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The Passover Seder Table

Time for reflection, gratitude and the feast symbolizing freedom.

Passover, a Jewish holy day, will soon be celebrated with a traditional seder supper during the first two days of a week-long observance by many families in the community.

The seder, meaning order-for-orderly meal,starts off the springtime festival, which begins at sundown on Monday and commemorates the freeing of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The steps of this meal are laid out in a book called the Hagadah

It's a time for families to reflect on and appreciate this significant piece of history, to remind the Jewish people of what God did for them and of when Moses brought the “law” after he wandered in the desert.

Around the supper table, there is always room for one more, while the Hagadah guides them through stories, songs, taking of food and wine.

Throughout the reflections, stories and discourse, there is partaking of the food and drink; hence the seder, where symbolic foods are acknowledged at the table.

Before Passover, the house is cleaned, and chametz, or leavened bread, is removed from the house. Then, during Passover, only matzoh, unleavened bread, is eaten.

As told in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, matzoh, represents how the bread had no time to rise when the children of Egypt left so quickly in their quest for freedom. It also symbolizes a freeing of oneself of human arrogance and pride.

The Seder plate contains all the symbolic foods: parsley, charoset, horseradish, lamb shank, hard-boiled egg and salt water.

  • Parsley is dipped in salt-water, the latter symbolizing the tears shed by the Jews in their slavery and dipping the parsley in the salt-water to initiate curiosity and story-telling to the children. This is typically done at the beginning of the seder.
  • Charoset is a mixture of walnuts, apples, cinnamon and wine and is eaten to symbolize the bricks and mortar used to build the first Jewish temple.
  • Bitter herbs, such as, horseradish, is a reminder of the bitter slavery they had to endure.
  • A lamb shank bone symbolizes the paschal lamb sacrifice.
  • A roasted egg is eaten to mourn the fiery destruction of the temple in 70 C.E.

To celebrate the new-found freedom, four cups of wine, or grape juice, are consumed throughout the ritualistic supper.

Now for the feast, which traditionally includes brisket or turkey, latkes (potato pancakes), and carrots, matzo ball soup (rich chicken broth with matzoh dumplings), gefilte fish (minced fish with spices and other ingredients formed into patties), matzo pudding (matzoh, apples raisins, nuts and spices) and sweet wine.

All said, you don’t have to wait till Passover to enjoy these dishes. For example, matzoh ball soup may look plain, but it is surprisingly delicious. Particularly for cold days when hot soup is what the doctor ordered, often called “Jewish penicillin” (the broth part), this is the next best thing to chicken-noodle soup—maybe even better!

Matzo ball soup is basically chicken broth with dumplings in it. The best-tasting versions are made with very rich chicken broth. Straightforward, savory and delicate, this unassuming soup can soothe the soul and fill the tummy.

Included below are a couple recipes for matzoh ball soup. One is from Bobby Flay, a renowned chef featured regularly  on the Food Network. The recipe was from one of his famous “Throwdowns.” The next one is a standard recipe.

Bobby Flay’s Chicken Matzo Ball Soup

This recipe takes 3 hours and 25 minutes. It's considered an easy-level recipe and makes 8 servings.

Matzo Balls:

6 tablespoons chicken fat
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
4 large eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons seltzer water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup unsalted matzo meal

Chicken Stock:

2 large yellow onions, quartered
3 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 small bunch parsley
10 sprigs fresh thyme
1 (3-pound) chicken
3 lbs. chicken bones, neck included
Water
2 jalapeno peppers, roasted and slit
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh dill leaves

For the Matzo Balls:

Heat the chicken fat over medium heat in a small pan. Add the chives and cook for 30 seconds. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, add the eggs, dill, seltzer, sugar, and salt and pepper and whisk until combined. Add the matzo meal and the chicken fat/chive mixture and stir to combine. Cover well and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium heat. Form the matzo mixture into 8 equal size balls, about 1 3/4 ounces each, add to the water, reduce the heat to simmer, cover and cook until very tender, about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the pot with the chicken stock and cook for 5 minutes before serving. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and serve.

For the Chicken Stock:

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, skimming the scum from the stock with a ladle, every 15 minutes, for three hours. Strain into a large bowl and discard the solids.

Transfer to a large saucepan and cook until reduced by half. Add the roasted jalapenos for the last 10 minutes or of simmering, then remove. Season with salt, pepper and freshly chopped dill.

