Alison Roman’s Seder table

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By Alison Roman, The New York Times

This is not the Passover article I was planning to write. I’d planned to write a peppy, service-driven piece on how to successfully pull off two days of cooking for a modern, secular meal. But over the last few weeks (and long after the development of these recipes, and their photo and video shoots), everything became … well, very different. Many of us are now stuck at home with limited access to ingredients, separated from those we’d otherwise be cooking for and eating with. And publishing a piece on how to enthusiastically cook fancy cuts of meat for many of your friends and family (and their friends and family) suddenly seemed not only insensitive but also nearly impossible.

So things here have shifted a bit: The tone is different and the scope scaled back, but Passover is still on the calendar. And, ultimately, a bunch of new, highly cookable recipes still felt like a thing we could all use, regardless of how we’d use them.

Serendipitously, all the dishes developed for this secular menu already accommodated varying levels of ambition and product availability, relying heavily on pantry staples and encouraging flexibility (my two favorite things). Please know going in that the dishes here are inspired by tradition, not bound to it. (Yes, I may suggest melted butter as a substitution for chicken fat because this is not a kosher menu, and hey, we are all just doing our best.) There are echoes of what you might find during a traditional Seder, with a few updates: bright, acidic, few-ingredient salads and vegetables; a relatively bare-bones, extremely comforting chicken soup; a pot of simply braised meat. There is an ice cream sundae bar, which is less a recipe (and certainly not traditional) and more a reminder that you could maybe use an ice cream sundae. Most everything comes together quickly, though a few of the dishes take several hours to cook, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing now that we have a bit more time at home.

This piece was always going to be less about the ritual of Passover and more about the ritual of cooking a celebratory meal, period. (My memories of Seder growing up are fuzzy at best — I grew up half-Jewish, and while we celebrated some years, it wasn’t until I moved to New York and started attending the annual Seders of my friends and their families that I became attached to the holiday.) Not to get too earnest, but celebrating literally anything feels essential right now. Like getting dressed in real pants to work from home or putting on lipstick to do yoga in my living room, I don’t need an excuse (or even a holiday) to make a more-elaborate-than-necessary dinner, and I don’t think you do, either.

Maybe you can’t invite anyone over and maybe it feels too sad to cook these things alone, so you make a box of macaroni and cheese instead. That’s fine! Great, even. You can still set the table, burn a few tea lights and take a minute to breathe. Put your phone away. Read aloud from your favorite short story, a family prayer book or collection of poems you love. Think of the things you’re grateful for. Doing any one of these things for yourself can be a small but significant thing that can have great returns for your mental health.

So, pick one recipe, or make them all. Cook them with your partner, or alone together with friends via Zoom, and laugh about how weird (but also kind of fun) that is. Use the substitutions suggested throughout to make the recipes work for your kitchen and what you have. Freeze the leftovers or give them away to nearby neighbors in a way that feels safe. Just keep cooking, because right now, we could all use a little matzo ball soup.
Matzo Ball Soup With Celery and Dill
If you make one thing from this menu, please let it be this matzo ball soup — Jewish penicillin, as my late grandpa referred to it. There is no perfect matzo ball archetype (dense sinkers vs. fluffy floaters, medium vs. large), but know that I am a people-pleaser and have tried to give you the best of every world. Greater than the sum of its parts, its success hinges on three very simple components: chicken broth (golden brown, deeply savory, lightly seasoned), matzo balls (tender, eggy, schmaltzy dumplings), and garnish (celery and fresh dill, lots of it). A true cure-all, emotionally speaking, it is both a very good way to start a meal and a very good meal unto itself. If this is your main event, it’s also nice to augment it with a variety of noshes: half- or full-sour pickles, halved jammy eggs, some matzo spread with softened butter topped maybe with some anchovies, whitefish salad or chopped liver.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Total time: 3 hours


For the broth:
1 (4- to 4 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 4 to 4 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts 2 large yellow onions, unpeeled, quartered 2 garlic heads, unpeeled, halved crosswise 4 celery stalks, chopped 2 large carrots, chopped Kosher salt
For the matzo balls and assembly:
1 cup matzo meal (not matzo ball mix), or 1 cup finely ground matzo boards 1/4 cup finely chopped chives 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste 5 large eggs 1/3 cup chicken fat, grapeseed oil or unsalted butter, melted 1/4 cup club soda or seltzer 3 to 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a bias, plus any leaves 1/2 cup chopped dill leaves Freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare the broth: Combine chicken, onions, garlic, celery and carrots in a large pot. Cover with 12 cups water and season with salt. (If your pot can’t handle all that water, fill the pot with as much as you can, and add remaining water as it reduces.)

