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Why Being Vegetarian on Pesach Can be Difficult

We do not eat fish or meat at any time of year and during Pesach, we have the additional prohibition against eating chametz. Chametz is produced when any of five species of grain (wheat, oats, barley, spelt, and rye) come in contact with water and are allowed to ferment after the stalks have been cut. Rabbinic authorities have determined that fermentation (or leavening) takes 18 minutes, so grains prepared for Pesach (as in matzoh) must be monitored very carefully. Following the Ashkenazic tradition, our family also abstains from eating beans, rice, corn, and peas during Pesach.

The restrictions and laws surrounding chametz are enormously complex, so during Pesach we eat only foods that fall into one of the following categories:

So why is this a challenge for the vegetarian? Well, if you don't eat fish or meat and abstain from all legumes and all grain products except those made from correctly-prepared matzoh flour, your protein options consist of nuts, eggs, and milk products. Cholesterol city!

How We Plan Our Pesach Meals

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of kosher l'Pesach foods on the market. You can buy cereals, donut and bagel mixes, noodles, cookie and muffin mixes, even sandwich roll mixes. If you are willing to pay the price, you can eat on Pesach no differently than you do the rest of the year.

At Beit HaChatulim, however, we feel strongly that Pesach should be different. Our dishes, our counters, our pots and pans are all different -- and our food should also be different. So we generally do not buy the "bells and whistles" Pesach food. Instead, we try to find foods that we like and that we prepare only on Pesach.

While there are lots of cookbooks with Pesach recipes available, we have found most of our Pesach recipes in regular cookbooks. Every year we tend to acquire a new cookbook or two, or we go to the library and check out some vegetarian or regular cookbooks. Then we go through them carefully looking for recipes that we can use on Pesach.

We try to avoid adapting recipes for Pesach use. Instead, we look for recipes that don't use flour, grains, pasta, or legumes. Most cookbooks have a few that fall into this category. When we find one, we bookmark or copy them to try on Pesach. Over the years, we have developed our own collection of vegetarian Pesach recipes that we write into a blank book.

Sample Menus and Recipes

Breakfast is kept pretty simple. We make a Passover granola. We also buy, at our sons' insistence, a couple of boxes of Pesach cereal each year. There's always matzoh and cream cheese as an option. Fruit, juice, and milk are also available.

For lunch, our perennial favorite is Matzoh Pizza. We usually have a few leftovers from dinners, or the kids can make matzoh brie, a sort of scrambled eggs with pieces of matzoh folded in. If you really want a recipe, look in any Jewish cookbook.

Evening meals fall into two categories -- yom tov and Shabbat dinners, and regular suppers for the days in between.

Sample Seder Menu

Ritual foods:
Hard-cooked eggs
Karpas - a green vegetable, which we often serve as part of a raw fruit and vegetable platter
Maror - horseradish

Foods we usually keep on the table to keep the kids (and not a few adults) occupied through the first part of the seder:
Vegetarian Chopped Liver
Caponata or some other eggplant spread
Kosher for Passover salsa (when we can find it)
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Hard-cooked eggs

Soup course:
Mollie Katzen's Not-Chicken Soup with my friend Linda's Matzoh Balls.

Main course dishes:
Cheese Puff
Sweet and Sour Cabbage
Fruit and Vegetable Tzimmes
Banana-Nut Matzoh Kugel
Potato Puff

Passover Mandel Bread
Lucia's Other Cookies
Passover Jam Squares
Viennese Chocolate Torte

Just a note or two:
When we host a seder, someone else usually prepares and brings some of the food. The recipes shown above represent the dishes I make most often at our own sedarim or when taking something to someone else's dairy seder.

When we are invited to a seder where meat will be served, we usually are asked to bring a main dish that is parve, i.e., does not contain meat or milk products. We also are usually asked to bring a dessert because everyone knows I'll bring something really good. The parve entree we usually take is a Nut Loaf.

Other Yom Tov Meals

In addition to the two sedarim on the first two nights of Pesach, the last two days of Pesach are also holidays and are usually marked by a festive meal in the evening. And since Pesach lasts for 8 days, there's always a Shabbat in there somewhere, too. On all of these days, we make a more elaborate evening meal.

Another favorite Pesach soup:
Linda's Cabbage Soup

Other main-course dishes:
Baked Eggs in Zucchini with Hollandaise Sauce
Spaghetti Squash
Stuffed Cabbage

Supper During Chol Hamoed Pesach

Because we have so many special evening meals during Pesach, the other evening meals tend to be fairly simple. Sometimes, we'll just bake potatoes, scoop out the insides, mix it with grated cheese, then restuff the potatoes and pop them back into the oven to melt the cheese. Cheese and eggs are frequently main ingredients in these other meals, though we also eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

We've tried matzoh lasagne, various eggplant dishes, and lots of ways to cook potatoes. We even developed our own recipe for an Applesauce Kugel. But every year we are out there looking for new things to try; and every year we are happy to see the end of Pesach and the return to a more varied diet.

There are a few other vegetarian Pesach recipes out on the web. We will review them from time to time and keep a list active -- but not until closer to Pesach 2010.