen more eggs than the number of people at your Seder. For example, if you have eight people for Seder then buy 2 dozen eggs. You will use more eggs in the eight days of Pesach than you normally would because beaten eggs are the leavening agent in most of your recipes.
  • Eggs should never be hardboiled. They should be hardcooked.


  1. Place the eggs in a 2-quart pot or one larger if you are making more than 6 eggs. Pot should NEVER be aluminum or yolks will be gray. Stainless steel is okay.
  2. Cover the eggs with cold water and add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water. The sodium in the salt will displace some of the calcium in the shell and make the shell brittle and easier to peel. It will also seal any cracks that form while cooking so you don’t have a curvaceous white coming out of the shell!
  3. Bring the salted water and eggs to a boil and then, TURN OFF THE HEAT.
  4. Immediately drain the water and run cold water over the eggs to stop the cooking.
  5. When able to handle, tap the shell and peel the egg under running water using the sides of your thumbs to peel, not your nails.
  6. Peeled, whole eggs can be stored in a covered bowl, with a little water so they don’t stick or dry out, for up to 2-3 days.


  • Traditionally the nuts and fresh or dried fruit were chopped in a bowl with a Hochmeister or mezzaluna blade. Today it’s easier to use a food processor.
  • Always cut your food into chunks if they are large, such as apples, before adding to the processor.
  • Always pulse your machine on and off to prevent nut butter from forming on the bottom of the bowl.
  • Pulsing throws the food up so that the mixture is more uniform.
  • If you like your mixture very smooth, then turn the processor on for 5 seconds after first pulsing the ingredients.
  • Add the wine or grape juice toward the end of making your charoset so it isn’t too watery.
  • Charoset can be made in advance and enjoyed for days.
  • The natural sugars in the wine or juice will pull moisture from the fruit so if the mixture appears too watery, add some matzo meal to absorb the excess liquid.

Matzo balls:

  • Go ahead and use the mix! If you want to “doctor” it up:
  • Use some chicken fat for the oil.
  • Add some ground ginger to the mix.
  • Use chicken broth instead of water in the mix (if the recipe calls for it) or cook your matzo balls in broth from a container, not from the soup you made; that’s too precious to use.
  • NEVER lift the lid while the balls are cooking! If you think the temperature is too high, then lower the flame but DO NOT PEEK! Hard matzo balls can be made by adding more matzo meal but opening the lid prevents the ball from expanding in the steam, and the interior won’t cook and the inside will be translucent.

Traditional Charoset, Texas Style

This is as traditional as it gets! I used McIntosh apples growing up because they were the apple in the Northeast that was readily available. Now I use whatever looks good. I tend to like Honey Crisp or Fuji.

If you don’t own one already, buy a hand-cranked apple peeler. The best $25 you will ever spend. I promise.


  • 8-10 sweet apples, Honey Crisp, Fuji or Jonagold
  • 8-10 ounces walnuts or pecans, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon, or to taste
  • 1/3 cup sugar, or to taste (I often eliminate this if apples are sweet)
  • 1 cup Concord grape wine (No Cab or Zin please!)


1. Peel, core and cut the apples into 8 pieces.

2. Place ½ of the apples in a processor work bowl and pulse until pieces are about ¼ inch. Remove to a large glass bowl and repeat with the remaining apples.

3. Toast the nuts at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Cool slightly and then add them to the work bowl. Pulse machine on and off until the nuts are finely chopped. Add nuts to the apples.

4. Add the cinnamon and sugar to the apple mixture and stir to combine.

5. Add the wine and mix well.

6. Cover and refrigerate overnight but preferably 1-2 days.

7. If mixture is watery, drain off excess liquid and then adjust cinnamon, sugar and wine as desired.

Makes about 1 quart

Gefilte fish

Gefilte Fish And Horseradish Mold

Here’s a pretty easy way to serve gefilte fish if you don’t want to make your own or don’t have room in your refrigerator to stack the prepared plates.

This could be the only time you see flavored gelatin in one of my recipes! That said, this easy and beautiful recipe replaces the individual plates of garnished fish ovals that precariously balance on a shelf in your refrigerator waiting to be served during your Seder.


  • 1 3-ounce box of lemon gelatin
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup fish broth from jar
  • 1 6-ounce jar red horseradish, drained thoroughly
  • 1 or 2 jars gefilte fish
  • 1 carrot, sliced and cooked for garnish (optional)
  • Scallion or chives for garnish (optional)


1. Remove gefilte fish from the jar and put in a 10- to 12-inch shallow serving dish.

2. Place gelatin in a medium-sized glass bowl. Add boiling water and stir until dissolved. Add fish broth and drained horseradish and stir until well blended.

3. Pour liquid mixture around the gefilte fish and a little on top to act as “glue” for the carrot and scallions.

4. Cut the carrot slices with a teeny flower-shaped cutter, or with a knife to resemble a flower. Cut thin curved slices from the green part of the scallion.

5. Strategically place the carrot shapes and scallion slices on the gefilte fish pieces to resemble flowers and leaves. Chill and serve when firm.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Red horseradish is sometimes hard to find. Adding some beet juice from a can of beets will be an option. Never use food coloring!
  • Sometimes kosher gelatin does not firm up as well with the acidic horseradish. No worries, just SLOWLY pass the tray and serve with a serving spoon so people can scoop up some of the delicious “sauce.”
  • Remember the law of inertia: If you pass the platter fast, the platter might stop but its contents could keep moving!

Chicken Soup

Okay, so this recipe for chicken soup is very good; however, everyone has their memory of their grandmother’s or their mom’s chicken soup so if you can ask them what they add, do so. This recipe is as classic as they come and it’s MY Mom’s so enjoy!


  • 1 4- to 5-pound fowl or yearling (soup chicken); breasts and leg quarters will do
  • 5 quarts water, or water to cover
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut into thirds
  • 1 large onion, peeled but left whole, pierced with a knife a few times
  • 1 turnip, peeled and left whole
  • 2 stalks celery with leaves cut into thirds
  • 3 or more carrots, peeled and sliced into 1-inch lengths
  • Fresh dill, 3 or more sprigs to taste
  • Fresh parsley, 3 sprigs or more if parsnip isn’t being used
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Cut the chicken into pieces. Place pieces in a large soup pot and cover with water.

2. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming the top of the liquid of all the brown foam.

3. Add the remaining ingredients and cook over low heat until the chicken is quite tender and the vegetables are soft, about 2 to 3 hours.

4. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon. Discard the dill and parsley. Remove the vegetables to nibble on and save the carrot for later use in the soup. Strain the soup so that it is nice and clear.

5. Place the soup in a clean pot and add the carrots. Heat until nice and hot. Serve as is or with precooked matzo balls or kreplach.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Always cut up your chicken before making soup; you expose more of the interior of the meat to the water and will produce a much richer-flavored soup.
  • Even if you don’t keep kosher, use kosher chickens or organic chickens to make the soup. I once made this recipe in a friend’s home using a well-known nonkosher chicken. The chicken shrank in half because it had been plumped with water, and the soup tasted like the chicken “ran” through it!
  • An alternative to clear soup is to remove the vegetables and herbs from the broth and then recombine the vegetables with the broth in a blender until the mixture is opaque and creamy.Passover guidelines for the novice

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