The Jew And The Carrot

My White House Seder

By Vered Guttman

  • Print
  • Share Share

White House Photo

(Haaretz) — Cooking for twenty people doesn’t usually faze me, even when it’s for a Passover Seder, but the Seder I helped prepare last night was for Michelle and Barack Obama.

After days of long discussions about menu options and in order to add some interest, it was decided that alongside the Passover classics, such as gefilte fish and matzo ball soup, I will make quinoa in coconut milk with roasted sweet potatoes and Tuscan kale. My friend Susan Barocas, former director of the Jewish Food Experience, who was working with me as well, prepared chicken in pickled lemon and olives.

The tradition of making a Passover Seder at the Obama household started in 2008, while he was running for President. The first seder took place at a hotel basement hall during a campaign stop, and the blessing “next year in Jerusalem” was modified to “next year at the White House.” And so a tradition began. Keeping their seder private and intimate, the Obamas continue to host the same guests every year at the White House ever since.

We arrived at the White House early on Tuesday morning. We arrived at a surprisingly small kitchen, peeking at the beautiful flower arranging room on the way. Cris Comerford, White House executive chef, met us at the kitchen. As top chef, Cris is often in charge of much larger events, including State Dinner, yet she amazed me with the amount of research and the sincere interest she showed in the Jewish traditions for the Passover Seder. From grating her own horseradish for the chrein to the little carrots on her home-made gefilte fish, she really nailed it down.

Pastry chef Bill Yosses’ task was harder. He braved the laws of Passover kashrut and succeeded in making lovely Passover brownies, Mandel bread and a raspberry ganache.

An even bigger challenge is trying to make a Passover menu that will fit the First Lady’s wish to see more healthy and fresh food on the table. The traditional Seder fare is hardly fresh or healthy, but I hope some of the new dishes served and a spread of side dishes that included wilted spinach, carrot souffle and roasted sweet potatoes helped offset some of the Jewish carbs…

The kitchen staff prepared the batter for the matzo balls in advance, according to a recipe by the grandmother of Herbie Ziskend, one of the Seder guests. Susan and I, having finished cooking our own dishes, happily rolled the batter into small matzo balls and cooked them in home-made chicken broth.

In late afternoon I went upstairs with Cris to help her arrange the main Seder plate and individual Seder plates for each one of the guests. We decided to go with grated horseradish and not lettuce for the Maror, since that’s what my grandmother always used to serve.

The dining room looked stunning, with the gold-lined dishes purchased during the Clinton time and beautiful flower arrangements. Participants around the table were given Maxwell House hagadah’s - a touch of old time tradition that many Jewish Americans can cherish.

Working behind the dining room we could hear the Seder start. It was nice to listen to the guests reading the blessings together, singing Dayenu and the Eliyahu Hanavi. But the most touching moment for me was to hear them all recite “In every generation it is one’s duty to regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt.” And the tale of the exudes was told even in the White House on Tuesday night.

After dinner I was informed by one of the waitresses that the President himself asked about the salad and that the First Lady liked it. If you read this blog regularly, you had the recipe months ago. Here it is again, if you’d like to get a sense of what a White House Seder tastes like.

Quinoa in coconut milk with yams and Tuscan kale
Serves 4-6


1 can light coconut milk (13.66 oz).
1 cup quinoa.
½ teaspoon turmeric.
1½ teaspoon kosher salt.
2 large or 4 small yams or sweet potatoes.
1 tablespoon brown sugar.
1 teaspoon olive oil.
1 large bunch Tuscan kale.
Pinch dried crushed red pepper.


  1. Oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cooking sheet with oil.
  2. Put coconut milk, quinoa, turmeric and one teaspoon of salt in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed all the coconut milk. Then, remove from the heat.
  3. Peel yams, cut to half-inch cubes. Put in a bowl. Add a half-teaspoon of salt, brown sugar and olive oil and mix. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 5 minutes, stir and continue for another 5 minutes. Take out of the oven.
  4. Transfer the quinoa into a large bowl. Gently mix in the yam.
  5. Slice kale into thin strips, discarding the bottom 2 inches of the stem. Gently mix with the quinoa, sprinkle the crushed red pepper and mix again. Serve warm.

For more stories, go to or to subscribe to Haaretz, click here and use the following promotional code for Forward readers: FWD13.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: white house, seder, passover, barack obama

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.