The first night of Passover falls on Wednesday, April 12, this year. Passover, or Pesach (say “PAY-sahch,” with a "ch" as in the Scottish "loch"), is a ritual feast that commemorates the freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. It's an important time for Jewish folks all over the world, celebrated as a high holiday when family and friends come together to reflect on their collective past ... and, above all, to eat.
Passover is overflowing with food-based traditions—beautiful, complicated and shrouded with a mythic retelling that's thousands of years in the making—but far too numerous to get into here. Let's just start with the Seder plate. “Seder” literally means “order” or “organization.” The Seder plate is a highly symbolic assortment of foods that's used tell the story of the Exodus. No Passover table could be complete without one.
Here, a bitter vegetable stands in for the bitterness of slavery. Prepared horseradish is a popular choice, and especially tempting when spread on matzah with a little charoset. This tasty sandwich is actually traditional Passover fare, called “korech.”
A sweet, comforting salad of apples, nuts, wine and spices. Charoset is supposed to remind us of the mortar Jews used as slaves in Egypt. A simple charoset recipe calls for 1 cup walnuts, 4 cored apples, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 2 tablespoons honey and a little red wine. Pulse all the ingredients in a food processor until coarsely chopped and well-combined.
A vegetable, usually parsley but sometimes potato, that symbolizes the humble beginnings of the Jewish people. Dip it in salt water (see “chazeret”), then shake off the excess to create the “tears” of the Israelites.
Chazeret is yet another bitter vegetable (celery or Romaine lettuce can be used), but I have yet to see it used at a Seder. Instead, the chazeret is usually replaced by a dish of salt water—the “tears” for dipping maror.
Hard-boiled egg. This can represent different things to scholars, but it's usually associated with the destruction of the two Jerusalem Temples (once by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., and again by the Romans in 70 C.E.). Cover your large eggs with at least 2 inches of cold water in a deep pot and slowly bring to a boil. Begin timing the eggs once the water begins to boil: 12 minutes for small eggs, 13-14 for medium and 14-15 for large. Transfer immediately to a bowl of cool water, and peel as soon as possible.
The roasted shank bone of a lamb or poultry neck, which is symbolic of the sacrificial lamb (like the holiday itself, this is also called “pesach") used in the old Temple during the Passover holiday. You can get raw shank bones for free at any Whole Foods Market (5815 Wyoming NE, 856-0474, in Albuquerque; 753 Cerrillos, 992-1700, in Santa Fe). Roast them in a 425°F oven for 30 minutes, then cool before placing on the Seder plate.