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Passover Food Traditions

Passover food traditions are a little more complicated than on other Jewish holidays due to the food restrictions. Prepare for a fun and potentially complicated challenge as many people choose to avoid the five grains that make foods rise: wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats. The exception is, of course, matzah. And to make your own matzah, you must carefully bake your flour and water mixture as soon as it’s mixed, so that it cannot rise.

For families newer to celebrating Passover, please know a wide range exists for what Passover observance can look like. Choose what works for you. Some people clean everything in their homes, rid their houses of all leavened products and use separate dishes that are stored all year and only used for this one week. Other people celebrate Passover by avoiding leavened products at the seder but not changing anything else about their eating habits.

Traditional rules around keeping kosher for Passover are filled with dozens of details, and the specifics vary between families. If you’re seeking recipes that are kosher for Passover, we have you covered. 

Ashkenazi (Jewish Eastern-European) Food Traditions

What are some traditional Ashkenazi Passover dishes?

  • Ashkenazi charoset, the dish on the seder plate meant to represent mortar, is usually made of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine.
  • Matzah ball soup can be a chicken or vegetable broth with dumplings made of matzah meal (ground up matzah) and eggs.
  • Gefilte fish is a kind of poached fish patty commonly eaten as a seder appetizer with horseradish. Strong opinions ensue on whether they love or hate it, and many people may only eat one variety or gefilte fish only made by one particular familiar member. Tricky to know how to feel about gefilte fish if you’ve never encountered it before!
  • Kugel is a kind of casserole, sometimes translated as a pudding, and can be made of broken up matzah (called farfel), a mixture of vegetables or, most commonly, potatoes.
  • Tzimmis is a stewed vegetable dish that sometimes includes stewed fruit as well.
  • Seder desserts often include flourless chocolate cake, macaroons or sponge cake.

Many Ashkenazi Jews avoid an additional category of foods on Passover known as kitniyot, which mostly consists of legumes. The historical reasons for this tradition are complicated, which more and more Jews outside of the Orthodox community are deciding to stop following.

The main ingredients to know? Traditional Ashkenazi Passover dishes rely heavily on matzah, meat, potatoes, eggs and vegetables.

Sephardi Food Traditions

Sephardi Jews may trace their ancestry through Spain, Morocco or the Middle East.

What’s important to know about Sephardi Passover cooking?

  • Legumes and/or rice are a big part of traditional Passover diets for some of these cultures, though distinct differences exist depending on a family’s specific origins.
  • Sephardi charoset often includes dates and nuts and are much stickier and more like actual mortar than Ashkenazi versions.
  • Spices and ingredients that reflect the global flavors from where these Jewish communities originated are popular.
  • Lamb is a common dish served at some Sephardi seders, symbolically connecting the meal to the lamb that was slaughtered before the Israelites left Egypt.
  • Cake is a welcome tradition no matter where you’re from. Try this Passover-friendly take on a Persian Love Cake.
  • A Moroccan tradition called Mimouna involves visiting friends and neighbors at the conclusion of the holiday. It’s also an interfaith celebration, where Jewish families visit their neighbors of other faiths to share special foods and celebrate the end of Passover.

Pre-Packaged Passover Foods

The Passover section of grocery stores can be a very confusing place. Passover pasta, cake mix, and… cereal? What do those things mean when Passover foods aren’t supposed to include grains?

Well, for starters, they’re usually made of a combination of matzah meal (ground matzah) and potato starch. And honestly, they’re often not very tasty. Passover versions of almost every common food item exists. And they’re only useful for those who are meticulously observing dietary restrictions.

One standout, though, is candy: Pesadic (another way of saying kosher for Passover) treats are plentiful and, for many people who grew up celebrating Passover, very nostalgic.

For most of the foods you’ll want to eat during the holiday, homemade versions are likely tastier. Or, see if you can just last the week without them! Though it’s easy to be intrigued by the variety of prepackaged options, you may enjoy your meals more if you get a Passover cookbook or look up recipes online (try these), or just arrange your meals for a week to focus mostly on proteins and veggies.

One recommendation is to cook your own matzah pizza! A little tomato sauce, cheese, and matzah can go a long way.

Return to the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families


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Author: 18Doors