Nickel & Dine is a budget column by Rebecca Firkser, assigning editor at Food52. Rebecca usually shares an easy, flavor-packed recipe that feeds four for $10 or less—this is a special edition: a $25 Passover for six to eight.
Passover seder is a festive meal. Guests are encouraged to recline at the table, and drink many glasses of wine while enjoying multiple dishes throughout the evening (literally, there’s a prayer book that tells us to do all these things). My childhood memories of the holiday are around a dining room table—specifically, several of my dad's cousins’ tables, pushed together in the middle of their New Jersey living room. And as I grew up, I found myself wanting to host my own seder. I wanted to bring together a gaggle of loved ones over those pushed-together tables and a very delicious meal.
The only problem? If you want to keep it traditional, Passover is time-intensive and very expensive. But what if we kept it nontraditional? Could we host the holiday on a budget—say, for $25?
In short: Yes. Long answer: Also yes, just with a few thrifty differences.
Historically, the ethnocultural group, geographic location, and respective branch of Judaism typically dictate what the actual food looks like during traditional Passover seders. A Sephardic Jewish Passover, on the one hand hand, might celebrate with roast lamb shank, kibbeh, rice-stuffed vegetables, charoset made with dates and apricots, and nutty tishpishti, or walnut cake.
I’m from an Ashkenazi Jewish family in the U.S., which means the menu highlights for me were matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, apple-walnut charoset, brisket or roast chicken, potato kugel or tzimmes, and macaroons or flourless chocolate cake. Plates of matzo (next to pats of butter!) and bowls of jelly fruit slices were stationed around the table for snacking. There were no chametz, or grains, on the table, other than matzo or matzo meal; nor kitniyot, or legumes.
Around the globe, Jews have made strong, and often contradictory, culinary customs for Passover. For many, this means it won’t feel like a proper seder if the table is lacking a certain dish from their childhood. But carrying on traditions can sometimes mean making them your own—or at least that's what it means for me.
When I posed the question on social media, “You’re hosting Passover on a budget, what’s impossible to skip?” The most common answer was, in fact, something I skipped. Matzo ball soup. Just remember, it’s your meal—if you simply can’t have a seder without it, make those matzo balls.
Beyond the matzo balls, we’re scrapping the meat. A big hunk of brisket or lamb may have been the only thing that’s gotten you through a week of no bread in the past (more on that in a minute), but such large cuts will cost you a chunk of change—at least $5 a pound at most stores near me, but closer to $13 for higher-quality cuts labeled prime- or choice-grade, and often a few dollars more per pound for local or grass-fed.
For this $25, totally vegetarian Nickel & Dine Passover, there are no chametz, but you will see kitniyot. And since I’m not compiling a formal seder plate in addition to the meal, I call out many of those traditional elements within the dishes themselves—bitter herbs and leafy greens calling out to maror, karpas, and chazeret; there’s no shank bone, but there is an option to make boiled eggs and a charoset-inspired dessert.
The three formal recipes price out to about $25. You can stop there, or put together the bonus dessert. If you’d like, pad the meal with plates of matzo (about $3.50 for a box of 14) and a batch of hard-boiled eggs (between $0.30 and $0.75 each). And while it's not technically part of this menu, but if you’re staying plant-based this year, I even have a totally vegan matzo ball soup recipe for you too.
With all this said, let’s take a tour of our seder.
If a classic Passover brisket were vegetarian, it’d taste like this. Slowly braise white beans in a tomatoey onion gravy, then top with meaty portobellos. If you don’t eat kitniyot during Passover, skip this recipe. Use the $11 toward a dish made with quinoa (about $0.40 per 1 cup dry), like this one-pot kale and quinoa pilaf.
Picture a classic potato kugel in a big hug with carrot and sweet potato tzimmes and you’ll get this crisp, cozy side. It’s basically a big latke, but sweeter and baked. And you know how full you get after eating a big serving of diner hash browns? This is a similar vibe, making a side that ensures no one leaves the table hungry. Total cost: just over $8.
Brighten up your plate with a hit of this crunchy, sweet-and-spicy salad, running you less than $5. Fresh horseradish is the real star of the show here, so don’t be afraid to grate a thick layer over the lettuce.
Use whatever you feel comfortable spending on this fruit and nut dessert plate, which is inspired by the myriad styles of charoset. Better yet, ask your guests to contribute an element to the plate (or, if they just can’t live without flourless chocolate cake, bring a dessert of their choosing).
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.
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