Beyond Brisket: Passover Food for the Rest of Us

Passover is upon us, kids. And beyond the deep religious significance, I think all of the observant Jews out there can agree that Passover really means one thing: bread fast. No leavened products for a week. No bread, no rice, no wheat, no pasta, no flour; pretty much, 90% of my diet is off-limits. The kosher rules for Passover can vary, depending on where you live and what type of Judaism you practice (for example, some people consider corn and corn products off-limits and others don’t). For the most part, though, it’s pretty clear: you’re going carb-free for a while, and, I’m going to be honest here, it sucks.

It doesn’t help that traditional Passover food either: A) tastes terrible, B) involves a ton of preparation, or C) tastes really terrible. With very very few exceptions, matzoh in its many various forms is not and never will be a substitute for flour. Matzoh meal cake is almost universally dry and bland. Brisket, while delicious, is hardly a whip-it-together-after-work sort of meal. Macaroons are a decent substitute for cookies, but most of the canned ones are “meh” at best. And if, like me, your diet consists almost exclusively of chametz (Passover-forbidden foods), you need to have a solid plan in place to survive without going full-on Predator and ripping someone’s spine out because you haven’t had a bowl of penne in a week. So how do you plan to radically change your diet, avoiding all of your favorite foods, while still going about your busy life?

Here’s what gets me through:

  1. Keep the matzoh to a minimum. Anyone who’s consumed too much knows why, but trust me, your digestive tract will thank you.
  2. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, and keep them ready-to-eat, so your snack cravings can be quickly and easily satisfied.
  3. Focus on your proteins. If you aren’t a vegetarian/vegan, then chicken, fish, and eggs will help keep you full. I eat SO MANY eggs during Passover, mostly because I usually have a big, bready breakfast to get me through my mornings, so I still need massive quantities of food, I just need to adjust what those foods are.
  4. Potatoes. All the potatoes; all the time. Buy the big bag. You’ll use it, especially since potatoes are pretty much your only allowed starch.
  5. Make crack. This recipe, which appears in various forms in various places, but which I found on SmittenKitchen, consists of matzoh, baked with caramel sauce until it’s crunchy, slathered in chocolate, salted, then broken into small little chunks of bliss. I make at least three batches of this every Passover. My non-Jewish friends beg me for some. I whipped some up at Passover dinner at my mom’s house last year, and it was a huge hit, which was a shock because in my family, I’m not exactly known for my culinary prowess. Matzoh crack will save your sanity. It will make you forget about cookies and cake and brownies. It will get you through.
  6. Make your own macaroons. There are a zillion recipes out there; I use this basic one (without the precious shapes) from the New York Times. They really don’t take that long, and they’re leaps and bounds above the canned kind. I like to mix in mini chocolate chips.
  7. CHEESE. I eat so much cheese during Passover. I mean, I eat a ton of cheese all the time, but it’s absolutely crucial to my survival during Passover. All of the cheese and potatoes and various diet changes make eating those fruits and vegetables that much more important. If you find yourself with stomach woes, I urge you to refer to Coco’s post from yesterday.
  8. Pack your lunches. There’s nothing worse than being faced with take-out options of: pizza, sandwiches, or sushi, and having to settle on a thoroughly unsatisfying salad because you weren’t prepared.
  9. Don’t plan your end-of-Passover meal too soon. You’ll just spend extra time thinking about food you can’t eat. If you keep your kitchen truly kosher for Passover (I don’t, which I can admit now that my grandma has passed away and cannot guilt me about such things – with love! Always with love!), then make sure you have your dinner planned and ready to go the second the sun hits that horizon. My husband (who is not Jewish) is good about having a vast array of breads, pasta, rice, and baked goods lined up as soon as I need them.

That all said, chag sameach to those of you observing, and I hope your bread fast is an easy and delicious one.

(Image credit from Yoninah on Wikimedia)


6 replies on “Beyond Brisket: Passover Food for the Rest of Us”

Oh boy. This is always such a rough week. One year when I was in high school I pretty much subsisted on strawberries and Cool Whip for the entire holiday.

My mom has a couple of great Passover recipes– she does these brownies with Matzoh cake meal and coffee instead of flour and they are OUT OF THIS WORLD. My non-Jewish friends beg for them. Oh, and she makes these meringue cookies that are just basically egg white, sugar, and chocolate chips that are NOM and not all that bad for you really. And she makes matzoh bagels out of matzoh meal and I don’t know what else that work out okay as a bread substitute for sandwiches or a burger bun, or they’re pretty good just with cream cheese. I’m not home for Passover this year for the first time in a while so I’m making a go of it with just fruit, cheese, eggs and matzoh crackers (which is probably for the best as I’m in a wedding in a few weeks and don’t need the matzoh bloat), but if anybody wants me to email my mom for those recipes I’d be happy to! The brownies are TRULY epic. She used to bribe my teachers with them.

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