1. Thou shalt make the brisket one day in advance of your seder.
The thing about brisket is that it TAKES FOREVER. (G-d only knows why Jewish people insist on serving a cut of meat tougher than nails on our best food holiday.) You gotta go low and slow to break the meat down and make it tender. A good recipe will tell you no less than 3 1/2 hours, but it might take longer.
So seriously, play it safe, make it a day ahead, and then reheat it in its sauce. The texture and flavor will improve significantly overnight. Here’s a good brisket recipe from Leite’s Culinaria.
2. And cover the brisket TIGHTLY while it cooks.
The first year I cooked Passover I forgot to cover the brisket with foil. It was dried out and completely inedible. Another way to get a good seal is to use a slow cooker, if you have one. Smitten Kitchen’s brisket recipe has instructions.
3. Thou shalt use chicken fat in your matzoh balls.
This is non-negotiable. It’s what gives them all their flavor (think about it: the matzoh isn’t pulling much weight here).
4. …and make the matzoh balls a day ahead, too.
Also: Most recipes will tell you to let the batter sit for 30 minutes; try letting it sit overnight so it holds together better. Make your own chicken stock if you can (not a commandment, because G-d is reasonable, but the soup will be much better if you do). Smitten Kitchen’s recipe is good, so is this one from Bon Appétit.
5. Thou shalt expand your charoseth horizons.
The most common charoseth eaten by American Jews is an Ashkenazi recipe — grated apples, sweet wine, nuts, and cinnamon. But this wonderful 1999 article from San Francisco Chronicle’s food section shares charoseth recipes from all over the world. My favorite is the recipe from Suriname, a sticky, delicious mess of chopped dried fruits (apricots, cherries, prunes, figs), fresh fruits (apple, pear, mandarin oranges), coconut milk, honey and ginger. The Persian recipe has pistachio and rosewater. The list goes on. You also might consider serving a variety without nuts if someone attending your seder has a nut allergy.
6. Thou shalt buy one bottle of wine per person.
Seders can really DRAG (unless you’ve got a really spicy Haggadah), but one of the best things about Judaism is that we get to eat and drink during this particular religious service. So stock up on the good stuff. Check out New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov’s list of recommendations for Kosher wines to put on this year’s seder table.
7. Thou shalt make the maror spicy as the dickens.
I’ll share my father’s family’s maror recipe with you; I hope you’ll agree that it’s one of the best things on the planet. When my father makes it every year he has to wear swim goggles, because as soon as the blade of the food processor hits that horseradish, things get very real.
UNCLE JOE B. SINGER’S MAROR
(Courtesy of David Fleischaker)
1 pound fresh horseradish root, peeled
1 pound beets, peeled
1/2 cup vinegar
1/3 cup lemon
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1/2 to 1 cup water
pinch of salt
Put on your swim goggles. Put everything in a food processor and combine. The beet is just for color; add until you have the color that you want. I always add a little more lemon and sugar, and sometimes more vinegar. Sometimes I drain it if there’s too much liquid. It’s really just a little this and that until it tastes right. Also, if you let it sit out a while it loses some strength, which can be a good thing.
8. Thou shalt serve something green and simple.
Remember, this is a spring festival! Clockwise from bottom right: Martha Stewart’s Wilted Dandelion Greens with Toasted Matzo Crumbles, Gourmet’s Sweet and Sour Celery, Bon Appetit’s Spring Vegetable Saute, CHOW’s Basic Roasted Asparagus.
9. Thou shalt serve dessert.
Passover desserts are tricky because they can’t have flour in them. And a strict kosher observance means no dairy and meat in the same meal. But never fear! Here are 31 Fantastic Passover Dessert Recipes. Bear in mind that most desserts can be made one to two days in advance of your seder — and should be.