Technically, the most important part of Passover is, of course, the seder itself. But no one comes to a seder without expecting to be fed a proper meal, especially after they've drunk all that wine. Passover dinners tend to be marked by firmly entrenched traditions, upheld by even more firmly held convictions about what a "real" Jewish brisket or "real" matzo ball soup is. While there's nothing wrong with sticking to what works for your crowd, if you (and they) are open to a little experimentation, we encourage you to have fun with the menu this year. Try an appropriately springy leg of lamb or an impressive whole roasted fish as your entrée instead of brisket, or add some piquant flavor and bright color to your flourless chocolate cake by topping it with spiced poached pears. Read on for 14 of our favorite traditional and not-so-traditional recipes to make this year's Passover gathering a smashing success.
The Seder Plate
Unlike the Ashkenazi version, featuring apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and sweet wine, Sephardic-style haroset—a sweet paste made from fruits and nuts and eaten with matzo—incorporates dried fruits and a wider variety of spices and nuts. Ours blends a red wine–simmered mixture of dates, dried apricots, and raisins with roasted almonds rather than walnuts, plus a bit of fragrant orange blossom water.
Homemade Preserved Horseradish
As tempting as it might be to pick up a bottle of prepared horseradish from the grocery store, it's almost as easy to make it from scratch. It takes just three ingredients—chunks of horseradish root, a little white vinegar to keep it from browning, and a pinch of salt—and a few minutes of pulsing in a food processor or blender. You can make it well in advance of the holiday if you want, since the pungent condiment will keep in the fridge for about three weeks.
The Best Matzo Ball Soup
Every family has its own matzo ball style, so our customizable recipe lets you tailor the dish exactly to your liking. With the help of baking powder, seltzer, or just plain water, you can make matzo balls that are airy, dense, or anywhere in between. No matter what style you choose, a quality chicken stock is nonnegotiable—poaching the matzo balls in stock instead of water maximizes their flavor. Want to get a little crazy this year? Try one of these wacky/delicious matzo ball variations, including pan-fried, chicken-stuffed, and deep-fried-and-chicken-skin-wrapped.
Roman-Jewish Fried Artichokes (Carciofi alla Giudia)
There's a solid tradition of deep-frying in Roman-Jewish cuisine, and these shatteringly crisp artichokes, served with just a sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of lemon, are a case in point. The trick to getting them tender and crunchy, with their signature Mediterranean flavor, is double-frying them in olive oil.
Jewish-Style Braised Brisket With Onions and Carrots
Brisket is a notoriously difficult cut to cook—braise it too long and it'll be tender but dry; not long enough and it'll come out moist but tough. Our solution is to cover the meat while it braises to trap in the moisture, then submerge the sliced brisket in the warm braising liquid, so it reabsorbs the flavorful juices, before serving. Braising sweet onions and carrots along with the meat makes a classic accompaniment. (Do note that there is ketchup in the recipe, but you can substitute tomato paste to make it kosher for Passover.)
Braised Brisket in Apricot and Cranberry Sauce
This brisket takes its inspiration from Southern barbecue. Instead of the leaner brisket flat, we call here for the point cut (also known as the deckle), a piece laced with intramuscular fat and prized in barbecue circles for its extra flavor and moistness. The tomato-based sauce also takes some cues from barbecue, incorporating brown sugar, molasses, mustard, and Worcestershire; it gets a fruity holiday twist with the addition of dried apricots and cranberries, cranberry sauce, and apricot preserves.
Slow-Roasted Boneless Leg of Lamb With Garlic, Rosemary, and Lemon
Brisket isn't your only choice for a Passover main dish. Anchovies are the secret weapon in the marinade for this slow-roasted leg of lamb—they bring out the lamb's meaty flavor, without adding even a hint of fishiness. We also rub the butterflied leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary, and lemon, and reverse-sear it to get juicy, pink meat with a well-browned crust.
Butterflied Roasted Chicken With Quick Jus
For a smaller crowd, a roast chicken with a crackling golden skin is the way to go. Spatchcocking the bird is the best way to ensure that it ends up evenly cooked and as crispy as possible—it'll finish roasting in 45 minutes or less. That's more than enough time to make a tasty jus with the spine and a handful of aromatic vegetables, rounded out with a touch of soy sauce and butter.
Whole Roasted Branzino With Tangerine-Fennel Vinaigrette
For a centerpiece dish that's as stunning to look at as it is tasty, you can't do much better than a whole roasted fish. Stuffed with rosemary, fennel fronds, and tangerine, it may sound complicated, but it's surprisingly fast to make. The simple, bright vinaigrette mimics the fish's stuffing with tangerine and ground fennel, plus lemon juice and Dijon mustard. The hardest part of making whole fish is the filleting, but we've got a guide to help you through it.
The Best Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons
For our chocolate-dipped version of the classic Passover dessert, we toast unsweetened coconut flakes in the microwave to deepen their color and flavor. Instead of vanilla and almond extracts, which can be overpowering, we use vanilla paste and a nut liqueur to round out the macaroons' flavors more subtly. Dulce de leche makes them extra chewy and creamy.
Get the recipe for The Best Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons »
Hazelnut Chocolate Torte With Espresso Ganache
A flourless cake, like this rich hazelnut torte covered with a glossy espresso ganache, is another beloved ending to a Passover meal. Ground toasted hazelnuts produce an incredibly moist base, lightened by egg whites and panko—look for gluten-free bread crumb varieties that are kosher for Passover.
Flourless Chocolate Cake With Spiced Pears
A topping of ginger- and pepper-spiced pears poached in sweet white wine lends a vibrant and unusual touch to the traditional holiday dessert; their fiery-orange color comes from simmering with beet. The cake itself is rich with bittersweet chocolate, and a fluffy meringue incorporated into the batter helps to lighten up its dense texture.
Flourless Orange-Saffron Cake
This Middle Eastern flourless almond cake gets its unbelievable moistness from an unexpected addition: puréed whole oranges. Softening them in the microwave makes it easier to blend them, rinds and all, into a paste. Saffron and a honey glaze give the dessert a wonderful color and fragrance.
Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies
Chocoholics will love these light meringue cookies, which let the bittersweet flavor of high-quality dark chocolate shine. There's little to the recipe except making the meringue itself, which isn't as tough as you might think if you're new to the process—our tests have shown that even if a dab of yolk makes its way into the bowl, your egg whites will still whip up just fine.