I grew up in a small town in Western New York. It's called Salamanca, and it sits on a Native American reservation. It is not a landing spot for many Jews, but my parents decided to plant roots there in the 1950s because the town needed a dentist and the rolling hills reminded my mother of her German homeland. Needless to say, we were one of 2.5 Jewish families in town.
As Passover draws near, I'm reminded of my mother's treks to Buffalo (at least an hour and 20 minutes north) to gather all the necessary specialty items for our seder. Multiple boxes of matzah would be needed, as well as jars of gefilte fish, horseradish, matzah meal, and various other kosher items. Even cream cheese was too exotic to be found in our parts in the 1970s! We didn't necessarily keep kosher, but when my grandmother visited from Brooklyn for holidays, she expected the additional effort to be made.
Along with all of the ingredients for the food, my mom also had to source the symbolic items that go on the seder plate, which is the centerpiece of the Passover table. For the uninitiated, here's what's on it and why. (Note: other interpretations abound and different families might arrange their plate a bit differently.)
Roasted lamb shank: This represents the 10th plague, when all the firstborn Egyptian sons were killed. (Look, no one said the Passover story was G-rated!) Mom sometimes had to visit several different stores to find a butcher who had a lamb shank. She started putting the bone in the freezer and keeping it for the next year because the darn thing was so tough to find. Vegetarians can use a roasted beet for a similar and less gruesome representation.
Hard boiled or roasted egg: This stands in for the destruction of the Temples (one during Babylonian times, the other during Roman times).
Greens (parsley, romaine, etc.): Yay, finally something positive! Green vegetables symbolize spring.
Bitter herbs (horseradish root or endive): This represents the bitterness of slavery.
Charoset (sweet mixture of apples, spices, nuts and dried fruit): This delicious concoction is often the tastiest thing on a traditional Passover table. It reminds us of the mortar our ancestors used to build structures while they were slaves to the Egyptians. You put a bit of charoset in between two pieces of matzah to make a little sandwich.
Salt water: This is used to dip the greens into, and it also represents the tears our ancestors shed while they were slaves.
After all the schlepping around my mother used to do, I was beyond relieved when I discovered that all I have to do is click and order my seder plate. FreshDirect, that amazing source for all things edible in New York and Pennsylvania, will be delivering my seder plate complete with all of its symbol-laden edibles. That means I can focus on creating some delicious dishes that pay tribute to the holiday, while also pleasing my guests.
I've mentioned before that my husband has not yet been won over by Jewish cuisine. And we have a few other folks coming for the holiday who would likely be freaked out by jellified gefilte fish, so I think I'm going to skip that course. I say why not celebrate the season and fill the table with lots of spring vegetables? Here's my favorite way to brighten up your Passover—or Easter—table.
Roasted Spring Asparagus With Chopped Eggs
Makes 6-8 servings
24 thin asparagus spears
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
2. Place a medium pot filled with water on the stove. Gently add the eggs to the pan and bring to a boil.
3. Lay asparagus evenly in a roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes or until asparagus are crisp-tender.
4. Let eggs sit in the boiling water for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Drain and let cool.
5. Chop the eggs and set aside.
6. Place the asparagus on a large platter, drizzle with the 2 teaspoons of oil and sprinkle the chopped eggs over top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, is a best-selling author and nationally recognized health expert, and the former Food and Nutrition Director at Health magazine for nearly eight years. Prior to that, she was part of the editorial team at the Discovery Health Channel and was managing editor at FoodFit.com. Frances is the author of Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom's Healthy Eating Guide and co-author of the best-selling The CarbLovers Diet and The CarbLovers Diet Cookbook. Frances earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at Columbia University in New York.