As a child, my parents taught me that the door to our home was an open one, particularly around the Jewish holidays. It was a “mitzvah,” a good deed, to share our traditions with others and to engage with their traditions, too. The Haggadah—the Jewish text that guides the Passover seder and retells the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt—opens with a similar invitation to “let all those who are hungry come and eat.”

Unfortunately, in the time of coronavirus, we’re encouraged to keep our doors closed. But that doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, celebrate. In fact, Passover 2020 may be coming at just the right time because it is, in part, a story of freedom.

(Need a Passover primer? Check out this one from Time.)

Citizen Rail, a wood-fire fueled restaurant near Union Station, had planned to host a community seder on the first night of Passover, April 8. (Seders are held on the first two evenings of the holiday to mark the anniversary of the end of Jewish enslavement, when the story is retold over a ritual-laden meal along with four symbolic glasses of wine.) The intended menu was inspired by general manager Jason Gordon’s family customs.

Chef Christian Graves. Photo courtesy of Citizen Rail

Since Denver restaurants are closed for on-site dining until at least May 11, chef Christian Graves is sharing his recipes so home cooks can still dig into the traditional dishes of matzo ball soup, brisket, and more.

Graves says it wasn’t difficult to adjust his cooking to accommodate Passover’s strict dietary restrictions (for Ashkenazi Jews like myself, that means no rice, corn, or beans in addition to no leavened grains, like wheat, oats, and rye). “The recipes kind of wrote themselves,” he says. “We already have consommé on the menu and it’s delicious, so making the matzo ball wasn’t a big deal. It was fun.”

Graves attended his first seder in San Francisco when a neighbor invited him to an “orphan Passover,” basically a dinner for those living away from family. He loved the community feel and the opportunity to learn more about Judaism and the symbols associated with the holiday.

Gordon, on the other hand, grew up in a “relatively religious home” in Ohio; his father was Orthodox, his mother conservative. Every seder began the same way: His grandfather, father, and friend’s father would take a shot of Slivovitz, a clear fruit brandy from Eastern Europe that’s known to burn on the way down. Citizen Rail’s bar team toned things down for you, though: Find a recipe for a Slivovitz-based cocktail below.

We hope you enjoy these recipes and share them with friends. A seder for one person at home or for 18 people over FaceTime is still a seder, after all. Chag sameach. (That’s Hebrew for “happy holidays.”)

Matzo ball soup from Citizen Rail. Photo courtesy of the Denver Dish

Matzo Balls

Makes 8 big boys

2 large eggs, beaten
2 Tbs. chicken stock
2 Tbs. chicken schmaltz (fat)*
¼ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 quarts stock of choice (or purchased consommé)

Mix the eggs, 2 Tbs. chicken stock, and chicken fat together. In a separate bowl, mix the baking powder, salt, and matzo meal together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 2 hours to fully hydrate.

To cook the matzo balls, bring the stock or consommé to a simmer—not a boil. Form the matzo ball dough into golf ball-size rounds. Gently lower them into cooking liquid. The balls will sink to the bottom and then float to the top when cooked, anywhere from 90 seconds to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

*Note: You can render your own schmaltz at home or purchase online. 

Baked Kugel & Spring Onion

Serves 8

1 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
1 lb. kosher for Passover dried egg noodles, cooked and drained
2 lbs. cottage cheese
4 cups sour cream
1 cup granulated sugar
12 large eggs, beaten
Dash of ground cinnamon
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup diced and sautéed spring onions
2 tsp. salt

Heat the oven to 375˚. Grease a 9-by-9-inch baking dish on all sides with butter, then melt another tablespoon worth in the microwave. Combine the melted butter and all of the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, making sure the noodles are coated. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake, uncovered, until the edges of the kugel are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. You will see the edges turn golden brown. Let the kugel cool for 10 minutes before serving.


Serves 8

For the brine:
4 quarts water
1 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup garlic cloves, smashed
2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
2 tsp. coriander seeds
4 bay leaves
1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves

4–5 lbs. brisket

For the rub:
1/2 cup black peppercorns, cracked

1/2 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. coriander seeds, cracked

Put all of the brine ingredients into a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the salt and sugar. Let the brine cool completely. Put the brisket into a deep bowl or plastic container and pour the cooled brine over the meat. Let the brisket marinate in the brine in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Remove the brisket from the brine and pat dry. In a small bowl, combine the rub ingredients. Coat the brisket with the rub. If you have a smoker, set it to 210˚; if you don’t have a smoker, a grill or oven will work, too. Smoke/roast the brisket until its internal temperature reaches 155˚. At that point, cover it in foil. This is called “the stall.” The meat might hover at around 150 degrees for 2 to 4 hours, but the temperature will rise after that. Remove the meat from the smoker/oven/grill when it reaches 190 to 195˚. Let it rest for at least 20 minutes, then slice across the grain to serve.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Serves 8

120 grams dark chocolate
50 grams cocoa powder
120 grams unsalted butter
150 grams granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, pod scraped
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 300˚. Spray a 7-inch cake pan with nonstick spray. Put the chocolate, cocoa powder, and butter into a large bowl set over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the water. Stir occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the pot and stir in the sugar and vanilla seeds. Whisk in the eggs. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out without any “wet” batter sticking to it, about 30 minutes. Cool completely. Serve with whipped cream and berries.

Slivovitz Cocktail

Serves 1

1 oz. Jelenik Slivovitz
1 oz. Meletti Amaro
0.75 oz. fresh lemon juice, plus a lemon twist for garnish
0.75 oz. lavender-ginger tea syrup (*you can easily find syrup recipes online)
2 dashes plum bitters

2 slices Fresno chile

Add all of the ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Cover and shake for 30 seconds.  Strain twice into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Want to continue to support local restaurants, bars, breweries, and coffeeshops during the shutdown? Scan our list of more than 300 venues that are still serving via takeout and/or delivery.

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at