A vegetarian Passover Savoring the challenge of a meatless Seder feast

March 24, 1993|By Leslye Michlin Borden | Leslye Michlin Borden,Contributing Writer

Passover, the first great liberation holiday on the Jewis calendar, begins this year on the evening of April 5. Unlike other Jewish holidays where the important aspects of the celebration occur in the synagogue, Passover is very home-centered. The main observance, the Seder, occurs around the dinner table. At the Seder, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told and retold. Through this discussion, the participants can feel like they are among those liberated by Moses, that this occasion is not about something that happened long ago, but is immediate and happening today.

Passover has many rules associated with it, most of which focus on food. Foods with leavening are not eaten on Passover because the ancient Israelites fled Egypt in such a hurry that they didn't have time to let their bread rise. From the simple rule of forbidding leavening in all forms -- yeast, baking powder, cream of tartar, etc. -- comes a variety of related food regulations. For instance, some Jews say that anything that expands, that looks like it has been made with leavening, cannot be eaten. These foods include all legumes (beans) and rice. To avoid unintentional consumption of leavening, using regular flour for baking or anything else is not allowed. Some permit baking, but only with flour made from matzo.

Every year, I try to devise a new and interesting menu for our Passover feast. I like the admonition in the Haggada that recommends reclining during the meal. It says that because Jews now are free, we should enjoy the occasion like "kings." So I want to serve a meal fit for kings. When I think of all the regulations, I know I'll have to be very creative to meet the requirements of Passover and prepare a royal feast. This challenge became even harder for me when my husband and I decided to reduce fat and cholesterol in our diet, since Passover is a holiday founded on eggs -- a main source of cholesterol.

Now I have a new stimulus to my creativity. As my children grew up and went away to college, they came home as vegetarians. This year, they requested a vegetarian Passover feast. I always enjoy the opportunity to try something new so I accepted their suggestion to come up with a delicious vegetarian Passover menu, fit for royalty.

What I discovered is that a lot of the preparations for a vegetarian meal are not too different from those I do for a low-fat, low-cholesterol menu. I made a big pot of vegetable stock, which is very important in all the selected recipes (except dessert).

I use it in place of oil to saute the onions and garlic for the stuffed artichokes. It forms the basis of the special vegetable soup, made with only Passover-appropriate vegetables. I even use it to season the matzo balls. Oh yes. My children want a totally vegetarian menu, but they don't want to give up matzo balls. Happily, when I did the nutritional analysis for the entire meal, it turned out that total cholesterol is only 71 milligrams (all from the matzo balls), certainly not an "unhealthy" amount for an entire meal.

A vegetarian Seder has a lot to recommend it. The foods are very easy to make. They benefit from advance preparation. The recipes are new and therefore exciting. They include a Yemenite appetizer for artichokes stuffed with zucchini and onions. Vegetable soup made with onions, carrots, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers will follow with the matzo balls added to it. The entree will be matzo lasagna made with sliced eggplant "fried" in a spicy mushroom-and-tomato sauce. I know I'll please the assembled group with matzo apple crisp for dessert. The final quality of this menu that makes it so desirable to me is that one serving of each recipe comes to only about 660 calories, of which only 23 percent comes from fat.

The Seder focuses on discussing anything that make the participants "get involved," so that the feel they are part of the Exodus, that whatever happened to the ancient Israelites is also happening to them. Serve a vegetarian menu for your Passover feast. You'll certainly spark a lively discussion.

Basic vegetable stock

Makes at least 2 1/2 quarts.

3 carrots, cut into chunks

top half of celery bunch, including leaves, chopped

1 large onion, quartered

several parsley sprigs

1 parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks

12 to 15 whole peppercorns

1 large bay leaf

salt or lemon juice to taste

Place all ingredients in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover. Slowly bring to a boil. Cover loosely and simmer about an hour and a half, or until the carrots and parsnip are tender. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Strain the vegetables from the broth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Used without the vegetables, there is no measurable nutritional value.

Artichokes stuffed in the Yemenite style

Makes 6 servings.

6 medium artichokes

juice of one fresh lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup basic vegetable stocks

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 hot green chili pepper, seeded and chopped, or

2 tablespoons chopped green (bell) pepper

1 large tomato, chopped

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