5@5 - How to modernize your Seder
March 25th, 2013
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.


The week-long Passover holiday kicks off at sundown tonight with the ritual Seder meal. The centerpiece of the feast is the Seder plate, brimming with symbolic foods that commemorate the exodus of Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The plate includes:

  • a lamb shankbone
  • a roasted, hard-boiled egg
  • a vegetable, usually parsley, dipped in salt water
  • charoset/haroset, a sweet mixture of apples, nuts, wine and spices
  • a bitter vegetable, like romaine lettuce

Founder Nick Wiseman and chef Barry Koslow of DGS Delicatessen in Washington, D.C., have a few tips to help freshen up the traditional Passover Seder menu without upsetting your bubbe too much.

Five Ways to Modernize Your Seder: Barry Koslow

1. Go beyond chicken
For a boost in flavor and richness, use duck schmaltz instead of chicken schmaltz in your matzo balls. Overall, it'll give you a smoother texture and richer flavor. Sometimes chicken schmaltz can be watery, whereas duck schmaltz is an easier fat to work with, giving more viscosity and making it easier to form the perfect matzo ball.

2. Don't drink Manischewitz
Just because your bubbe served Manischewitz doesn't mean it's the only acceptable drink for your Seder. People shy away from pairing Jewish food with alcoholic beverages, but you can have a Seder with both good food and drink if you put a little thought into it and avoid pairing one beverage with the entire meal.

Matzo ball soup is tricky to pair because you're putting liquid up against liquid. Try something that isn't too dry, but can stand up to bold flavors, like a sherry, which has a bit more alcohol and body than wine. Rosé wines or even a stout are also good options. Bodegas Hidalgo Oloroso Faraon Sherry is very dry and will complement your duck fat matzo balls nicely.

If you're having a sacrificial lamb, go with a full-bodied red like an Israeli Cabernet from Teperberg Winery.

For dessert, play off the apple flavors in the haroset and serve an heirloom cider, like Eden's Vermont Heirloom Blend Ice Cider.

3. Embrace the season
Passover is one of the holidays – Thanksgiving being another – that falls perfectly within the bounty of the growing season. Embrace spring's bounty and incorporate veggies in every course. Add scallions to matzo ball soup, asparagus and beets to gefilte fish, peas and artichokes to lamb, and rhubarb to haroset.

4. Don't be bound by tradition
Growing up, Passover was always the most fun holiday with the biggest family turnout and the most gregarious atmosphere. The holiday is about remembrance and celebrating independence, so don't be afraid to take some liberties with the traditional Seder plate.

Try encrusting halibut in a bitter herb crust with parsley and garnish it with a spicy beet chrain (relish). Traditionally, you would dip the parsley in salted water and serve and eat the horseradish straight.

Haroset is a paste that’s traditionally made with nuts and apples and is supposed to resemble the mortar that the Jews used as slaves to build with in Egypt. Have some fun and reinterpret it as a dessert like an apple and rhubarb crumble.

5. Make Your Own Matzo
Store-bought matzo is dry and tastes like cardboard. In most grocery stores, it tastes like it could be the original matzo made in the desert - old and stale. Making your own matzo is fun, and the result is tasty: Flour (4 1/2 cups), olive oil (2 teaspoons), water (3/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons) and salt (1 teaspoon) are the only four ingredients you'll need.

Roll it with a pasta machine, or you can roll it thinly by hand.

Cut the dough into squares, brush it with some olive oil, sprinkle it with a little sea salt and pierce the surface with a fork.

Flip a sheet tray upside down in the oven, or you can use a pizza stone. Crank the heat up as high as possible and throw the dough on the tray. Watch the matzo blister; it'll be ready in about 4-5 minutes depending on how hot your oven is. They taste even better hot, and it takes almost no time.

Passover horseradish – rooted in tradition
L'chaim! Israeli wines for Passover
A taste of Passover recipes from around the globe

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Holidays • Passover • Passover • Think

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Samantha Joshi

    I'm pretty sure making matzo using a pasta machine defeats the whole purpose, fun or not! And eating lamb on Seder night is a definite no no

    March 27, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  2. Philippa Gamse

    Really – has anyone told these folks that bread and beer (recommended to accompany the matzo ball soup) are not allowed during Passover – that's the whole point! It's not supposed to be a fancy meal just like you'd have all year – it's supposed to make us think – and to be different ("Why is this night different from all other nights?") AAGH . . .

    March 25, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  3. David

    Ummmm, the picture has leavened bread???

    March 25, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  4. Turth™

    It is always difficult at this time of year to find a good Kosher ham...

    March 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Sapphire


      March 26, 2013 at 6:44 am |
  5. Jim Beranis

    Nothing like being high end and fancy about a meal that should be bringing us back to our impoverished roots. Fanciness,cleverness, cuteness or whatever in Seder meals is not a real meal in my eyes. Some of these photo's of plates made by obviously professionals makes me roll my eyes.

    March 25, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  6. rad666

    Funny how there is a meal to celebrate the passover of God's Angel of Death that killed the first born male of non-believers.

    I bet parents don't teach their kids that fact.

    March 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • wei xin

      Yeah, we do. Considering that part of the seder dinner is mourning all of the Egyptians who died, you will see that us Jews go out of our way to acknowledge that part.

      March 25, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
      • Abe Vagoda

        Like ^^^

        March 25, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
  7. Bob Salomon

    Fun matzo is a bit of an oxymoron. It is supposed to be the bread of affliction

    March 25, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • oneclassydame

      Also, I'm pretty sure there are rules about just using any old flour. . . but I was pretty skeptical of this article when I saw that the top photo had a bunch of bread lying around the plate. Way to go, guys.

      March 25, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
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