The Ultimate Seder Checklist
by Jamie Geller
I was married for three
years and had yet to make a Pesach
seder. Each year we had been able
to go where someone else did all the
Passover prep and cooking. I was
living in a fool’s paradise, but I
didn’t know it.
But in year 4 we bought a house, and
all the usual seder invitations just faded away.
We had no willing relatives who would let
us crash at their place, and there was no
budget for a mini-vacation at a hotel.
The die was cast.
It was our turn to create Pesach in our
own kitchen and possibly invite a few guests.
You can imagine the stress of cooking for
the sedarim for the first time. Trying to stay
calm, I made lists and lists. Then I made
a list of my lists, in case I should lose any
I thought I was doing pretty well. We
turned the kitchen from chometzdik to nice,
clean Pesachdik about a week before the first
seder. I was cooking and freezing stuff like
a pro. I left only one task for the day of
the seder: making my great aunt Zahava’s
Passover egg noodles.
So I’m sitting there erev Pesach, all relaxed,
making the noodles and smiling to myself.
Why does everyone make such a big deal
about the seder? This is a cinch!
And then it dawns on me, more like a sudden
electrical surge than enlightenment:
there’s more to the seder than just the meal
– there’s, well, the seder! So I’m scampering
around the kitchen, searching for a charoset
recipe, wondering if I even have all the ingredients.
Next, I’m pondering how much salt
to put in the salt water. Then I boil up my
10,000th potato. Gotta dip the potato, right?
Or is it celery? So I grab a bunch of celery
and start chopping and then I think, was
it both? Are both ok? I’d better have both
on hand, just in case. Oh gosh, the zeroa
– the lamb shank! What do you use for a
zeroa and how do you roast the darn thing?
And an egg – how do you roast an egg without
it exploding all over the place?
Well, I wound up finding a charoset recipe
and the necessary ingredients, plus some
calm words of wisdom from a (highly
amused) neighbor. And by the time I breathlessly
sat down to the seder – more like sliding
into home plate – I had everything in
place, sort of.
That was several years ago. We’re
staying home again this year, as
we’ve done for the past few
years, and we’ll be hosting
both my mother and my
mother-in-law. If I can
handle the convergence of
Passover and two mothers,
I can handle anything.
If you’re making your
first seder, or your first in several
years, I sympathize. I
remember my first Pesach and I can
give you solid help. I would have given
anything for a list like this. (But you should
check with your rabbi if you have any
Seder Checklist (in order of use)
Provide enough wine – many families prefer
red – so each adult can have a minimum
of four full glasses. Just do the math: 4 x
number of guests x size of cups.
Here you have to ascertain (or establish)
your family custom. Some people use boiled
potatoes and others use celery or parsley
to dip into the salt water, which symbolizes
the tears shed in slavery. You don’t need
much, because each person is supposed to
have only a little bit, actually less than a zayit
– an Israeli olive, which is fairly large as olives
go, but it’s still just an olive. (When you’re
Jewish, you get used to measuring in olives.)
Any kind of salt will do, and you don’t
have to make the water taste like the ocean,
just recognizably salty. Taste test to avoid
You’ll need a lot of this, so stock up. The
person leading the seder needs three whole
matzot but some rabbinic opinions call
for supplementing that for the korech (the
sandwich of matzah and bitter herbs). Every
person at the seder will eat the specified
amount, so you need a few pounds on hand.
Here’s a tip: Since the person (or people)
with a seder plate and three matzot must
start with unbroken matzot, it’s a good idea
to go through the boxes in advance and put
perfect ones where you can find them easily
when you need them.
Use romaine lettuce, endives, fresh ground
horseradish, or whatever your family custom
mandates. Granted, lettuce and endives are
not really bitter, but a custom is a custom, and
I won’t argue. The horseradish, on the other
hand, is a real trip. It’s hard to calculate how
much you’ll need. You’ll need maror for the
korech too. For a seder for 12, we use about
two heads of romaine and half of a good-sized
grated horseradish. But I’m the first to admit
that it’s anybody’s guess, and you could get
stuck with leftover horseradish.
Another dip – this time it’s a combination
of diced apples, cinnamon, nuts, ginger,
and wine (or at least that’s one popular
Ashkenazic version). It’s supposed to look
like the mortar used in building, another
symbol of slavery. There are lots of recipes
for charoset; you could probably try a new
one every year for decades.
