Passover, though one of my favorite Jewish holidays, is also one of the most challenging for me. As a vegetarian and Ashkenazic Jew, major staples in my diet such as beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and brown rice are suddenly banned. I have met some vegetarians/vegans who “go Sephardic” for Pesach so that they have more food options, even going as far as consulting and getting permission from their rabbis to do so. But bringing kitniyot (foods such as: rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds that are not allowed to be consumed during Pesach under Ashkenazic custom) into my home would be a big no-no, and personally I wouldn’t feel comfortable observing the holiday differently. I’ve had 11+ years to figure out and fine-tune the ins and outs of a vegetarian Pesach and I’m here to share some of my must-have foods, while still following Ashkenazic tradition and staying healthy.
Let me preface my suggestions by explaining a little bit about my background and how I observe Passover. I was raised in a Conservative kosher home, where the only foods that enter our kitchen for the holiday are ones that bear a Kosher for Passover (K for P) symbol. Even though there are so many vegetarian/vegan packaged goods that I love and are chametz-free, they will not be coming into my home without the K for P symbol. For some readers, this may be stricter than you’re used to. Ultimately, you have to do what you feel comfortable with on this holiday. As a result, I tend to cook nearly all my meals from scratch. Cooking in bulk and not minding repeat meals is helpful, as is finding a grocery store (or online kosher shop) that carries a variety of products, which thankfully gets easier every year with the ever-expanding selection of Passover foods on the market.
In the beginning of my quest to stay vegetarian on Passover, I found that I ended up eating a lot of carbohydrates (matzah meal, matzah farfel, matzah cake flour…) and relied too heavily on dairy for my main source of protein. Consuming a diet with little variety can cause you to miss out on important vitamins and minerals, whereas a diet made up of a wide selection of sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fat would not have this issue. From my training as a nutritionist, I’ve now found alternative and creative ways to fuel up and feel good all Pesach long. I do have matzah-based foods in my diet, but they play a much smaller role. Now I focus on plant-based foods that are both nourishing and satisfying. So without further ado, here is my top 10 list of must-have foods for your vegetarian kitchen on Passover:
1) Quinoa is not only a great source of complex carbohydrates but also contains 8 grams of protein per cup. Check out my flavor-packed Vegetable Quinoa Pilaf below!
2) Eggs offer essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. I purchase free-range eggs, which have the added benefit of a nice dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
3) Avocado provides excellent heart-healthy fat that will give you lasting energy. One of my go-to breakfasts on Pesach is mashed avocado on matzah with a touch of lemon juice and sea salt.
4) Nuts are another source of heart-healthy fat and also give you a bit of fiber too. I am so grateful that there is a Kosher for Passover almond butter on the market! I’ll definitely be packing an almond butter & jelly matzah sandwich with some fresh fruit for work a few days of the holiday.
5) With so many of my usual snack foods like hummus and granola bars cut out of my diet on Passover, I survive on fresh and dried fruit throughout the holiday. I carry bananas, oranges, or boxes of raisins wherever I go, so that I always have an easy snack on hand.
6) Since tofu, tempeh, and seitan are out of the picture, I use Portobello mushrooms instead since they have a great meaty texture and delicious, savory flavor. I stuff them with sautéed onions, spinach and matzah meal for a main dish (I make a variation of this recipe) or I grill them with red peppers and zucchini for a side.
7) Vegan chopped liver with Tam Tams is a yummy start to any seder. The eggs offer a great source of protein, the walnuts contain omega-3, and the mushrooms are one of the only plant-based sources of vitamin D.
8) Salad can get boring so easily, so I jazz mine up with interesting toppings. Hearts of palm are super easy to find in the Passover section and I love slicing them up on top of my salads. They have a great texture and taste and give you a nice dose of potassium, zinc, and iron.
9) Another delicious dip I always have in my fridge around Pesach is Sabra’s Caponata. They make a bunch of excellent dips that are free of kitniyot. They’re a perfect size to bring to work or a Pesach picnic.
10) When I’m missing grains, I cook up some Matzo Meal Couscous (Savion is one brand I like) in vegetable broth and toss in some roasted broccoli, garlic, and sautéed mushrooms. It has a toothsome chewiness and a neutral flavor that’s ready for any seasoning or add-in you see fit.
This list of items certainly will satisfy anyone in your home, vegetarian or not. So this Passover, try some new foods and recipes out. Start with the one below!
Vegetable Quinoa Pilaf
Recipe by Jackie Topol
1 1/2 cups quinoa
3 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped small
1 red pepper, chopped small
1 zucchini, chopped small
1/2 cup chopped parsley, packed
1/4 cup scallions, green and white parts chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1) Rinse quinoa using a fine mesh strainer (skip this if your quinoa is pre-washed—it will say so on the box if it is). Next, place quinoa in a medium size saucepan and heat on a medium-high flame. Let the quinoa toast for about 3-4 minutes (You will smell a nutty aroma). Add vegetable broth, cover pot with a lid, bring to a boil, and then simmer until cooked, about 20 minutes. Set aside and let cool until ready to mix with the cooked veggies.
2) Heat a large skillet over a medium flame and then pour in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add in minced ginger and garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add in the chopped carrots, red pepper, and zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes until all vegetables are just slightly soft. Remove from skillet, place in bowl, and set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.
3) In the meantime, chop up parley and scallions. Add to cooked (now cooled) vegetables. Incorporate the cooked quinoa into the vegetables and finally add in lemon juice, remaining olive oil, salt and pepper. Add more salt to taste if necessary. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.
Optional: Top with sliced/cubed avocado or sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts for an added dose of healthy fat.
Jackie Topol is a nutritionist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a Masters candidate in Clinical Nutrition at NYU. In her free time she teaches health-focused cooking classes at the JCC in Manhattan where she has been an instructor for over 4 years. Her career has been greatly inspired by her experiences at Adamah, where she was a Fellow in 2007.