2. Bring to a strong simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low so that the broth is gently simmering.

3. Continue to gently simmer, uncovered, until the broth is extremely flavorful and well seasoned, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using tongs, remove breasts, thighs and legs from the pot (let any skin and bones fall into the pot), leaving everything else behind.

4. Pick the meat from the chicken, discarding any fat, skin, bones, cartilage or any drier pieces of meat that you wouldn’t find delicious to eat. Set meat aside to either put back into your soup or to use in another dish (chicken salad, etc.).

5. Strain broth (you should have about 10 cups) and return to the pot. Season with salt and pepper (it should be as seasoned and delicious as you’d want it to be when serving). Keep warm, if using same day, or let cool and refrigerate overnight.

6. As broth sits, prepare the matzo balls: Combine matzo meal, chives and 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt in a medium bowl. Using a fork, incorporate eggs until well blended. Add chicken fat, followed by club soda, mixing until no lumps remain. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until mixture is firm and fully hydrated, at least 2 hours (and up to 24 hours).

7. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Using your hands, roll matzo ball mixture into balls slightly smaller than the size of a Ping-Pong ball (about 1 1/4-inch in diameter), placing them on a plate or parchment lined baking sheet until all the mixture is rolled (you should have about 24 matzo balls).

8. Add matzo balls to the boiling water and cook until floating, puffed and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. (You can always sacrifice one, plucking it from the broth and cutting it in half to check that it’s cooked through. The texture should be uniform in color and texture, and the balls shouldn’t be dense or undercooked in the center.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the matzo balls to the chicken broth.

9. Add celery (and some of the picked chicken meat, if you desire) and season again with salt before ladling into bowls, topping with dill, celery leaves and a crack of freshly ground pepper.

If you have the luxury of time, it’s nice to make this over two days, absent-mindedly simmering the stock on Day 1, preparing the matzo balls on Day 2 — be sure to leave time for their two-hour rest — but it can also be done in one day with no problem. You can use a whole chicken an equal measure of bone-in, skin-on chicken parts. If you have the option, go for the fattier cuts with dark meat like legs and thighs. You can also use store-bought chicken broth here, but I recommend simmering it with the broth aromatics listed (onion, garlic, celery and carrot), if you’re able. Chicken fat will most likely be the trickiest thing to find. I know it’s certainly not kosher, but melted butter is a ridiculously good substitute. You can also use a neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola. The seltzer water is almost superstitious, but I believe it contributes to their fluffiness, but I’ve also made matzo balls with regular water, and yes, they still turn out. Chopped Liver on Matzo
I’m just guessing here, but I feel like “chopped liver” will never be my most popular recipe. I do love to eat it, and for those who feel the same way, “Hello, nice to meet you!” This recipe is particularly simple, just the livers, salted and quickly seared in schmaltz until still pink inside, chopped with quickly sizzled shallots (or onions) and a bit of reduced wine. It’s not much to look at, but at least one of you will become a fan after spreading this funky, savory mixture onto a salted matzo with a sprinkle of parsley and lemon juice. (I’m hoping that person is you.)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings (about 1 cup)

Total time: 30 minutes

6 tablespoons chicken fat or unsalted butter, melted 6 ounces chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed of any fat Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 4 large shallots (about 6 ounces), thinly sliced 1/4 cup dry white wine or sherry Flaky sea salt 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley Matzo, for serving 1 lemon, halved, for squeezing

1. Melt 2 tablespoons chicken fat in a medium skillet over high heat. Add chicken livers, spacing them out so they brown instead of steam, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, without disturbing, until browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Using tongs or a spatula, flip livers until browned on the other side, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer livers to a plate.

3. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons chicken fat, along with the sliced shallots. Season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing occasionally, until the shallots are deeply browned and completely tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Add wine and cook until reduced almost completely (shallots will look very jammy), 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Finely chop livers and shallots and combine in a medium bowl along with remaining 2 tablespoons fat. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a small bowl or serving vessel and top with flaky salt and parsley. Serve with matzo and lemon for squeezing over.

