At about this time of year, thoughts are turning seriously to preparing for Pesach (Passover). It’s a major operation with the house needing to be spring cleaned to make sure that it’s clear of those foods which are specifically prohibited for the holiday in remembrance of the children of Israel’s hasty departure from Egypt before their bread could rise.
Special foods are eaten on the first night of Pesach (the first two nights outside of Israel) and the story of the miracles that occurred; the plagues brought on by the Egyptians, the crossing of the red sea and the giving of the Torah are recounted.
There are a number of traditions but the most common difference between Jews of different Diasporas are that some eat Kitniyot (legumes – such as chickpeas, beans, rice etc) whilst others do not. In more recent years a 3rd group has arisen of which I consider myself to be part who consider the tradition to be divisive and based in error and who eat some legumes and their derivatives such as oils and extracts which are found in a lot of foods.
Facebook feeds will shortly fill up with people desperately looking for certainly products – kitniyot free margarine and mayonnaise are two which are particularly sought after (tip for mayonnaise – make your own – it’s easy to do and won’t be full of junk). During the festival itself people tend to eat a lot of stodgy food which attempts to imitate what they eat throughout the year (matza pizzas, lasagnas, Pesach rolls and the like) and put on weight. I feel however that, other than the first night, Pesach is an ideal opportunity to eat in a healthy fashion and even to lose some weight.
Almost any dieting person will likely tell you that they are eating a diet that is low in carbs – Pesach lends itself wonderfully to this as not only is bread an obvious no-no but pizza, pasta, couscous, polenta and burgul are also out of the window as are rice and all sorts of pulses and legumes for those who keep to the Northern European Ashkenazi tradition. Cakes and cookies need to be made of potato flour or matza meal and are generally pretty grim so why not cut them out completely? Suggestions will follow for some great substitutes! Thus the only carbs that will feature in our diets over pesach are matza and potatoes – a great start for healthy eating.
Likewise any diet will tell you to eat fresh fruit and vegetables – pretty much all of which are totally fine to eat for pesach – a great big leafy salad sprinkled with some toasted almonds, steamed vegetables or antipasti are a fantastic accompaniment to any meal both during the year and at Pesach and don’t even need to be adjusted particularly to fit the festival menu. With the arrival of spring, more interesting fruits are arriving on our tables – thankfully the markets are full of great produce here and a breakfast involving fruit salad and white cheese is delicious. Breakfast is the one time when Matza comes into it’s own – served with butter and a liberal sprinkling of salt it’s truly wonderful.
The proteins in our diet don’t change all that much over Pesach – the seder will probably involve chicken and red meat of some kind whilst the day after we usually have salmon, either smoked or baked. The Shabbat that falls in Pesach my father in law has a tradition which I refer to as “the Silence of the Lamb” where he prepares a huge quantity of formerly baa-ing goodness (approximately a small flock) but other than that it’s business as usual.
Desserts are the most problematic but they shouldn’t be. I remember growing up, my Mother who is otherwise a fantastic cook and baker, turning out a series of Pessach cakes and cookies which would be largely ignored and disposed of after the holiday finished but why bother? Try to do things which are delicious the entire year round but don’t rely on flour! Meringue based dishes like pavlova or an Eton Mess, flour-less chocolate cakes, brownies or a chocolate mousse, pears poached in wine or roasted, an almond cake or simply ice cream or sorbet.
Looking back through my posts, there are a number of things which are Pesach friendly without my even intending them to be – I’ve tagged them appropriately but of my more popular postings chicken with vegetables in white wine doesn’t even need to be altered at all whilst Chicken wings with broccoli slaw only needs to have the mustard removed from the dressing and my curried left-over chicken would be excellent served over mashed potatoes (or sweet potatoes or cauliflower) or quinoa (a relatively recent addition to our tables which is acceptable by most main stream Jews) or just by itself with vegetables.
In the run-up to Pesach, I’m going to try to make recipes which are largely Pesach friendly or can be easily adapted – let me have your ideas or your favourites too!