How many people are you hosting for the seder this year? The guest list can easily exceed a dozen or two, especially if family join you from other cities, and catering to a large crowd, especially a crowd with dietary needs, can take some planning. If you’re a guest at someone’s table this year and they don’t know about your shock-inducing allergy, mention it to them ahead of time.
People don’t choose food allergies. Many will choose to ignore them and deal with the consequence, but if your body reacts to something, don’t try and avoid it and “have a little on Shabbat.” A reaction to food means your body is having a hard time dealing with it, so respect the signs and cut it out of our diet. Completely.
I know, it’s awkward being the guest who accepts an invitation by appending “I hope it’s ok, but I can’t eat any gluten,” but that moment of discomfort is exaggerated ten times when your host notices that you pass on every single dish that comes to the table.
When we have dinner guests with food allergies or preferences, I like to embrace the challenge and cook to their diet. Gluten free, dairy free or meat free doesn’t mean flavor free, nor does it mean you have to cook a second meal. When you’re planning your next large gathering, perhaps your seder menu, don’t be afraid of an allergen or two.
This becomes a little more challenging at pesach time when the pantry can feel bare, but it’s not too hard to come up with a menu fit for a carnivore, vegetarian, vegan and a celiac, and if you read my philosophy for a healthier pesach last month you are already half way there.
Let’s start with the appetizer.
Chicken soup with kneidelach (matzoh balls) is a pesach classic but just one of our four special diets would be accommodated. Cook the matzoh balls in a second pot and the soup remains gluten free. To do this, heat some boiling water and add two tablespoons of cooked chicken soup for flavor, then boil the matzoh balls as you normally would. Remove them from the water and re-heat with your food on a hot plate or in the oven. If you want one soup for all, matzoh balls are delicious in sweet potato soup too.
An alternative appetizer, if you must serve chicken soup, would be a beet and orange salad. Dice two or three cooked beets and one orange. Slice a red onion and keep it seasonal by grating a touch of horseradish into the salad. Drizzle a touch of balsamic vinegar and serve to everyone skipping the chicken soup! Pickled beets and turnips also make for a beautiful appetizer that you can make ahead of time.
When it comes to the main course, keep all your side dishes vegan and gluten free. I am confident your carnivore and vegetarian guests won’t miss a thing.
Chicken is safe for our carnivore and our celiac so keep it simple and use my new favorite method of roasting a bird. Sprinkle garlic powder, paprika and thyme over your chicken, pre-heat the oven to 500°F (260°C) and roast the chicken for 30 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 425°F (220°C) for another 30 minutes to finish cooking. You’ll get a beautiful crispy skin on the outside that will be loved by carnivores and celiacs alike!
I always use a meat thermometer when cooking chicken or meat. If you don’t own one, I would strongly recommend adding one to your pesach grocery list.
For your vegetarian and vegan diners, stuff portobello mushrooms with a mixture of sauteed leeks, sweet potatoes and a touch of garlic.
Side dishes are simple. Roast a medley of sweet potatoes, beets and parsnips. For another, roasted potatoes with sprigs of fresh rosemary and whole heads of roasted garlic. For something a little different, check out my felafal flavored quinoa patties, but be sure to substitute the breadcrumbs with matzoh meal if you are making it for pesach. Roasting butternut in coconut oil brings a subtle secondary flavor to this vegetable too.
Finally, an Israeli salad of cucumber, tomato and peppers with a squeeze of juice from a fresh lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.
Avoid the pre-mixed cakes or dry cookies and dip some fruit in chocolate for everyone round the table. Chocolate dipped fruit can also give a healthier edge to dessert.
In our home, we put a veggie platter on the table when the seder reaches karpas so that people don’t have to starve their way through the hagaddah. It’s definitely appreciated by the people who don’t like to eat too late. Unless you want a lot of leftovers to carry you through the week, it’s acceptable to keep the meal light and enjoyable so that people aren’t miserable and bloated by the time the night is over.