Pesach Prep 101 - Where To Start
Wow! It’s that time of year again and I’ll bet I’m not the only one having heart palpitations thinking of all that needs to get done over the next few short weeks! Pesach is coming and there is no way to stop the ticking clock! However, reflecting on previous years, I calm down by realizing that somehow, some way, it always gets done and we all make it to the finish line, one way or another…
Although I grew up without one, I am lucky to be blessed with a Pesach kitchen in my home. Those of you who don’t have this convenience and wish you did, you should realize you do have one big benefit. You’re forced to be done with your cleaning at least a few days before Yom Tov, and don’t live in fear of those chometz crumbs a day before Pesach! But in all truth, whether it is cleaning or cooking, we Yiddishe mammes are hard at work until the last minute and only really feel that “avdus l’cheirus” feeling once Pesach is ushered into our homes.
Here are a bunch of tips of pre-Pesach food and menu planning that work great for me. Whether you use one or all of the following tips, I figure any good advice that will make your life easier now, is worth the few minutes spent on reading it! Good luck and a kasheren Yom Tov to you all!!!
First, basics - one of the most important items you purchase is a Pesach notebook. I have a regular, spiral, Mead notebook, no fancy frills (but if you want fancy or cute, by all means, go ahead). I write down all important information from year to year. This includes grocery lists, fruit and meat orders, foods I baked/cooked etc. Then I go over it after Yom Tov and put in comments –what worked, what was extra, which foods we liked, which flopped…. I also add a list of items we need for the next year, so I know what to buy in advance. I find this notebook priceless and you will too!
Next. Everyone needs a bunch of foods that are easy to prepare in advance. It’s helpful to have ready when you’re (inevitably) overwhelmed with Pesach cooking. Remember that most Pesach specific ingredients are not usually available until around or after Purim, so the best things to prepare in advance are foods made with fruits, vegetables, and eggs.
So here goes:
- First, I like to take inventory of my Pesach cabinets to see if I have any cooking and baking supplies left from the year before. Then I stock up on new containers, with an assortment of sizes for any type of food I make. I also purchase baking pans, parchment paper, silver foil and other basic items that I need to get started with.
- Second, cleaning a freezer is a must, before beginning to cook; I usually begin emptying and reshifting frozen food items sometime in February to make room for my Pesach food. Even if I can only clear one shelf, I scrub down the top one and line it with foil. Then I am ready to roll!
- Start with compotes. I usually keep sugar on hand from year to year, so that I have some to work with before the next Pesach (write that down in your notebook!). Apples, pears, and lemons can be peeled and used with minimal other ingredients; cinnamon sticks last from year to year as well- they also can be found with a kosher l’Pesach symbol year-round.
- Next, sauteing onions is another project I get done with in advance. I fry about a dozen large onions on a low flame, stirring occasionally until they are caramelized – this does take time! I pack them in ice cube trays or tiny dressing containers, and then just pop out frozen cubes of sautéed onions for any dish I need.
- Vegetable soups are easy and fast –it takes almost no time to saute an onion or two, peel an assortment of veggies and dump them into a large pot with water and salt. After boiling until soft, just blend with an immersion blender and there you go – another choice of soup instead of chicken soup over and over again. You can use butternut squash, zucchini, or any other combination that suits you and your family. If you have your food processor available, you can make a shredded soup, or you can dice the vegetables and cook up a traditional one. When packing up these soups, I sometimes leave a little space in the container and add extra shredded chicken from my chicken soup, once I get to that- It adds flavor and texture to the soup and my family loves it.
- Crepes, aka bletlach, are a good idea to make in advance as they use very few ingredients and freeze beautifully. This job is a bit time consuming, but you will be relieved once it is done! Aside from using in soups as lokshen, there are myriad other uses for crepes.
- Okay, here is the big, messy one: beet salad! This is a dirty job and the sooner I get it over with, the better.* My recipe calls for beets, lemon juice, onions, sugar, and salt –all ingredients I can have on hand in advance. My mother-in-law taught me the greatest tip –beet salad freezes fantastically!! I l cook a huge batch and even freeze some for after Pesach! I also throw in some halved beets and freeze them for when I am ready to make chrein, then I have the beets ready to grind up with the horseradish, without the extra mess and hassle of cooking them up again. Another interesting thing I do with beets is reserve a bit of beet juice in the freezer and use it in compotes – just for the color! It adds a beautiful pink color to the fruit and you don’t taste it all.
That’s all for now, I imagine it’s more than enough to start with!! When you are done here, take a look at the crepes article for some really nice ideas on how to prepare them and use them!
*For an even easier way to make beets, you can also buy pre-prepared beets like Gefen Peeled Cooked Ready To Eat Beets, which are certified Kosher l'Pesach. That way all you have to do is cut up the beets and use them- no other prep work needed and less chance of staining something with beet juice while you work.