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Passover Recipes for a Crowd

The Haggadah tells us, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” but how do we cope when our Seder guest lists swell to 20, 30 or more?

By Linda Morel

“Have you ever had a Seder nightmare?” asks Patti Sacher, a National Alliance on Mental Health volunteer from Great Neck, N.Y., who’s hosted second night Seders for 25 years. While Sacher now entertains 40 people, she started small…with a mere 20 guests. “Many people have a nightmare a week before Passover. It goes like this: family and friends arrive, and you forgot to shop and cook. Or you didn’t defrost the holiday food stockpiled in your freezer. There’s always the anxiety that there won’t be enough to eat.”

When you consider what a Seder entails—the ceremonial matzo and charoset, bitter herbs, hard-boiled eggs, fish, and soup, which precede the main course of succulent meats and vegetables, not to mention the array of pastries for dessert—how do you prepare for a Passover crowd of 20 people or more?

“I start with lots of lists,” says Judy Jacks Berman, director of Early Childhood Education at Congregation Beth Shalom in Overland Park, Kan. “I write lists of what I’m serving, lists of who’s coming and what recipes friends have volunteered to cook, lists of what I need on the Seder table, and what serving platters and utensils I’ll use. Then there are the shopping lists. I start planning and writing lists two weeks before the holiday.”

Berman, who grew up in a bakery and deli business family, saves these lists from year to year. This way she knows how many people she entertained, the quantities of food she prepared, and how many leftovers she had. Like many Passover hostesses, she’s learned from experience.

“Prepare as much food ahead of time as possible,” says Risé Routenberg, who with her business partner, Barbara Wasser, is co-author of Divine Kosher Cuisine (DivineKosher.com), an award-winning cookbook published in 2006 by Congregation Agudat Achim in Niskayuna, N.Y. The women are also co-chairs of As You Like It Kosher Catering, based at the synagogue.

Jewish law requires that homes be readied for Passover by ridding every trace of chametz, food made of grain and water that has  been allowed to ferment and rise. The extent to which people scour rooms for bread crumbs and the like, depends on their level of observance and family tradition. This step must be factored into the timetable of Seder preparations.

“Kosher the kitchen for Passover at least three days before the holiday,” says Wasser, explaining that it’s far too challenging to clean and cook the same day. Once the chametz is gone, she sends her husband outside to eat rye bread on a paper plate.

The prospect of a large crowd should influence the menu you select, explains Routenberg. “I avoid recipes that require last-minute preparation, such as sautéed vegetables.” Kugels, casseroles, and potted meats, such as brisket, which freeze well or can be made a day or two ahead, are a better bet.

“I’m notorious for over-cooking,” admits Routenberg. “In the past, I’ve run out of space to reheat everything I’ve made. I’ll never learn.” Instead, she suggests including some things on your menu, such as marinated vegetables, that can be served at room temperature. When selecting the menu, choose some dishes you can reheat on the stovetop and others that go inside the oven.

Her best advice: “Plan ahead.”

“If you have more than one round of foods to be reheated, cover the first batch of casseroles with plenty of foil after removing them from the oven,” says Routenberg. “Place them next to one another to conserve heat, while they wait for the remaining casseroles to get hot.”

Assess your refrigerator and freezer space realistically, so you have room for the holiday foods you buy and prepare.  

“If you live in a cold climate, you can use your garage or screened-in porch to store food,” says Wasser. But for safety’s sake, the outside temperature should be 40° F or below. “You can also use camping coolers filled with ice. One Passover we had a heat wave in April, so I bought six Styrofoam coolers.” 

“However, a cooler isn’t a refrigerator,” says Joann Roth-Oseary, president of Five Star Kosher Catering and Someone’s in

the Kitchen, located in Tarzana, Calif. (Som

eonesinthekitchen.net). “Store food such as gefilte fish in sealed foil containers at the bottom of a cooler. Cover them generously with ice.” Food chilled this way will only last for several hours.

“Because coolers are insulated, they can keep food hot as well as cold,” she says. “If you pack hot casseroles close together, the temperature will hold for quite some time.”

“Chafing dishes are another way to keep food hot,” she says. “You can rent chafing dishes. For that matter, you can rent stoves and refrigerators, too.”

But how do you know how much food to prepare?

“Start thinking like a caterer,” says Roth-Oseary. “Decide how much the average person will eat, no more than a pound or two of food.” Matzo balls come in various sizes. “Figure everyone will eat two golf-ball-sized matzo balls,” she says. “Then measure how many ounces of liquid your soup bowls hold.”

She estimates people will consume a quarter of a chicken apiece and a quarter to a third of a pound of side dishes.

