Tonight marks the first night of Passover. If you’re not familiar with this holiday, The Boston Globe did a nice overview this year. The important thing to know is that for eight days (starting at sundown the night before the first day), Jews are not supposed to eat chametz, or leavened breads made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt. Instead, we can eat matzah, which is made from any of the previously-mentioned grains, but under close supervision by a rabbi to ensure that it remains unleavened.
Traditionally, Ashkenazi Jews (those of us with recent roots primarily in central and eastern Europe) also avoid eating foods categorized as kitniyot, such as legumes, beans, peas, rice, millet, corn, and seeds (mustard, sesame, and poppy, for example). This prohibition on kitniyot finds its origins in a very common tradition among Ashkenazim called “fencing.” Essentially, Medieval rabbis created fences around prohibited behaviors, so that not only would people not engage in those behaviors, but they would not engage in behaviors that could even be mistaken for those that are prohibited. Because many of the foods considered kitniyot expand when cooked (even without the addition of a leavening agent) and because they can be ground down into flour that could be baked into products that closely resemble chametz, the rabbis decided that they should be avoided altogether. Jewish communities outside of central and eastern Europe do not follow this custom.
Within the past few years, rabbis from the Reform and Israeli Conservative movements have issued responsa (opinions) stating that Ashkenazi Jews should feel free to eat kitniyot during Passover. This works out well for me, since, though my family is Ashkenazi, my mother started eating kitniyot about 15 years ago anyway. Though I don’t eat much kitniyot anyway, for the purposes of this post, a few of the meal options will contain foods that some Jews won’t eat on Passover.
I was most worried about breakfast because I eat oatmeal most morning and obviously, that’s out. Manischewitz makes a kosher for Passover (KP) hot cereal, but it’s basically just cream of wheat (not especially nutritious) and I can’t find it anywhere in stores or online. Luckily, I recently discovered that there is a product called quinoa flakes and that they can be used to make hot cereal. Unfortunately, you’re not going to find strictly KP quinoa flakes, but I’m not super strict, so these work for me. Another good option would be my breakfast egg-veggie muffins, which contain no grain at all. My absolute favorite Passover breakfast is matzah brei (I’ll post a recipe soon), but it’s really more of a brunch dish, rather than something I could eat during the week. Of course, yogurt is an option as well.
Recently, I’ve been eating whole wheat pita sandwiches for lunch, usually with either roasted turkey or turkey bologna (both from Applegate Farms because they don’t add nitrates). In the past, I’ve used regular whole wheat matzah as crackers, but this year, I discovered Yehuda Light Whole Wheat Bran Matzah and decided to try those. One board of matzah with 2-3 oz. of meat and some fruit on the side is a decent lunch.
The traditional Seder dinner (at least in my house) is brisket. Jewish brisket is delicious (and not at all the same is the brisket you get at barbecue restaurants), but not something I’ve ever made myself. Instead, this year I’m making an asparagus, mushroom, and leek frittata. Passover is a spring holiday; the egg on the seder plate represents several things, among them the cycle of life, which begins anew with spring. I thought that it would be nice for the main dish to represent spring and rebirth.