A 12-step guide to hosting the perfect Purim seudah

A 12-step guide to hosting the perfect Purim seudah

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Gabe Kahn is the editor of The New Jersey Jewish News.

Everyone knows about the Book of Esther. We all remember that we need to exchange mishloach manot with friends and give charity to the poor. And we’re all too keen to point out that for some, imbibing in the spirit(s) of the holiday is a mainstay tradition, if not obligation. 

But so many people gloss over, or even forget, the seudah, the festive meal that is one of the central mitzvot of the Purim holiday. Why is that? There are myriad reasons, but I’m going to say — not arbitrarily, but because it fits my narrative better — it’s because preparing the meal is the most labor-intensive part of our Purim celebrations.

Maybe you think you’re not a good enough cook to pull it off, that you don’t have enough time, that it’s too expensive. Maybe you’re thinking if you stop reading right now you’ll have just enough time to watch an adorable video of a kitten skateboarding before you have to pick up the kids from school. 

Regardless, I’m here to say that you can do this. That’s right, you can host your own Purim seudah. 

Step One: Try to get invited to someone else’s seudah.

This is the simplest, and best, path toward a successful meal. Wouldn’t you prefer to buy a cheap bottle of wine and make empty offers to help, and pass off the labor, cost, and the cleanup to someone else? And let’s be honest: Your friend is a far superior cook, and their house is much better equipped for this sort of thing because it’s way nicer than yours. 

You should have been laying the groundwork for this since last year’s Purim seudah: 

You: That was exhausting! Next year we’re doing the seudah at your place.

Friend: But we’re eating at our place right now! All you did was bring that cheap bottle of wine.

Step Two: Once you realize no one wants to invite you, think of a guest list.

This is often overlooked, but it’s crucial that you carefully consider whom you should ask to come to your meal. My suggestion is to invite a family you know will be out of the country on Purim. That way, a) you can be reasonably sure they’ll turn you down, and b) maybe next year they’ll feel an obligation to have you at their seudah because you were kind enough to invite them this time. 

Step Three: When, at the last minute, two different families cancel their plans to go overseas and accept your offer, decide whether to serve dairy, vegetarian, or something people will actually like.

Don’t tell me you have a recipe for a portabella burger that’s indistinguishable from the real thing (it’s not), or that your mother-in-law had no idea the seitan in your chili wasn’t really meat (she knew and is complaining to her neighbor about you at this very moment). Give the people what they want, which is food from the steak food group, ideally the kind that has so much fat your company will only be able to leave with the aid of paramedics. If there are any vegetarians at your table, they can have lettuce.  

Step Four: Let’s get cooking!

First, unpack the groceries — hold on, you didn’t go to the supermarket yet? Do I have to walk you through every detail? Ugh, fine.

Step Five: Get groceries.

Step Six: Let’s get cooking! (Assuming you don’t need me to give you directions to your own kitchen.)

Step Seven: Go in through the front door and pass the photo from Disneyland of you screaming during the big drop on Splash Mountain. Take a left at the room with the stove and fridge. If you see the bathroom, you’ve gone too far. 

Step Eight: The cooking thing again.

There’s important prep work to be done before cooking. Specifically, check that you have the fire department on speed dial, locate your most powerful fan (or better, fans), and open all your windows, even if the temperature outside is in the teens. 

Now you’re ready to go! Preheat your oven to, I don’t know, 500 F? Frankly, I’m not so good in the kitchen, but how hard can it be to cook a bunch of steaks?

Step Nine: Probably should have listed “Have fire extinguisher easily accessible” in Step Eight.

Turns out cooking steaks is harder than it looks. On the bright side, that exotic vacation you’ve been putting off because you haven’t had time to plan the itinerary? Put that nuisance out of your mind because the money you had saved for the trip needs to go toward remodeling the kitchen instead.

Step Ten: Find a restaurant that delivers. Quickly.

But make sure it’s not too fancy; if the food is any good no one’s going to believe you made it yourself.

Step Eleven: Clean, clean, clean! Also, Febreze liberally to cover up the overpowering smell of charred meat.

It’s hard to overstate this. If your place isn’t sparkling by the time the company arrives, they’ll see how you live every day. And even if you’re OK with that level of cleanliness, God knows you don’t want anyone to know you’re OK with it. 

Step Twelve: Put the booze out early.

By now it’s obvious your 2018 seudah is going to be a disaster of epic proportions. Your best hope is that in fulfilling the mitzvah of not being able to tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai, the guests will forget how badly things turned out. Once they’re sufficiently inebriated and agreeable, subtly suggest that they host next year’s seudah. 

Chag Purim Sameach!

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