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Crash Course

Invited to a seder, a non-Jew quickly learns everything he can about making a kosher-for-Passover recipe

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(Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine)

Last year, I was invited to a seder at my friend Matt’s house. Now, I may be an agnostic Christian, but I am also a good guest, and so I asked what I could bring. I was assigned hors d’oeuvres, which proved more difficult than expected, as my instincts were all wrong. I was, after all, raised in coastal Massachusetts and weaned on shrimp cocktail.

My first thought was to make lettuce wraps with crab salad. Then I considered a rabbit terrine, only to discover that the hare, a cud-chewing animal without a cloven foot, has been prohibited since Leviticus. I considered making a bluefish pate, but I realized I probably shouldn’t serve a cream cheese-heavy recipe at a meal where there would be meat. Instead of continuing with the guesswork, I decided to throw myself into a culinary investigation about how to make my repertoire kosher for Passover. By the end, I knew more about biblical dietary laws than my host.

After long hours online, I could point out the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic rules. I could recite a list of kosher animals and explain why camel doesn’t qualify but giraffe does. (In short, the camel chews its cud, but doesn’t have a cloven hoof. The giraffe ruminates and has the right feet.) I had learned, from the essays of two different experts, what to do if I found a blood spot in an egg. (One said if the spot was in the white, it could be removed. The other said the whole egg had to be thrown out.)

“Do you think I should kasher my utensils?” I emailed Matt. “And do you avoid kitniyot for Passover, or is rice OK?”

“You’ll have to ask my father,” he replied, befuddled. “And, failing that, a rabbi.”

After peppering Matt with this litany of questions, a suggestion emerged: chicken liver pate. It was a challenge heightened by my inexperience with livers, but the stakes were already high: Matt’s seder would start with homemade matzo ball soup and move on to a brisket that he had braised for days. There would be two perfectly roasted chickens, platters of vegetables, and all the symbolic holiday foods. I quaked at the idea that I would show up with a sub-par spread—the kind that makes people go silent, or, worse yet, mutter a tepid “mmmm.” There was a promising recipe in the Gourmet magazine cookbook. I perused the ingredients: onion (kosher), garlic (kosher), butter (I’d substitute olive oil). It called for a pound of chicken livers. I bought two—just in case—at a pop-up Passover store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Rounding out the recipe were currants and Cognac, and a kosher for Passover brandy was easy to find in New York City. During my trial run in the kitchen, I trimmed too much of the chicken fat. The pate was insufficiently creamy. I called my cousin Jeannie, one of the best cooks in my family.

“Easy fix,” she said. “Add a tablespoon of bacon fat.” It was the first time in my culinary career that bacon couldn’t save me.

I made a batch with more chicken fat, a little more oil. The result was better. I outfitted the rest of my appetizer platter with snacks that could do no wrong: pickles and vegetarian spreads. Then I hit my final roadblock. I needed something to dunk in my red pepper dip, something on which the pate could be spread. I’d gathered that chips are chametz and would not do. It had to be matzo. I realize some people love matzo. But, for others, no amount of butter, honey, or charoset will liven it up. I bought garlic matzo and rosemary matzo and plain, broke them up into shards, arranged them alongside my various spreads. Given a second chance, I’d bring endive for the dip.

“You know,” said Matt as he noshed, “we’re not that strict, and it’s not even sundown yet. You could have served this pate on toast.”

My hors d’oeuvres were a hit. More important, the creativity required had imparted a sense of occasion. For me, it made that night truly Different From All Other Nights. In fact, after the first few sumptuous courses, the menu is a blur. I recall, instead, the songs we sang—I knew “Dayenu” from Quaker grade school—and the surprisingly delicious variety of kosher wines.

Recently, I phoned Matt to see if he could remember what flourless dessert he served. “I think I made your pear cake,” he said. “You gave me the recipe.”

“But that cake is leavened,” I said.

“Oh?” he said. “Is that a problem?”

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Great article! I appreciate all the work done by the writer, and sympathize with not knowing if your host is lenient or not!

I would love that recipe for the pear cake , I can give you one which is not levened! and by the way if you want a “real” experiance the lincoln synagoge has a Mock Seder this thursday night I am sure you would enjoy!

bjks2 says:

Sweet.

As a Jew, I will be attending my first Passover seder this year (outside of a classroom setting). Having not grown up with this tradition, I’m similarly befuddled.

Perhaps it’s lucky that this initiatory experience will be a fast-and-fun seder oriented toward children, in a non-kosher home. ;)

Funny, my family was never kashruth-observant, but we knew all of the voluminous number of basic rules, even though we didn’t observe — however, at Pesach we suddenly turned kosher every year, like clockwork. My father no longer observes strictly now that my mother has died, but I have never been able to shake it, and I’m strangely glad for it.

Hi Patrick, What a great article! I thoroughly enjoyed the care and detail that went into your education of dietary laws for Passover, which educated me, as well. I’m hosting my first Passover Seder this year and wondering how to make a great meatloaf without the breadcrumbs (could matzah meal possibly taste as good?). I though about making briskit for about a minute, but I don’t have the culinary skills or desire to spend days on the dish. Thanks for the article. Risa

Delicious article .. having many non-Jewish friends, and some coming for seder, I will share this .. and Risa .. an easy brisket recipe ..
1 pkg onion soup mix, which I’m sure there’s a Kosher for Passover recipe, 1 bottle of chili sauce .. or ketchup spiced, one sliced onion, liberal sprinkling of garlic powder and one can of Coke, just cover the brisket (5lb is a good size) and roast for 4 and a half hours at 325 and you’ll be delighted. It’s my go to recipe, never fail. Happy Passover

The writer’s respect for religious law is a breath of fresh air. My husband and I have annual conversations about what proportions of nonJewish friends to invite, because with too many I begin to feel as if we’re doing a show. We could never have too many guests like this writer–He makes himself family!

Thanks for that, and for any readers that are having trouble chopping onions without the crying, here’s an incredibly easy tip – put them in the fridge first, then chop them straight away after taking them out! No more tears! I found some more onion soup recipes here if anyone wants to try some more recipes.

I’ve invited the family to ours this xmas for a traditional dinner, so obviously the roast is pretty important! I found a ton of ideas at this roast recipe site, but cant seem to decide on anyone – there’s so many to choose from! It is fun planning such a big xmas meal though!

This website is known as a stroll-by means of for the entire info you wished about this and didn’t know who to ask. Glimpse here, and you’ll positively discover it.

I’ve said that least 2259900 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I am quite certain I’ll learn plenty of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

I tried sign up for your RSS feed but hardwood floor steamer cant get it to work. I am using Google Chrome just in case.

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Crash Course

Invited to a seder, a non-Jew quickly learns everything he can about making a kosher-for-Passover recipe

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