You can use thinly sliced onion (yellow or red) in lieu of shallots and neutral oil (or if not keeping kosher, butter) instead of chicken fat. I wouldn’t call chicken livers “easy to find,” but they are cheap and freeze well, so it’s always worth asking to see if wherever you are has them. That said, they are the bulk of this recipe, so if you can’t find them, you may want to skip it. Apples With Honey and Crushed Walnuts
Tradition is a beautiful thing, unless it requires you to make something you don’t enjoy making or eating. For me, that’s charoset. Classically, it’s an apple-walnut mixture, occasionally with a touch of cinnamon or dried fruit, or a combination, that ranges from chunky-relish to chunky-paste, and it’s never been my favorite thing on the table. I’ve always wanted it tangier, crunchier and, well, I wanted a salad. This is that salad. It’s meant to be more acidic than sweet, but adjust with vinegar and honey as needed to suit your preference. A note: Nearly everyone who ate this salad said it was their favorite part of this whole meal, which bruised my matzo ball ego, but I thought you should know.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 15 minutes

1 cup raw walnut pieces or halves 4 Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apples, or a comparable sweet-tart variety 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons honey, plus more to taste Olive oil, for drizzling

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spread walnuts in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast walnuts until golden brown and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. (You can also do this in a toaster oven.) Let cool. Using your hands or a knife if you like, crush or finely chop walnuts. Set aside.

2. Thinly slice apples (with a mandoline or a sharp knife) any way you please. (Rounds are excellent if you don’t mind eating the edible core.) Scatter the slices onto a large serving platter or bowl. Drizzle 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar over apples, and season with salt and pepper; give them a little toss and drizzle with 2 tablespoons honey. Taste an apple slice and adjust seasoning with more vinegar or honey, as needed. Sprinkle with walnuts, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil, flaky salt and pepper.

If you have pears on hand and want to use them here, I think that’s a lovely idea. No walnuts, no problem: Any nut, especially almonds or pistachio would be great. Use fresh lemon or white-wine vinegar in lieu of the apple cider vinegar. Parsley Salad With Fennel and Horseradish
I have always been the one at the Seder table to finish my sprigs of parsley dipped in salt water (done during the Seder to represent tears shed), and then ask my neighbor to the left, “You going to finish that?” What can I say, I love everything about parsley: the sturdy, leafy texture; the almost bitter, verdant flavor. And I think a well-salted, excessively lemony bowl of it is something that most tables could benefit from, especially if those tables include braised pots of red meat.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 10 minutes

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced 1 large bunch parsley, tender stems and leaves 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper Olive oil, for drizzling Fresh horseradish, for grating

1. Toss fennel and parsley together in a medium bowl. Add lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Season again with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if you like. (It should be fairly lemony.)

2. Drizzle with olive oil, toss to coat and grate a bit of fresh horseradish over everything, gently tossing to distribute the horseradish. (Doing it this way prevents clumping.) Transfer to a serving bowl and grate more horseradish over before serving.

The shaved fennel here provides a bit of bulk and crunch, but, if you can’t find fennel, you could easily use thinly sliced radish, cabbage or celery. Fresh horseradish is one of those things that’s more available than you think, inexplicably included among the exotic mushrooms and other “specialty produce” at many chain grocery stores. That said, if you can’t find it, feel free to use a dab of prepared horseradish when tossing the fennel or simply skip it, and be sure to give a few extra grinds of black pepper to compensate for its heat. Spicy, Garlicky Carrots
Possibly one of the few occasions when crowding the skillet is a good thing, this recipe calls for carrots cooked in fat — schmaltz, olive oil, butter — with a pinch of something spicy — red-pepper flakes, cayenne, even hot paprika — and sort of half-steamed on top of one another until they’re just tender. (No mushy carrots here, please.) At the end, they are seasoned with a bit of finely grated or chopped garlic off the heat, which quiets the garlicky punch without extinguishing it entirely. They’re maybe the most simply cooked carrots imaginable, but similarly to a sandwich cut into triangles, the fact that they are sliced into rounds makes them taste above-average delicious.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 15 minutes

1/4 cup chicken fat, olive oil or unsalted butter 1/4 cup olive oil Pinch of red-pepper flakes (optional) 2 bunches carrots, topped removed (about 1 pound), thinly sliced into rounds Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated

1. Melt chicken fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (If using butter, melt until lightly foamy and starting to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.) Add olive oil and red-pepper flakes, if using, swirling to bloom a bit in the butter. Add carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until carrots are just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. (They should be simply softened, like al dente pasta, not soft or mushy.)