Once you determine the portion size of every item on your menu, multiply each portion by the number of people you’ve invited. From there, you can figure out if you need to double or triple recipes and how much of each ingredient you must buy. 

Increasing recipes generally works smoothly with meats, vegetables, and salads. “The only downside is that you may end up with too much gravy, sauce, or dressing,” says Wasser. 

“But cake batter doesn’t multiply as reliably as other kinds of recipes,” says Routenberg, explaining that because baking is an exact science, you’re better off making two or three of the same cake than putting extra batter into a larger pan. On the plus side, cakes and cookies usually freeze well.

Jeanne Ellinport of Gaithersburg, Md., works full-time as director of communications for the American Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Program (and was formerly Jewish liaison to the Clinton White House). But her work responsibilities don’t stop her from going all out when it comes to Passover. She prepares briskets, six at a time. It helps that she has a professional stove with six burners. But she feels anyone can turn out as many briskets. “Do all the prep work in advance. Make three briskets in the morning

and three in the afternoon.” Starting a week or so before Passover, she does all the cooking herself.

To reduce the workload, many hosts rely on delis to provide foods such as gefilte fish, roasted turkeys, farfel casseroles, and desserts. “I now order chicken soup from a local kosher place,” says Sacher. “They make delicious matzo balls, too.”

Cooking is one thing, but how do you execute such a complex event?

Routenberg relies on card and folding tables. In most kitchens, there isn’t enough counter space for this scale of entertaining. Extra tables can be used for prepping or plating food, as a staging area for foods ready to serve, to hold china for upcoming courses, for stacking dirty dishes, and for packaging leftovers. To relieve busy kitchens, place these tables in an adjacent room, such as a den, and temporarily store dirty dishes in the garage.

“My dining and living rooms adjoin, so I set up tables in both rooms,” says Berman. “But everyone can see the main table.” She transports moveable furniture to bedrooms.

Ellinport rents child-sized tables and chairs, placing them in the den so children can sit together. (One caution: When possible, avoid seating teens with younger

kids. Doing so may offend the teens!)

“I couldn’t throw a large Seder without a tent,” says Sacher, explaining that the 20-by-30-foot tent she rents holds about 40 people. With sides forming walls, it’s attached to the house and becomes another room. Two propane heaters with thermostats are placed outside the tent, blowing in hot air through ducts.

Sacher rents chairs and oblong tables, which she places in a capital I formation to maximize space. She once rented plates, too. “But then I found inexpensive plates at Ikea, and they paid for themselves in one year.” She purchased electric warmers for platters at thrift shops for $5.00 each.

“Tents make life much easier, because your house is not disrupted,” says Sacher, who has the tent delivered 48 hours in

advance. “The day before the Seder, I set the table and put out Haggadahs.” She then lines up platters on her dining room table. Post-its indicate what food will go on which platter.

Sacher hires two people to serve food and clear plates. “I write a schedule for them. The hard-boiled eggs come first. Next, remove the egg plates. I spell out every detail, otherwise I’m constantly saying, ‘No, no, don’t serve the soup yet.’”

While some home Seders include up to 70 people or more, invite only as many guests as you can handle. Ellinport includes 50 friends who don’t have family nearby.

Sacher’s Seders expanded when yesterday’s children grew up and had kids of their own. “Four main families share the cost of our Seders. Everyone contributes a favorite recipe. Adult children bring wine.”

“Don’t be a martyr,” she advises. “You can’t throw a Seder this size alone.”

Berman gladly wakes up at 4:00 a.m. two days before Passover to start cooking. Her only regret: “If my house was larger, I’d invite 60 people, instead of 30.”

Manhattan-based freelance writer Linda Morel writes about holiday food for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Tips from Our Experts

1 Spare your linens and rent tablecloths and napkins. They’re reasonably priced and well worth it, because you won’t worry when candle wax drips and red wine and gravy spill. —Patti Sacher

2 Make sure you own enough casseroles, platters, serving utensils, silverware, wine glasses, and plates. If not, buy or borrow what you need. —Joann Roth-Oseary

3 Years ago, I made matzo balls from scratch and they congealed into one giant blob. Since then, I’ve used a mix, and my matzo balls come out light and delicious. —Judy Jacks Berman

4  You can freeze matzo balls. Separate them on cookie sheets and place in the freezer until the balls harden. Transfer them to plastic containers for freezer storage. —Joann Roth-Oseary

5  Allow far more time than you think you need
for defrosting food. Before guests arrive, take food from the refrigerator and bring it to room  temperature—or you’ll never get everything heated through. —Jeanne Ellinport