You don’t eat this. It’s the broiled meat
placed on the seder plate to symbolize the
korban Pesach, the paschal lamb, which was
a sharp, in-your-face negation of Egyptian
idolatry. Since the destruction of the Temple
in Jerusalem, we do not do the paschal lamb,
so this is just a reminder. Some people use
a lamb shank bone, others use a chicken neck.
Stick it in the oven to bake or roast with your
other foods, then take it out and hold it in
a pair of tongs over a burner for a few minutes
to finish it off as broiled.
You don’t eat this either. It’s a symbol
of the korban chagigah, the festival offering
that used to be brought to the Temple.
It, too, just sits on the seder plate as a
reminder. Red alert: boil the egg first. Then
hold it in tongs over a fire to broil or char
it. If you try to broil a raw egg, it will explode.
Speaking of eggs, there’s an Ashkenazic
custom of eating boiled eggs in salt water at
the start of the seder meal (the Shulchan
Orech in the order of the seder). If that’s your
custom, have one peeled boiled egg on hand
for each participant. You can pour the salt
water from the seder over the eggs before
Salmon Cakes with Tropical Fruit Salsa
Croquettes are a cute and elegant starter
course. They’re also wonderfully light and
refreshing. The tropical salsa is a perfect
complement to the richness of the salmon.
The balance of sweet and savory instantly
pleases the palate.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Servings: 10 cakes
Ingredients for cakes
1 2-pound side of salmon, skin on
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup red onion, diced
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
Ingedients for salsa
1 cup diced pineapple
1/2 cup diced mango
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 350º and lightly grease a large baking sheet. Bake salmon skin side down for 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Let cool completely.
- Once the salmon is cooled, gently flake
away from the skin and break into large
chunks. Place in a large bowl and combine
with eggs, red onion, matzah meal, salt
and pepper. Stir to mix well. Scoop about
1/3 cup at a time into your hands and form
into a round patty about 1/2-inch thick.
Place on sheet pan and repeat with remaining
mixture until you have formed 10 cakes.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- In a medium bowl combine pineapple,
mango, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno,
lime juice, and salt. Mix well and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over
medium high heat. Fry 5 cakes at a time for
about 5 to 8 minutes per side or until golden
brown and crispy. Drain on a paper towellined
- To serve, top each cake with a few tablespoons
Leek & Mushroom Chicken with Herbed Spaghetti Squash
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
1 medium spaghetti squash
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced and cleaned
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
3 tablespoons margarine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375º. Pierce squash all over with a knife and place in a baking dish filled 1/4-inch deep with water. Bake for 1 hour or until tender.
- While squash is baking, place chicken on a greased baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until cooked through.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add leeks and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes or until softened. Add mushrooms and cook 2 more minutes. Add broth and wine and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly reduced. Stir in margarine and parsley and add chicken breasts to coat with sauce.
- Cut squash in half, remove seeds and use a fork to scrape the flesh into long spaghetti-like strands. Place in a large bowl and toss with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Balsamic London Broil with Roasted Onions
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Marinate: 3-6 hours
Cook Time: 1 hour
1 2 1/2-pound London broil
5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into wedges
8 medium shallots, peeled and cut in half
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
- In a large resealable bag, combine meat with garlic, balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil. Marinate in the refrigerator for 3 to 6 hours.
- Preheat oven to 400º. Combine onions,
shallots and remaining 1 tablespoon olive
oil on a large sheet pan and roast 40 to 50
minutes or until tender.
- Remove meat from refrigerator for
30 minutes before cooking. Season with salt
and pepper all over. Heat a large ovenproof
skillet over medium high heat and sear
London broil 5 minutes per side or until
nicely browned. Transfer meat to oven and
cook for about 12 to 18 minutes or until
a thermometer reads 130º for medium rare.
Let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
- To serve place sliced roast on a large platter and garnish with roasted onions.
Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Servings: 10 sides
4 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups chopped pecans
- Preheat oven to 400º.
- Divide sweet potatoes evenly between
two sheet pans in a single layer. Drizzle with
olive oil and salt and roast for 30 minutes.
Remove and toss with maple syrup and
pecans. Return to oven and roast 5 to 10
minutes more or until tender and slightly
Jamie Geller is the author of the Quick & Kosher cookbook series and creator of the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine. Her website is joyofkosher.com.