2. Remove pan from heat and add garlic, tossing to coat, and transfer to serving bowl.

The world needs kindness right now, so I won’t tell you that you can’t make these carrots without carrots. If you wanted to do use cauliflower or broccoli florets, radishes, turnips, fennel or parsnips, you can! If raw garlic is not for you, slice it instead of grating it and add it along with the red-pepper flakes to get a little golden brown before adding the carrots. If you don’t like spiciness, leave out the red-pepper flakes, maybe substituting something like fennel or cumin seed.
Crispy Potato Kugel

At its core, kugel is a casserole. It comes in both savory and sweet varieties, often made with egg noodles and vaguely sweetened. This version, made with potatoes, is decidedly salty and savory, with onions in the mixture and chives to finish. It can best be described as something between a Spanish tortilla and a giant latke: The potatoes are shredded, not sliced; there are eggs but no flour; and it’s got crispy edges and a creamy interior. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes

4 pounds russet potatoes (about 5 to 7 potatoes), peeled 1 large yellow onion 6 large eggs 10 tablespoons chicken fat, melted, or use vegetable oil Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/3 cup finely chopped chives, for serving Flaky sea salt, for serving

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Using a box grater or the shredding attachment on the food processor, grate the potatoes and onion into a colander fitted inside a large bowl (or in the sink).

2. Using your hands and working with a bit at a time, squeeze as much water from the potatoes and onions as humanly possible and transfer the dry potatoes to a large bowl (you can use that same bowl, just make sure it’s drained and dry). For added insurance, you can also do this with cheesecloth or a porous kitchen towel, if you like.

3. Add eggs and 6 tablespoons chicken fat to the potatoes, and season with salt and plenty of pepper, mixing well. Heat another 2 tablespoons fat in a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high. (This recipe will work in a 9- or 10-inch skillet, but the kugel will be slightly taller in a 9-inch.) Delicately place the potato mixture into the skillet, taking care not to pack it in tightly. (You want to keep the kugel light and airy.)

4. Cook the potatoes, rotating the skillet occasionally to promote even browning, until it’s golden brown on the edges and up the sides, 10 to 12 minutes.

5. Drizzle the top of the potatoes with the remaining 2 tablespoons fat and place in the oven. Bake until the top of the kugel is deeply golden brown, the edges are wispy and crispy, and the potatoes are completely and totally tender and cooked through, 45 to 50 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and top with more pepper, chives and flaky sea salt. Slice and serve warm.

If you don’t have chicken fat and are not keeping kosher, melted butter is great substitute, otherwise, olive oil or a neutral oil like grapeseed or canola will do the trick. But given the limited ingredient list on this recipe, you really do need the rest (potatoes, onion, egg). Tangy Braised Short Ribs
No tomato paste, no wine, these short ribs are seared, then braised in a tangy, savory liquid made from browned onions and garlic, vinegar, a touch of soy sauce for salty depth and an important but almost imperceptible dab of honey. No, it’s not brisket, but that’s kind of the point. I’m not trying to be contrarian, but I feel like if you’re going to spend the money and go through the trouble of braising a cut of meat for three-plus hours, it may as well be the best kind. And I think short ribs are the best kind: I find them to be more accessible, affordable and available year-round. (These recipes live forever, you know.)

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 4 hours, plus seasoning

5 pounds bone-in short ribs, at least 1 1/2-inch thick, cut into single bone portions (or 3 1/2 to 4 pounds boneless, at least 1 1/2-inch thick) Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 3 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil 2 large yellow onions, quartered 2 heads garlic, halved crosswise 3 tablespoons honey 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 1/2 cup soy sauce or tamari 4 cups chicken, beef or vegetable broth 4 thyme sprigs 2 cups parsley, leaves and tender stems, finely chopped 1/2 bunch chives, finely chopped Flaky sea salt 3 lemons, halved, for juicing

1. Season short ribs with salt and pepper at least 1 hour (at room temperature) and as much as 48 hours (covered and refrigerated) in advance.

2. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Working in batches, sear short ribs until deeply golden brown on both large flat sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer short ribs to a large plate or cutting board and drain all but about 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Discard remaining fat. Repeat with remaining short ribs. Drain all fat from the pot and carefully wipe out. (No need to wash, just get rid of any scorched bits.)

