How to Host a Seder Meal

A Seder meal takes place during Passover, one of the most celebrated holidays on the Jewish calendar. During the Seder, representative and symbolic foods are eaten at specified times.

When planning to host a Seder meal, you will need to gather these specific types of food, and it is best to begin by understanding what each food represents.

On the Seder Plate
In the center of the Seder table should be a plate with six ritual foods on it.

A roasted egg: Hard boil an egg in its shell, and then roast it in the toaster oven on bake until the shell is browned. This will not be eaten. The roasted egg represents the Temple sacrifice.

A bitter vegetable: Usually a leaf of romaine, which is bitter. This represents the bitterness of slavery, as does the maror.

Parsley or celery: This will be dipped into salt water, and you should have a bowl or two of parsley or celery prepared to pass around the table for dipping, along with a few small pieces on the Seder Plate to represent the food. The parsley or celery represents spring and renewal.

Charoset: The mixture includes chopped apples, chopped walnuts or almonds, cinnamon and sweet wine, but you can use one of many variations on the recipe. Make lots, and put one scoop on the Seder plate and the rest in a serving bowl because it gets passed around and eaten on matzo. Charoset represents the mortar used for building and should be the color and consistency of a brown lumpy paste. However, it tastes much better than paste.

Maror: This means "bitter," and is usually raw or processed horseradish root. If using raw, be sure to slice some into small pieces. This also will be eaten during the Seder, so put some in a bowl for passing around.

Roasted Lamb Bone: Ask the butcher at the grocery for a shank bone of lamb. It will most likely be free, but they may charge a minimal amount. Roast it in the oven or toaster oven until cooked. This will not be eaten. The lamb bone symbolizes the lamb that was roasted and eaten by the Hebrew slaves before the last plague, and the blood was used to mark their doors so the Angel of Death would pass over their houses.

Matzo
Matzo is flat, unleavened bread that is available in the Kosher section of the grocery store. Be careful to look on the box to see that it is Kosher for Passover. Some matzo is for everyday use and contains chametz, which is forbidden on Passover. Passover matzo goes through a special process ensuring that it has not had the chance to rise. This matzo flour is carefully watched to be sure it has not come into contact with water, which could cause a fermentation which would lead to leavening.

Wrap three pieces of matzo in a cloth napkin, or matzo cover if you have one. A matzo cover is a special cloth with three pockets, one for each piece of matzo. Put another stack of matzo on a plate because matzo is also eaten by everyone at designated times during the Seder.

The middle piece of the three pieces of matzo will be broken, wrapped in a napkin and hidden by the leader of the Seder. This piece of matzo is called the afikoman, which means "dessert." Children search for and find it after dinner, and then they trade it for a prize. You may want to have small prizes for all children attending. This can be anything from a dollar each to a little toy or game.

Wine
Traditionally, Passover wine is very sweet, but the sweetness is not necessary. Make sure to choose wine with the tastes of the participants in mind. Also have grape juice for those who are underage or don't drink. Each participant is supposed to drink four cups of wine or grape juice during the meal. The drinking is done over a long period of time, with dinner in between. The glasses don't have to be full, either, so you and your guests can control the amount of alcohol or grape juice you drink.

Avoiding Chametz
Chametz is a category of food that is expressly forbidden on Passover. Chametz is generally any food made of one or more of five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oats) that have been in contact with water for eighteen minutes or more, which would allow fermentation to be possible. In order for no mistake to be made, these grains are allowed to be consumed only in the form of Passover matzo. Jews are supposed to completely remove chametz from their homes during Passover as well.

Selecting a Starch
Many people serve potatoes or matzo farfel as a starch during the Seder meal. Most Jewish families also consider rice, corn, lentils and beans to be forbidden. So, it is advisable to also exclude these foods from your Seder recipes. While some Jews, notably those of Sephardic descent, do not consider these last four items to be prohibited, unless you are sure you are having only Sephardic Jews at the Seder meal, it is best to be conservative about it and serve foods that would be acceptable to both groups.

Creative Charoset
Another way to make charoset is to add or substitute any of these ingredients: dates, almonds, figs, cardamom, raisons, dried apricots, ginger, pears, cashews or pistachio nuts. You can also omit the apples or substitute juice (cranberry, pomegranate or grape) for the wine. It is permissible to be creative as long as your guests will be willing to be open-minded.

Seder Plates
Some people have a Seder Plate with places for each food pictured or labeled on it. You don't need this kind of Seder Plate; what's most important is having a plate with the proper ritual foods on it.

A Seder meal can offer the chance to be creative, within the guidelines of avoiding chametz. Must-haves are the symbolic foods, and, beyond that, one can make a delicious meal to complement the Seder. Traditions like serving matzo ball soup and gefilte fish can be preserved while adding a creative flair to the charoset.

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No matter how many people will attend your Passover Seder, certain symbolic and traditional items are necessary to have on hand, ready for the designated time during the Seder. With the right preparation, Passover Seders can be a wonderful and meaningful time for everyone.

A Seder plate is central to the Passover Seder. It sits as the centerpiece of the table, and is referred to a number of times during the Seder itself.

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