Note: If you are concerned if the oils or other ingredients in these recipes are suitable for Passover, seek non-dairy substitutes or ingredients that are certified kosher for Passover.

Recipe credit: Bobby Flay, Food Network

Standard Matzo Balls Recipe: (found on back of a matzo meal package)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup matzoh meal
1 teaspoon salt, optional
2 tablespoons soup stock or water

Mix together vegetable oil, eggs, matzo meal and salt. Add liquid and mix thoroughly.

Boil 1½ quarts of water. Reduce the heat and drop the balls. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes.

While matzo balls are cooking, prepare your favorite chicken broth recipe yielding approximately 1½ quarts.

When matzo balls are fully cooked, scoop them up with a slotted spoon and drop them into the hot chicken broth. Season to taste and serve.

Where to shop for your Seder in Mountain View:

  • Samovar Deli & Catering carries Israeli-made matzoh, matzoh balls and some other items which are kosher for Passover. Located at 1077 Independence Ave. Telephone: 650 469-3592. 
  • has some ingredients for creating Passover dishes. The website also has recipes for this occasion. Located at 1250 Grant Rd. Telephone: 650-390-9222.
  • has ingredients for your Passover dishes. Located at 1750 Miramonte Ave. Telephone: 650-903-5850.
  • in Los Altos offers an excellent selection of delicious Passover items. The bakery will have fresh baked treats for the holiday on Friday. Located at 342 First St. Telephone: 650-948-4425.
  • in Palo Alto, also called Bay Area Passover Headquarters. Offering natural, organic, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, Kosher meats and wine, Mollie Stone’s also has a full-service deli. Pick up groceries for Passover: gefilte fish, matzo ball soup ingredients, Kosher wines, beef and poultry. Located at 164 S. California Ave. Telephone: 650-323-2367.
  • in Menlo Park offers an excellent selection of delicious Passover items. The bakery will have fresh bakery treats for the holiday  on Friday. Located at 1010 University Dr. Telephone: 650-324-7700.

Events of Interest:

• Mimouna: A Moroccan-Style Post-Passover Celebration on April 26 at 8 p.m. Mimouna is a colorful, traditional North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover. It marks the start of spring and the return to eating chametz (leavened bread and bread by-products), which are forbidden throughout the week of Passover. Sponsored by Morocco's Restaurant in San Jose.

You can feast on Moroccan food, mufletot and other desserts, dance to Middle Eastern music with DJ Avi and watch belly dancers showing off their moves.

At Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, OFJCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Telephone: 650-223-8692. Cost is $30 for members and $35 for non-members before advanced registration, which ends April 24. Price will be $55 at the door.

• Young Adult Post-Passover Pizza Party in Redwood City on April 27 from 7-9:30 p.m. Enough with matzah; let’s nosh on some serious hametz right after Passover. Join us for vegetarian pizza at . Brought to you by Jews’ Next Dor, Oshman Family JCC, Roots Collective & T’Keya. Located at 3121 Jefferson Ave., Redwood City. Contact: JewsNextDor@beth-david.org. To reserve your spot for $15, click here. Cost is $18 at the door. Telephone to Galeotti's: 650-780-9622.

Send a Seder Sack to People in Need. A gift of $18 fills a Seder Sack with traditional Passover foods to brighten the holiday for those in need. Jewish Family and Children's Services volunteers assemble and deliver the food bags to homebound seniors, people with disabilities and families in crisis in our communities. Donate at jfcs.org or phone 415-449-1256. You can mail your donation to Jewish Family and Children’s Services, 2150 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94115. Attn: Seder Sacks.

Happy Passover!

Bernis Kretchmar April 18, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Thank you for a wonderful article. Passover begins tonight when people in California and all over the world in their time zones begin their Seder and observe this joyous holiday everyday for 8 days
Evelyn Share April 18, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Hello Bernis, You're welcome! Hope you and yours have a wonderful Passover in the days to come! Evelyn
Monica April 19, 2011 at 12:01 AM
A very informative article especially for a gentile like me who is quite curious about Passover. I cant wait to read your next article
Evelyn Share April 19, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Hello Monica, I learned a fair amount from this story and I thoroughly enjoyed it - especially the matzo ball soup. Thanks for your feedback and I'm glad you found it informative!

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