Pesach Menu Planning

Passover is only a couple of weeks out and I still haven’t decided on a menu for this year. Actually, I haven’t even narrowed down a theme! Last night I was going through the haggadah and doing yet another round of editing for my use and a future edition. As I was going through it, I was trying to think in terms of what meal would serve this haggadah really well.

Last year, I did an “18 minutes” theme, which was actually suggested by my lovely and talented husband. He suggested it based on our conversations about matzah making and how the time constraints are symbolic since 18 = “chai” and is the word for life. I had a rather major epiphany a couple of years ago while trying to make matzah. The 18 minutes theme worked really well. Most every dish took less than 20 minutes to prepare and it was a delicious and entirely vegetarian experience.

I thought I might do a colonial seder this year and base all the dishes on what 18th Century Jews in America would have served, but I’ve had little luck in discovering much information on this subject. But that’s just to have a theme.

What I’m trying to do now is, without driving myself crazy, focus on the metaphysical and symbolic properties of the foods. With some dishes like charoset or a bitter herb salad it’s easy. But what about the Strawberry-Mint Soup with Panna Cotta I found in Herb Quarterly?. I thought it would make a lovely change from Chicken Soup for the soup course — or dessert.

I suppose if I wanted to invoke a “sense of wonder” then my Strawberry-Mint Soup with Panna Cotta would certainly do the trick. Now that I think about it, this dish is a great way to make a table full of adults relive a sense of child-like excitement. That’s definitely what elements like the first person “maggid” section of my haggadah are about.

I think I’ve discovered my theme, the Oasis Elim! Go with me on this for a second. We repeat several times in the haggadah, “I am here to remember. I am here to be free.” Looking at the order of things, the meal is just like the respite at the Oasis Elim.

And they came to Elim, where were twelve springs of water, and three score and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters. (Ex 15:27)

Based on the position of the meal, at least in a my Haggadah, it really does seem to be the moment of 15:27 at the Oasis Elim:

  • Escaping Egypt = Maggid
  • Song at the Sea = Dayenu
  • Bitter Waters at Marah = Reciting of the Plagues
  • Waters at Marah turning sweet = Eating of Matzah, Maror, Charoset
  • Oasis at Elim = Dinner!

The menu for the meal will all be intended to invoke the sense of joy and giddiness that the Israelites must have felt when they realized they were safely across the Nile and then finally made it to the lush oasis to rest. Now a meal can hardly inspire the same level of enthusiasm that an escape from 400 hundred years of oppression can, but it can bring surprise, delight, and joy. It can remind of that moment of happiness before we think about all the work that still needs to be done. It can play the role of the gorgeous Oasis that revives and refreshes us before we continue our long journey.

[update 4/15/08: final menu went in a different direction]

[tags]passover, pesach, menu planning, food, sacred eating, eco-kosher[/tags]

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