PREPARE BASIC PESACH FOOD WITHOUT A PESACH KITCHEN… AND SLEEP WHILE IT COOKS!
Appeared in Family Table, Mishpacha 2016
Many visualize Pesach preparation to include 14-egg sponge cakes and perfect meringue cookies.
I visualize having main courses safely packed away in the freezer so I need not contend with starting to cook the basics the week before Pesach, when my kids are already home on vacation. In the days preceding Pesach, when the house is getting its final touches, the clothes shopping and errand running don’t end, and everyone is asking what they can eat and where to eat it, the last thing I want to do is start with basic menu prep. Nor do I want to be cooking the whole Chol Hamoed.
With this method, I have the peace of mind that there is chicken, meat, and soup ready and all I have to do is roast some veggies or cut up a salad and throw in a tray of brownies on any given Yom Tov or Chol Hamoed day. I prepare make-ahead basics that cook in my sleep, without a real Pesach kitchen. I use a folding table, at counter height, set up near the washing machine in my basement. I cover it with foil, bring out the Pesach crockpots, cutting board, knife, and peeler, and I am on my way. It would be my pleasure to share my experiences (including three post-Purim/pre-Pesach births, baruch Hashem), recipes, and delicious wake-up odors. As long as you have adventurous spirits and are willing to be a little bit “campy” (for example, using water bottles for a water source at times), you’ll see the resulting well-fed families and well-rested mothers approaching Yom Tov, b’ezras Hashem.
I. What you need at home
II. What we’re making
III. The method
IV. Mapping out the plan
V. How it works
- Extra-long extension cord
- power strip
- 4-foot table, adjustable to counter height
- heavy-duty aluminum foil
- 2 or 3 7—8-quart (7-8 liter) crockpots
- pareve cutting board
- pareve knives, serrated and non-serrated
- fridge/freezer with space and cleaned for Pesach
- immersion blender
- large spoon/ladle
- can opener
- water bottles
- about 5 boxes Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners (it’s very worthwhile to use the Reynolds ones, since other brands may burn, break, or not fit)
- parchment paper
- containers and pans to freeze everything
- permanent markers
- a huge garbage bin
- garbage bags.
* Tip: Keep all non-perishable spices and supplies on a lazy Susan nearby. Keep all other perishables and non-perishables alike in the fridge. That way they are out of sight, making your surface less cluttered, and safe from little hands.
*Note: The adjustable-height table is the most comfortable to work at, but any table or work surface is fine as long as it can hold the crockpots safely out of small people’s reach and without fire hazards.
The following categories are the basic foods that I prepare ahead and freeze. I start this two to three weeks before Pesach, so I’m not cooking mains anymore in the week before Pesach.
a) Soups: Golden Chicken Soup, Butternut Squash Soup, Thick Veggie Soup, Zucchini Soup
b) Mains: Brisket, Chicken, French Roast, BBQ Chicken Drumsticks, Pepper Steak
c) Extras: Meatballs, Matzah Balls, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Potatoes, Applesauce
*Tip: While you’re still eating chometz, you can use bring your Pesachdig food upstairs and eat it alongside the chometz (noodle kugel, challah, etc.).
I attach a long heavy-duty extension cord to my furnace (about 12 feet away) to reach where my power strip is located on the table with my crockpots. Otherwise there is no available outlet. This is one example of what I mean by “campy.” You make do with what you have!
Now I break it down to about five to six days of cooking. I take two days at a time and keep making the same thing: First 4 or 5 batches of chicken on the bone and 2 or 3 chicken soups. Then I move on to brisket and roast, and then boneless things like dark chicken chunks and pepper steak. Finally I make my sides and any extras I have time for. Cooking for five or six days straight sounds like a lot of cooking time, but keep in mind that each recipe takes only a few minutes to put together, and the rest happens while you sleep! It becomes addictive because the smell in the morning is so inviting and satisfying. Place the cooked food in a foil pan and freeze, fill the crockpot with the next batch and you’re free until before you go to bed.
Let’s say I’m using two crockpots simultaneously. Here’s what I’d make in them over a course of one week, using the crockpot both night and day:
- Motzaei Shabbos (night #1): 2 batches chicken soup
- Sunday day (day #1): 2 chickens on the bone
- Sunday night (night #2): 2 chickens on the bone
- Monday day (day #2): Brisket and roast
- Monday night (night #3): 2 batches dark boneless chicken chunks
- Tuesday day (day #3): 2 batches pepper steak
- Tuesday night (night #4): 2 batches butternut soup
- Wednesday day (day #4): Zucchini soup and veggie soup
- Wednesday night (night #5): Another roast and potatoes
- Thursday day (day #5): Meatballs and matzah balls
- Thursday night (night #6): Applesauce and more chicken on the bone!
Packaging happens every morning and every night, before starting the next round. If two crocks are going from night to morning, in the morning, empty the crockpots into two pans to cool a bit and then freeze. Then start up the daytime recipes and repeat.
People seem to like their roast moist, tender, and somewhat sweet, so there’s no way to go wrong with orange juice and duck sauce! This one smells great from the garlic and onions, and it literally takes 5 minutes to put it all together. Serves 10 — 12
- a 4- to 5-lb (2- to 2.2-kg) roast
- 3 onions, sliced
- juice of 2 to 3 oranges, or ¼ to ½ cup orange juice
- ½ cup duck sauce
- 3 to 4 Tbsp ketchup
- 4 frozen garlic cubes
- 3 to 4 sautéed onion frozen cubes
- 2½ Tbsp salt (less if you’re watching your salt intake)
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder (more if you don’t have garlic cubes)
- 1 Tbsp onion powder
Line crockpot with liner. Place roast inside. Smear all the remaining ingredients by hand onto the roast and leave on low overnight. Let cool 1— 2 hours before freezing, with liquid. You might want to slice it before freezing, but it is so moist that it will not be difficult to cut when reheating.