3. In the same pot over medium-high, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and add onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and garlic get a bit of color, 4 to 5 minutes. Add honey and cook, stirring until it starts to bubble furiously, turning a darker amber brown and sticking to the bottom of the pot as it cooks.

4. Add vinegar and soy sauce, and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pot. Bring to a strong simmer and cook to reduce by about half, 5 to 8 minutes. Add broth and thyme, and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and add short ribs back in, bone-side up, making sure they are as submerged in that braising liquid as possible. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Do not look at it or remove the lid for 3 hours. (Nothing bad will happen, promise.)

5. After 3 hours, check the short ribs; they should be extremely tender and nearly falling apart, almost having the jiggly texture of a baked custard or Jell-O. (If not, continue roasting another 20 to 30 minutes.) Remove from oven.

6. At this stage, you can remove the lid and using a spoon, carefully skim as much of the top layer of fat as possible. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees, and return the pot to the oven, uncovered, to let the short ribs brown a bit on top and thicken the braising liquid a bit, another 35 to 45 minutes. (Alternatively, you can remove the short ribs from the oven, let them cool at room temperature and place in them in the fridge, overnight. When ready to serve, remove them from the fridge and using a spoon, scrape off the solidified fat on the top layer. Return the short ribs, covered, to a 325-degree oven until totally warmed through, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the lid and increase temperature to 425 degrees, and continue to cook, uncovered, to let the short ribs brown a bit on top and reduce the braising liquid, another 35 to 45 minutes.)

7. Meanwhile, combine parsley and chives in a small bowl and season with flaky salt.

8. Remove the short ribs from the oven and serve straight from the pot or transfer them to a shallow bowl or plate with high sides, spooning the braising liquid over. Squeeze lemons over, letting the juice season the braising liquid. Sprinkle with parsley mixture before serving.

While my preference is almost always bone-in for any cut of meat, this recipe will work with boneless ribs, too. (And a brisket, if you must: Add an hour to the cooking time for a 4-pound brisket.) If you are lemon-poor, oranges are can step in for that last hit of acidity and brightness. If those aren’t an option, a splash of vinegar will do the trick. Black-and-White Sundae Bar
This is selfish, but after cooking an entire meal and eating a plate of short ribs, the last thing I want is cake, no matter how flourless or chocolaty. But you know what I do want? Ice cream, preferably drizzled with bittersweet chocolate sauce that hardens upon contact (magic shell!) and salty, creamy, nutty caramel. While this is a great thing to do for any number of people, I can speak from personal experience that you do not need to have anyone at the table (or in your home) to enjoy this. A personal ice cream sundae is one of life’s greatest pleasures, up there with the first day of denim jacket weather and going to bed before 9 p.m.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings

Total time: 30 minutes


For the crunchy chocolate sauce:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 60% to 72%, chopped (about 1 cup) 1 cup coconut oil Kosher salt
For the tahini caramel:
1/2 cup sugar 2/3 cup tahini Kosher salt
For serving:
2 pints vanilla ice cream Halvah, crumbled Cocoa nibs, chopped chocolate, toasted sesame seeds Flaky sea salt

1. Make the chocolate sauce: Combine chocolate and coconut oil in a medium bowl, and place over a small pot of barely simmering water.

2. Melt, stirring occasionally, until no lumps remain and you’ve got an impossibly shiny, chocolaty sauce. (Alternatively, microwave in 30-second increments until the sauce is shiny and no lumps remain.) Season with salt and set aside.

3. Make the tahini caramel: Heat half the sugar in a medium pot over medium. Once the sugar starts to melt and liquefy, gently stir the sugar using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until it’s a nice golden-brown color, 2 to 4 minutes. (You want this to happen slowly to prevent risk of burning.)

4. Scatter remaining sugar on top and cook until all the sugar is totally liquefied and a dark amber color, like good maple syrup, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Slowly add in 2/3 cup water, taking care not to add it all at once or the sugar will seize. Then, add the tahini, mixing to blend well. Bring the whole thing to as simmer, season with salt and remove from heat.

6. To serve, pour sauces (both will be spoonable or pourable at room temperature, no need to warm) over scoops of ice cream to suit your wants, needs, desires. Top with any combination of crumbled halvah, cocoa nibs, chopped chocolate, toasted sesame seeds, flaky salt or anything you might want on your ice cream at this moment.

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