Passover, the Jewish festival in celebration of the Jews’ freedom from slavery and flight from Egypt, begins this year on April 20. Although traditions vary throughout the world, the basics are as follows: The holiday lasts a total of seven or eight days (depending on where it’s being celebrated), and the first night of Passover begins with a ceremonial dinner, called a Seder, where the story of the exodus is told.
The food and wine customs of a given Seder are elaborate, and differ between regions and families, but some factors remain constant.
# Each participant in the Seder drinks four cups of wine throughout the evening, at fixed points, for the four promises of redemption associated with the exodus story.
# The major dietary restriction during the week of Passover is the ban of leavened bread, or chometz. Chometz is as bread made from (wheat, oat, spelt, rye, or barley) flour that has been in contact with water for more than 18 minutes and therefore had a chance to rise. Before Passover, the house is traditionally cleansed of chometz.
* Charoset, representing the mortar the Jews used to assemble the pyramids of the pharouhs. Basic charoset is a finely chopped mixture of apples, walnuts and sweet wine.
* Karpas, a green vegetable (usually parsley) representing spring, dipped in salt water to symbolize the slaves’ tears.
* Beitzah, a roasted egg symbolizing the temple sacrifice and the continuing cycle of life. The egg is served on the plate hard-boiled, but the main Seder egg should be slightly charred at the top (this can be done on a hot stovetop or by placing the egg under the broiler.)
* Zeroah, a lamb’s shankbone symbolizing the ancient Passover sacrifice. You can use the bone of any meat you happen to be serving but typically it is a lamb or veal shank bone. The bone should be roasted until dark brown.
* Mar’or, a bitter herb (like horseradish) to represent the bitterness of slavery.
* Chazeret The sixth place sometimes holds yet another bitter herb (such as lettuce) or will hold the dish containing saltwater.
Also necessary are three matzos (unleavened bread, symbolizing the haste of the flight from Egypt — there was no time for the bread to rise), either wrapped in cloth or covered, and broken and eaten at set points throughout the evening.