This is another recipe inspired by the Yeshivas Darchei Torah cookbook. The original recipe, by Zipporah Heinemann, calls for soy sauce and flour, both no-nos for Pesach, so I adjusted. Pepper steak shrinks when it cooks, so it’s easy to make a lot of it in a crockpot. It’s a great supper choice for after a Chol Hamoed outing. Pair it with sweet potato discs or a fresh lettuce salad and/or soup and you’re set! Serves 6 — 8
- 3 lbs (1.3 kg) pepper steak
- ¼ cup Cream Malaga wine (can be omitted if you don’t have any)
- 2 sliced onions, or 2 cubes frozen sautéed onions
- ½ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup brown sugar or honey
- ½ cup orange juice
- 3 to 5 red or orange peppers, sliced long
Line crockpot with liner. Add pepper steak and remaining ingredients. Cook overnight on low. Freeze in a pan lined with parchment paper for best results. Be sure to freeze the meat with the sauce, or it will dry out when reheated.
Note: To make this recipe with only 1 lb (.5 kg) of meat, use ¼ cup ketchup, ¼ cup orange juice, and 1 Tbsp brown sugar, plus 2 Tbsp wine for added moisture.
This is an easy, delicious soup. You don’t even have to cut the veggies any smaller than chunks, they will all get blended eventually, save a few pieces for texture. This soup only gets water from its veggies. Do not add water at all, unless you like a thinner soup. In that case, don’t add the water until the last few hours, ½—¾ cup water sounds about right, but I never do it, so don’t take my word for it. We like it thick! Serves 8—10
- 4 zucchini or yellow squash, cut in chunks
- 1 parsnip, cut in chunks
- 3 frozen garlic cubes, or 2 cloves garlic, minced, or dried minced garlic, to taste
- 3 carrots, cut in chunks
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ a sweet potato (not sliced)
- ½ cup marinara sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ⅛ tsp cumin, optional
- ¼ tsp paprika, or to taste
Place first six ingredients in the crockpot. Cook on high for 3 hours. Blend with an immersion blender partway (don’t mush all the veggies completely). Remove the sweet potato (eat or drop it into your cholent). Add the marinara sauce and seasonings. Cook on low for another 3 hours. After freezing, when you reheat it, you may need to add a bit of water.
This is an adaptation from my neighbor Bayla Landsman’s Zucchini Garlic Soup recipe in the cookbook From Our Table to Yours, a project of Yeshivas Darchei Torah in Southfield, Michigan. My family loves the garlicky flavor of the soup. We also like it a bit thicker, so I use less water than the original recipe uses. The original recipe also calls for a turnip or parsnip, which you could try instead of potatoes. No oil is added (unless you choose the sautéed onion cubes or alternative) at all. Pure smoothness and sweetness come from the veggies. Serves 8 — 10
- 8 zucchini, peeled and chunked
- 1 yellow squash
- 2 carrots
- 2 yellow or gold potatoes
- 10 frozen garlic cubes
- 2 sautéed onion cubes (see tip) or 2 onions, chopped, plus 1 tsp olive oil, optional
- 1 large onion
- 1½ cups water (not even covering the ingredients in the pot)
- 4 Tbsp salt pepper, to taste (I use ¼—½ tsp)
- 2 Tbsp dried parsley flakes, optional
Place all ingredients, except parsley flakes, in a crockpot. Cook on high 2 hours, then low overnight (on low the whole night is fine, too). Blend with immersion blender in morning, add parsley flakes, then cook another 20 minutes on low. Freezes well divided into several portions.
My trick to get it out of the container when frozen: Hold the container closed, with lid on, under running tap water. The soup will loosen from the inside edge of the container and you’ll be able to plop it into the pot you are using to reheat it.
Note: For best results, do not use a liner for this recipe, or you may run the risk of cutting the plastic liner into the soup when you do the blending. Don’t learn this mistake the hard way!
Tip: If anyone offers (!) to help you, a great job to give them is to peel and slice a bunch of onions (like 10—12). Then you can leave them in the crockpot overnight with a Tbsp olive oil, and voilá, you have your own pre-packaged sautéed onions. Freeze a tablespoon scoop of them in snack-size ziplock bags or freeze them in an ice cube tray and you can pull out one at a time, as needed.
My dear friend duck sauce appears again in this recipe. While I have never actually consumed the duck this sauce was originally developed for, I find that duck sauce is a common denominator in much of my cooking. Maybe it’s the sweet and sour combination and the thick versatile texture that delivers so much flavor in so small a punch — or shall I say quack — that makes it a frequent flying friend. Serves 4—6
- 10 potatoes, thickly sliced
- 3 onions, chopped
- 2 Tbsp duck sauce
- 2 Tbsp honey-barbecue sauce
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp salt
- pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika, to taste
Line crockpot with liner. Add potatoes and onions. Coat with remaining ingredients. Cook in crockpot for 6 to 8 hours on low. Freeze with liquid. Sprinkle on a bit of salt before reheating.
Here are some other recipes that you could easily cook in a crock-pot in your makeshift Pesach kitchen:
- Crockpot Sweet Potato Goulash by Rorie Weisberg (“saute” the onions and garlic in oil right in the crock-pot)
- Flanken Onion Soup by Michal Frischman
- Succulent Slow Cooker Chicken by Brynie Greisman
- Minute Steaks and Red Potatoes by Julie Hauser
- Layered “Roasted” Veggies by Julie Hauser
- Olive Oil Poached Halibut by Laura Frankel
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Originally published March 2017. Updated and reposted April 2020.