This year it may be more difficult than usual to find the traditional symbolic foods for the seder plate. Just like last year, Passover 2021 will be different from years past. Some of us will be Zooming into seders in order to unite with friends and family. Everything going on around us will inform the discussion we have around the seder table.
On Passover we’re reminded of the Exodus from Egypt, from oppression to freedom. A script was written meticulously which outlines 15 steps of the Passover seder called the Haggadah. There are tons of different versions of this book now to fit everyone’s religious style and beliefs. It’s recited out loud around the table. The seder plate sits on the table throughout the seder and each item represents a symbol of Passover.
The items on the seder plate can help educate guests about the customs of Passover. Last year, it was extremely hard to get groceries at Passover time, period, so we came up with some substitutions. But these substitutions can be used any time.
Maror: a bitter herb that represents the bitterness of slavery. Horseradish may be the most traditional bitter herb but you could use any bitter green like romaine lettuce, arugula, kale, chicory or endive. If you can’t get fresh greens try some mustard, wasabi or ginger.
Chazeret: a bitter vegetable or green and another symbol of the bitterness of slavery. You can use any of the items you used for maror; feel free to repeat or try something different like a scallion.
Karpas: a vegetable or leafy green that represents the rebirth of spring. Very often, this seder plate item uses parsley but you can use any leafy green. If you can’t find fresh greens, try a boiled potato, radish, celery stalk, or even an onion.
Bay-tzah: a roasted egg. This represents the rebirth of spring and the birth, or rebirth, of the Jewish people. It also represents the festival offerings brought to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times. You can substitute this seder plate item with another symbol of fertility and growth like seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.), an avocado or avocado pit, or even a flower.
Z’roah: a roasted shank bone of a lamb. Represents the Passover plate offering of a lamb made at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem in the early spring. Sometimes a chicken neck is substituted, and in vegetarian homes, a beet, a yam, or a carrot may be substituted.
Charoset: a sweet fruit and nut spread that symbolizes the mortar that Hebrew slaves used in their hard labors building cities and brick buildings for the Pharaohs. This Passover plate item can be made with any combination of fruit and nuts with a little bit of wine or grape juice and spices. The fruit can be fresh or dried and any type of nut or seed will do. If you are allergic to nuts just leave them out. Different Jewish cultures have different “traditional” recipes – they’re all delicious.
Many people add newer symbolic foods to their seder plates; for instance, some families use olives or grapes to hearken back to the ancient custom of leaving the edges of fields for the poor to eat from and others use olives as a symbol of peace. If you want to have your Passover seder plate uniquely represent your family, add an item particular to the culture(s) represented in your home, or check out the ideas here for other modern symbols.
Also visit our Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families for more resources and helpful information.