6  If you serve hors d’oeuvres, keep them simple. I suggest crudités and chopped liver. —Joann Roth-Oseary

7  Right before people come to the table, lay individual Seder plates at every place setting. Each plate should contain charoset, a hard-boiled egg, horseradish, and greens. This cuts down on clutter and confusion. —Jeanne Ellinport

8 To avoid spills and burns, bring bowls of soup  to the table on a plate and only carry one plate at a time. Serving from a terrine is safe but takes too long. —Barbara Wasser

9 Have plenty of ziplock bags and plastic containers on hand for leftovers. —Patti Sacher

10 Share leftovers with your guests, so you won’t be saddled with a glut of food. —Joann Roth-Oseary
11 Laugh off mishaps—what else can you do? Several years ago, while I served a warm dessert, the casserole fell on a guest’s feet. He was good-natured and it’s become a joke ever since. —Risé Routenberg
12 Passover is very exciting—but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Before the Seder, take a deep breath and relax. You’ll get more help than you need from family and friends. —Risé Routenberg

Passover Carrot Souffle

Courtesy Jeanne Ellinport

One pound of carrots
3 eggs
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. matzo cake meal
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 stick melted margarine
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup matzo meal
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
2 Tbsp. melted margarine
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1. Chop and boil carrots for 15–30 minutes; drain.
2. In a food processor, beat carrots. Add eggs until consistency is thick and smooth.
3. In a separate bowl, combine sugars, cake meal, baking powder, vanilla, margarine, and spices until well mixed.
4. Add to carrot mixture. Pour batter into 8 x 8 inch greased baking pan. Sprinkle topping over casserole, and bake uncovered at 350° F for 1 hour.

Yield: 6–8 servings                    
Note: This can be doubled and baked in a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Italian Roasted Chicken

Risé Routenberg of Divine Kosher Cuisine reports that this recipe multiplies well.

5 pound whole roasting chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, halved
1 large onion, thickly sliced
12 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Dried basil, dried oregano, and paprika to taste

1.     Preheat oven to 425° F. Prepare open roasting pan fitted with a V-shaped rack.
2.     Liberally salt and pepper inside of chicken. Stuff cavity with lemon halves, onion, and garlic. Brush outside of chicken with oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, basil, oregano, and paprika.
3.     Tie chicken legs together with string and tuck wing tips under body. Place chicken in pan, breast side down.
4.     Roast 20 minutes, turn breast side up, and continue roasting until juices run clear when pierced with a fork, about 1 1/2 hours.
5.     Transfer to carving board and loosely cover with foil. Let rest 15 minutes.

Yield: 8 servings

Matzo Peach Kugel

Courtesy Judy Jacks Berman

4 matzos
8 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup raisins
1 16-oz can chopped peaches, drained
Grated rind of an orange
1/2 cup melted margarine
Cinnamon sugar (2 Tbsp. cinnamon mixed with 8 Tbsp. sugar)

1.     In a medium-sized bowl, crumble
matzos into warm water and soak until soft. Squeeze out all excess moisture and set aside.
2.     In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in the remaining ingredients—except margarine.
3.     Grease a 9 x 13 inch ovenproof pan. Pour batter into of the pan. Top with melted margarine and cinnamon sugar.
4.     Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cut into 12 squares. Serve immediately or
refrigerate and reheat.

Flourless Chocolate-Hazelnut Torte

Courtesy of Joann Roth-Oseary of Someone’s In the Kitchen,Tarzana, Calif.

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate cut in small pieces
3/4 cup margarine
(1-1/2 sticks)  
6 eggs, at room temperature, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar (add 1/2 cup to margarine and  1/4 cup to egg whites)
1-1/3 cups finely ground hazelnuts (6 oz)
1/8 tsp. salt
3 cups non-dairy whipped topping (use one cup for decorating the top)
Hazelnuts dipped in chocolate for decoration

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
2. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler.  While chocolate is melting, cream the margarine and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks one at a time beating thoroughly after each addition. Add chocolate and hazelnuts. Mix thoroughly. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Add small amount of egg whites to lighten the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining whites.
3. Turn the mixture into the greased springform pan and bake on a cookie sheet for 1 hour, or until springy and the sides pull away from the pan. Check at 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan.  Remove sides from the springform and cut cake horizontally.
4. Beat the whipped topping until soft peaks form on the whisk. Place 1/3 of the topping on the first layer of cake; spread evenly. Cover with a second layer and spread 1/3 over the top and sides to cover. Place the last third of topping in a pastry tube fitted with a closed star tip and pipe decorations. Place the hazelnuts on top as garnish.

Yield: Serves 10




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