Pesach – an ideal time to think about what we eat throughout the year

Food shopping for Pesach shouldn’t be such a big deal – that’s what my Mother tells me in any case. For her, growing up,they’d clean, Matzot would be bought and the house would be stocked with a little more Palwin number 7 wine than usual but the food shopping wasn’t really that much of a big deal as the number of shop bought products available was minimal.

Coming from North European, Ashkenazi stock, the difference between the Pesach menu and the regular one was that you had meat, potatoes and vegetables with matza as opposed to meat, potatoes and vegetables with bread. Pasta was exotic if it was available at all and Northern European Jews were happily able to avoid the debate on eating rice because 17th century Poland wasn’t blessed with too many rice paddies (back in the days when eating local was a necessity rather than a lifestyle choice).

Today, things are a little more complicated – my Facebook feed is already starting to fill up with people requesting recommendations for Pesach recipes and where to look for certain products. As Seder grows closer this will become ever more frenzied, with every rumor of a kitniyot-free mayonnaise sighting potentially sparking a Black-Friday style stampede.

In recent times, our food has become increasingly processed and the list of ingredients and additives gets longer and longer and requires a science PhD to understand. Corn and Soya, both considered kitniyot (although arguably they shouldn’t be but that’s a different article), are two of the biggest cash crops in the developed world and are so ubiquitous in some form or another, that the likelihood of their being in any packaged product are pretty high – which is part of what confounds those who keep to a non-kitniyot tradition.

I would suggest however that we shouldn’t be asking where to find kitniyot free parve half and half, non-soy parve cream cheese or pudding mix but why on earth we’re using these products in the first place?

It is my contention that Pesach is not just a time to spring clean the home but also an ideal time to cleanse our bodies by getting back to a more healthy style of eating. Reducing our reliance on prepared and processed foods in favor of cooking in a more traditional way (and if we can’t do tradition then I don’t know who can!) is good for our general health, waistline and wallets. Carrying the menu on after the end of the holiday would almost definitely be a healthy bonus.

Dietary fads change continuously and it’s hard to keep track of them. What they agree on however, is that eating non-processed foods is generally a good thing and that the presence of a variety of fruit and particularly vegetables in your diet is desirable. Furthermore it’s generally accepted that eating too much processed carbohydrates is also not going to do you or your waistline much good. In that much of the carbs we eat during the year are chametz, and that, legumes aside, fruit and vegetables are non-chametz, Pesach is an ideal opportunity to change to eating fewer stodgy carbs and more healthy fruits and vegetables. The benefits are double in the case of Pesach – a better diet and no need to drive yourself mad examining the small print on labels.

Once pasta, grains and other bulk are removed from the diet, what is left? The answer is plenty! Whilst I will certainly indulge in my fondness for spreading matza liberally with butter and sprinkling some salt over the top, I won’t be doing it every day for breakfast. Fruit salads using cheap, seasonal fruit will be the order of the day – strawberries, melon, passion fruit and citrus will certainly all feature. Supplement with plain yoghurt, cottage cheese, avocado, olives, freshly made Israeli salad and omelets. If you’re feeling indulgent, then smoked salmon or other fish are great additions – in short the sort of breakfast which you expect to find at an Israeli hotel or on in a good dairy café but which is also easy to recreate at home.

Later in the day enjoy grilled fish or roasted chicken served with antipasti, steamed seasonal vegetables or a large salad. These light and delicious meals will certainly be welcome after the heavier fare of the seder night. For something heartier a shepherd’s pie or a meat stew (if the weather takes an unlikely cold turn), both with plenty of vegetables are both great options.

My mother, otherwise a fantastic baker, used to produce a series of best-forgotten cakes and cookies for Pesach. There are so many desserts which are appropriate for Pesach which are served by chefs throughout the year – flourless chocolate cakes or brownies, pears poached in wine, chocolate dipped fruit, pavlova or what you do with it when your meringue goes wrong – an Eton Mess, mousses, sorbets and ice cream – all of which can be made using delicious and natural ingredients which by their nature don’t require their labels to be scrutinized to see if they have something in them that they shouldn’t.

There are plenty of Pesach dishes which are family favourites which will continue to weigh down our tables and cause our stomachs to groan over the holiday. I’m not suggesting for a second to completely banish matzah brie and Matza Lasagne but it doesn’t have to be the case that we spend the chag driving ourselves mad scrutinizing labels rather than enjoying a wonderful family holiday and spending the weeks afterwards trying to lose weight.

With a slight change in approach, Pesach is a perfect opportunity to start eating in a more healthy fashion. The time to break our bonds of enslavement to processed food, you know it makes a lot of sense!

About the Author
Neil Gillman grew up in the UK but fell in love with the idea of eating all his meals out of a pita when visiting Israel for the first time. His culinary tastes have since developed and he is a keen amateur cook, food blogger and shuk addict. He made Aliyah in 1996 and has been working with Olim from English speaking countries since 1999, He is currently responsible for Aliyah from English speaking countries. The views on this blog are his own.
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