How I Met My Dinner: Passover

Apr 11, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Alicia Lieu, How I Met My Dinner

by Alicia Lieu

I have been sporadically watching the new hit sitcom Fresh off the Boat which is about a Chinese American family with immigrant parents. It never fails to make me laugh and the latest episode introduced a Chinese boy who was adopted by Jewish parents. It really illustrated differences and similarities between two cultures in a gut-busting hilarious way. Fresh off the Boat is set in Orlando, but one of the wonderful things about living in New York City is the incredible diversity that you encounter every day.

Being raised in a Protestant Christian tradition, I am familiar with the book of Exodus but not terribly familiar with the Jewish Passover traditions. I asked a colleague if she would take some time to tell me about Passover. Not only did she agree, she was overjoyed, because part of the blessing of Passover is telling the story and passing it on to others. It was extremely interesting to me. I have transcribed it here for you to read. Also included are links to recipes for traditional Passover dishes and new alternative Passover dishes that she sent me as well.

Linda Schleider on Passover:

My parents were Eastern European so we had Ashkenazi Passover. We would have gefilte fish that my mother made from scratch. So she would go to the fish monger. Whitefish and carp is what she would make the fish out of. I didn’t spend a lot of time to watch her in the kitchen but she had a wooden bowl and what she called a hochmesser, what we would call a mezzaluna today, but in the bowl, she’d be chopping, rather than on a flat board. She’d make her Matzo balls from scratch. food

Now there are different kinds of Matzo balls. My mother believed in light Matzo balls. In the family, we should have called them bombs. They would start out small, and then expand large and we would be like, “Wow, that is one big Matzo ball, mom!” Her chicken soup was terrific. And culturally, we kind of changed her cooking a little bit. Coming from Poland, there was a heavy tradition of using schmaltz, chicken fat. And we got her to skim the soup. We said, “Mom, we’re not taking the schmaltz on the bread.” Roast chicken would be a standard for Passover.

Because she was European, she would buy everything fresh and we would virtually never have anything canned in the house. To my mind, vegetables should be Kelly green- Jewish cooking comes out Olive. Nice and soft. Part of the traditional plate, the Seder plate. It has bitter herbs and Romaine lettuce would generally be what you serve.

Another dish is Charoset. Charoset is a nut-wine mixture and you would put it between two pieces of Matzo and that’s a part of the ritual that it represents the mortar of the building you have salt water that would be on the plate. The egg, the shank bone. We can look at a children’s Haggadah here, the order of the Passover Seder. Seder literally means order. There’s a wine blessing, you wash your hands. Then there’s Karpas, which is parsley. You divide the Matzo, you tell the story. The telling of the story is the biggest mitvah, you wash your hands. Very clean people. Then you bless the Matzo and then you have the bitter herbs. Then you take the Matzo sandwich. Then you have the meal. Then they find the hidden dessert. Then you bless after the meal, you praise God, and then you conclude. There was one Seder that my mother actually made an orange duck instead of a chicken and it was FABULOUS. It was very simple. A little concentrated orange juice, a little brandy.

My aunt on the other hand – my Aunt Aida, rest her soul – she loved to bake. She made the world’s best cookies. At Passover, she made a Passover Chocolate Chip Cookie but she also made rolls out of Matzo and bagels out of Matzo. My cousin in Israel still does that. My mother never did that. We had straight up Matzo. Some people also make Matzo stuffing. If you go over to Citarella, you’ll see now some of the prepared foods that people make things out of. My mother would make a Tzimmes also. Tzimmes in Yiddish means “to do.” And elaborate to do. My mother tends to cook sweet.

One of the things you would say in Yiddish is have a “zisn Pesach.” Have a sweet Passover. It would be a carrot mixture with some pineapple or with plums. The main thing about Passover to keep in mind is the ritual. That because the Jews had to leave Egypt in haste and didn’t have time for their bread to rise, that’s where the unleavened bread, the Matzo becomes the tradition. So these are the things that you’re not supposed to have during the eight days of the holiday. No risen bread, no peas, anything that can actually ferment. And that, of course, depends on who you’re talking to. I was raised Kosher so we had a certain degree of observance. If you talk to the majority of people, they would say, “Yeah, we had Matzo. What else are you talking about?” That’s the Eastern European way. food

The Sephardi are from Greece or Spain, or the Arab countries and they have different traditions. And they’ll actually include grains that the Eastern Europeans don’t. It’s acceptable in their tradition, and different dishes. Wherever people go, they take in foods of the regions. I’m trying to think because my accountant is Greek, but he’s married to an Ashkenazi woman, so they do both. Before his daughter got married, they made sure there were Greek stuffed leaves and such. The synagogue they were in is Eastern European but they hold forth the Greek traditions, too. The dessert, which isn’t really dessert, is a big deal. The kids break off a piece of the Matzo and hide it, and then they offer it for ransom to the adults and the meal can’t be completed until the hidden Matzo has been produced.

Another interesting thing is the Greeks can’t have Easter until the Jews have had Passover. Because in Greek Easter, Christ has to have been resurrected and that can’t happen until after Passover has happened because the Last Supper was the Seder. I have Greek neighbors so I know that this year, Greek Easter will be the same time as regular Easter. Elijah’s cup. There’s a cup of wine that is poured for the prophet Elijah and you open the door to allow him to come in. There are some Seder’s that will also have Esther’s cup. This is for feminists who decided that it shouldn’t just be Elijah so they put out another cup for Queen Esther.

foodThere’s an infinite variety in the way people do their celebrations. One year it was just a friend and I and I said, “I’m going to remind you of everything you learned in Sunday school, because that’s the mitzvah, the good deed.” You’re told to tell the story to the generations. By continuing to tell it, you’re telling the story of freedom. I was thinking of the gospel song that’s so wonderful, “Let my people go. When Moses was down in Egypt land, let my people go…” It tells the whole story in just a few words. It’s great.

A Traditional Passover Dinner:

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions:

Healthy Passover

My Favorite Chicken Soup- Jewish Penicillin:

Paleo Coconut Macaroons:

Gluten Free Gefilte Fish:

Healthy Charoset:

A Vegan Passover:

Check back every month for Alicia’s next food column & check out past columns in our Food section. You can follow Alicia on Twitter @AliciaJLieu.

Alicia Lieu grew up in Cupertino, California. She has Master’s Degree in Music Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Bachelor of Art from UC Santa Barbara. A New Yorker with the heart of a Californian, she currently resides in Queens, NY and blogs about food in Jackson Heights.


  1. I stand corrected. Greek Easter is tomorrow, Sunday the 12th. all of Passover ( which ends today) must be over , before Orthodox Easter is celebrated.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this.


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