Celebrating an Allergy-Friendly Passover
Passover 2018 starts this coming Friday night, March 30th at sundown. Wish you knew more about Passover and how to make it allergy-friendly? Here are some pointers.
What is Pesach?
Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover, is the holiday that celebrates the Jews' liberation from slavery in Egypt and their exodus, under Moses' leadership, to the Holy Land. The term 'Passover' is derived from the tenth plague 'passing over' the homes of the Jews in captivity, and only killing the firstborn sons of their oppressors.
What is a Seder?
The Seder is the first two nights of the eight day festival in which family and friends gather to feast and retell the story of the Jews' liberation from Egypt. The term 'Seder' comes from the Hebrew word for 'order' and indicates that the feast days have a particular ritual and even a rule book (called a Haggadah) to follow. It is widely believed in Christianity that the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples was a Passover Seder.
Since Pesach is a celebration of liberation and freedom it is customary to lean and lounge while eating to express your personal freedom. Eating matzo, or unleavened bread, symbolizes the hurry that the newly freed Jews were in to leave Egypt after the tenth plague, not having enough time to finish baking their bread enough to rise. Drinking four cups of wine symbolize the four times the Jews were promised deliverance from slavery. And of course, the Seder plate itself has six foods with specific symbols.
The Seder Plate
The original Seder plate contains an egg, a shankbone and, for many recipes, a nut-filled charoset. But if you're concerned about these allergies, how do you substitute them while still following Jewish law?
Karpas - a spring vegetable, such as celery or parsley, is dipped in salt water or vinegar to remind us of the vegetation of spring, and the Jewish baby boys cast in the Nile, and the tears shed by the slaves.
Maror - a bitter herb, such as horseradish, is to remind us of the bitterness of the Jews in slavery and their unwillingness to accept their enslavement; dipping the maror in charoset, a sweet paste, is to remind us that bitterness needs a direction in order not to consume us, and the goal of freedom leads to a sweetening of the bitterness.
Charoset - a sweet paste symbolic of the mortar that the Jews used to build in Egypt. This dish is often made with walnuts or chestnuts however sunflower or pumpkin seeds can be substituted. In fact, some charoset recipes don't call for nuts at all. Here's a short recipe that makes about 1 1/2 cups, enough for a small Seder meal with few if any leftovers: 1 apple, 4 dates, 1/4 cup raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 1/3 cup oats. It's sweet enough without adding any juice or honey or maple syrup and doesn't need wine either however you could add 1 Tbsp of red wine if you'd like. Grind it in a food processor and serve immediately, or let sit for about 30 minutes and shape into charoset balls, like they do in Morocco.
Chazaret - the second bitter herb, which is usually represented by romaine lettuce can be substituted with another kind of bitter lettuce or herb, such as green onions, endives, dandelion greens or arugula.
Zeroah - traditionally a shankbone of a lamb to symbolize the lamb sacrificed in the Temple for the holiday; this can be substituted with a boiled or roasted beet.
Beitzah - traditionally a boiled egg that was roasted with the lamb, it symbolizes the second animal sacrifice in the Temple for the holiday festival, and it is also a circle and therefore represents the circle of life; this can be substituted with a white eggplant, the pit of an avocado or a boiled potato.
Pesach Food Restrictions
For the major Jewish holiday of Passover there are two main food restrictions that concern those following Jewish dietary laws: Chametz and Kitniyot.
Chametz foods are forbidden from the menu during Passover and there is even a
commandment to remove all chametz from your home during the Passover holiday. Chametz includes leavened grain (that has had contact with water for longer than 18 minutes) otherwise known as: wheat, oats, barley, rye, spelt, leavening agents like yeast, sourdough, and other food items made from grain products such as beer. Matzo is made from unleavened wheat that has had 18 minutes or less time in contact with water; gluten-free matzo, which is acceptable for Passover, is made from oats following the same guidelines as wheat matzo. The best gluten-free matzo brands come, of course from Israel - Rabbi Kestenbaum and Lakewood. If you use another brand of gluten-free matzo be aware that it may contain eggs and that it may not be Kosher for Passover (which completely defeats the purpose of buying it).
Kitniyot foods were forbidden in Ashkenazic tradition due to a misunderstanding of certain rabbinical texts which have just recently - in 2016 - been re-examined (by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards) and reversed. Kitniyot consists of rice, corn, millet, dried beans and lentils, peas, green beans, soy beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and mustard. As you can imagine, this might make an allergy-friendly meal that much more difficult when you cut out all of the above. Difficult, but not impossible. However, since the 2016 ruling by the CJLS there's no reason you can't enjoy those items that aren't restricted by allergies.
What to Eat for Passover
So, what can you eat for Passover? Here are a few of our favorites:
Matzo Ball Soup - what, you thought you couldn't do this without matzo and eggs? You can still use gluten-free matzo meal or potato starch or even quinoa flour for your matzo balls. As some paleos will tell you, quinoa is technically closer to a seed than it is a grain and therefore skirts by the chametz restriction. The base of the soup is vegetable dill broth and the matzo balls themselves can be made with flax meal and baked to gel together before adding to the soup just before serving.
Israeli Orzo Salad - Israeli salad is really just made with tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and lemon juice. Adding some Andean Dream quinoa orzo just creates a little extra flare.
Borscht - this Russian traditional soup is made from beets and cabbage, with other root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes thrown in there. It can be hot or cold, sweet or savory and works wonderfully as a sauce for stuffed cabbage rolls.
Stuffed Cabbage - really you can stuff any vegetable but we love stuffed cabbage for Pesach because it's so reminiscent of cold weather holidays. Stuffing can be cauliflower rice, quinoa, or brown rice and include mushrooms or lentils or peas. Don't forget to serve with a sauce of borscht or our Spicy Tomato Sauce.
Potato Gratin - this potato casserole dish is usually made with butter, cream and cheese but can easily be substituted with creamed cauliflower and a topping of gluten-free breadcrumbs.
Falafels - now that legumes are back on the menu you can add a little Levantine street food to the dinner table with these chickpea-fava bean balls in gluten-free pita pockets. Don't forget the hummus!
Baba Ghanouj - affectionately called 'eggplant mush' by Joy's uncle, this dish is basically baked and mashed eggplant, cooked until it turns into a consistency not unlike hummus. Seasoned just right it can be spread on matzo, used as a dip for chips or vegetables, or even eaten as a side dish.
Burrito Bowl - since rice and beans are back in action for Pesach make your dinner like a Chipotle line and cook up some cilantro-lime rice, some refried beans, whip up some guacamole and chop some lettuce and tomatoes for topping. You've got yourself a party!
Coconut Macaroons - seriously, all the ingredients in these little cookies are coconut: coconut flakes, coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut sugar. You can dip them in a little chocolate for a touch of variety too.
Black Bean Brownies - don't despair because you can't have leavened brownies - use black beans instead! It might sound weird but these delectable treats actually come out thick and fudgy and totally don't make you think of beans at all while you're chowing down on them.
What dishes do you wish you could eat for Passover that you don't think are allergy-friendly? What dishes will you be trying this Passover now that the kitniyot ban has been lifted?