While Passover’s strict dietary requirements may seem to represent a test of faith, the festival’s main purpose is to celebrate Judaism’s liberation from Egypt with dishes that implicitly pay homage to sacrifice and hardship, starting with the presentation of the ceremonial seder plate of six symbolic ingredients. Celebrated for seven days in Israel, but eight days elsewhere, Passover requires a significant shift in eating habits, but the important Jewish holiday is still a feast not a fast.
While abstinence from eating pork, shellfish, rabbit and seafood without fins or scales extends throughout the year in kosher food, Passover requires the refusal of any leavened bread or fermented grains, called "chametz." Many Jewish families symbolically clean the house of all chametz on the first day of Passover. Ashkenazi Jews, who constitute 95 percent of American Jewry, also refrain from eating rice, peas, legumes and corn-based products, referred to as "kitniyot." For this reason, Passover food reflects the sense of denial and hardship the festival commemorates. Matzah-based dumplings and crackers substitute for wheat flour, while citrus-based marinades step in for cheese, butter or cream sauces, since combining dairy products with meat is also outlawed. Pasta is also off the menu; instead, noodles made from shredded omelet might appear.
While Passover might take away everyday indulgences such as soda, beer and ketchup, which contains corn syrup, it enforces a diet that places an emphasis on fresh fruit, vegetables and unprocessed food, although processed food is allowed as long as it carries a “Kosher for Passover” stamp. For Passover, replace pizza, doughnuts and chips with hearty stews or roasts based around kosher-butchered beef, chicken, turkey and duck. Beef bourguignon, chicken cacciatore and baked salmon with a fruit salsa can safely be included on the Passover menu, as well as gefilte fish balls cooked in stock and full-bodied beet borscht. The book of Exodus’ silence on quinoa means too that the South American staple is considered kosher during Passover.
The kosher Passover menu can include dishes from the American heartland. Steak and potatoes, for example, are kosher for Passover, as are pot roast and slow-cooked beef stew. However, refrain from using mustard seed, peanut oils or fennel in the seasoning, as these all kitniyot -- made from grains or legumes. Thicken gravies and sauces with potato starch rather than flour or corn flour. For fish dishes, such as salmon, a straightforward lemon-and-herb marinade keeps the flesh as succulent as a butter or cream sauce would.
With a pantry suddenly full of fresh fruit and vegetables, Passover is the ideal time to settle down to salads and salsas. Since the festival also falls during spring, include the year’s first young vegetables such as carrots, spinach and new potatoes -- but exclude peas and corn. With no cereals or bread on the breakfast table, healthier alternatives should take their place temporarily, from fruit salads drizzled in honey and yogurt, to scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. Lunch, too, ousts heavy pasta, pies and pastries in favor of clean, fresh leaf salads served with tuna or cold meat cuts, kosher of course.
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