Cooking for Passover for the First Time: Q&A With Leah Koenig - Editor of The Jew and The Carrot

Are you cooking for Passover for the first time this year? Passover is a holiday rich with thousands of years of tradition - family, cultural, and religious. Taking on some or all of the food responsibilities can feel overwhelming!

We asked Leah Koenig, editor of Hazon's blog, The Jew and The Carrot, for a few tips and ideas on cooking for Passover. She shares sustainable menu ideas, a good "first seder" cookbook, and her own favorite Passover treats.

Q: Leah, some of our readers may be celebrating their first Passover on their own, in their own home. The amount of tradition and ritual that surrounds Passover meals can be overwhelming. Where would you suggest a new cook start?

People tend to be very emotionally tied to traditional the foods they grew up eating at the seder (e.g. matzah ball soup, potato kugel, and brisket), so I do think it is important to recreate some of the classics. That said, you don't have to throw out everything you know about cooking and entertaining to adhere to Passover rituals - it's really just another chance to bring people together around the table!

If you're looking for a good "seder textbook," check out Passover Seders Made Simple by Zell Shulman. It's really user-friendly and brings a sense of calmness and good humor to the sometimes overwhelming task of preparing the seder meal.

Q: Can you give us a few accessible recipes for one first Passover meal?

Passover is the perfect time to cook with all the amazing vegetables that are available right now - asparagus, ramps, fiddleheads, peas, spinach, spring beets etc. One of the Hebrew names for Passover is actually Chag Ha'Aviv, which means holiday of spring, so pretty much any veggie you can buy at a farmer's market is fair game for the seder table.

Additionally, quinoa - which is technically a seed and not a grain - is kosher for Passover. When you can't serve bread, pasta, barley, or any other grain, quinoa is a small miracle. The Jew & The Carrot has a Passover menu with lots of great recipe ideas, including two quinoa dishes: almond quinoa salad and quinoa with beets and fresh orange sections. (The beets turn quinoa the a stunningly beautiful red!)

You can find all the recipes here: Sustainable Passover Menu.

Q: What's your favorite Passover tradition?

I love participatory seders. The primary purpose of the seder (aside from the meal, of course) is to retell the story of the Exodus from Mitzrayim (ancient Egypt). But just reading the story straight from the book can get a little boring. I love seders that mix it up by asking guests to bring a favorite poem, song, passage from a book, or idea to share along the way.

My boyfriend's parents put a bunch of toys and figurines on the table. As we read through the traditional story, people point to different figures and draw connections (sometimes silly, sometimes serious) between what's on the table and what's being read in the story. It's so much more engaging than just rushing through the seder to get to the meal.

Q: What's your personal favorite Passover treat?

That's a tough one! I really look forward to the freshly grated horseradish and the matzah ball soup. But if I had to pick, I'd say hardboiled eggs in all forms. Dipped whole in salt water at the seder, deviled with paprika sprinkled on top, or chopped with dill into an egg salad to spread on matzah. It's all delicious.

This year, however, Nina's recipe for chocolate toffee matzah candy with sea salt might trump as my favorite Passover treat!

- Thank you Leah! Have a wonderful Passover holiday.

(Image: AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker at Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.