Each spring, for thousands of years, Jews have paused at Passover to commemorate the ancient Hebrews' exodus from slavery in Egypt. The Haggada, containing the Passover narrative and Seder ceremonies, reminds Jewish people the world over of their obligation to "let all who are hungry come and eat."
And if the hungry are vegetarian? No problem. With creativity, substitutions and expanding product options, a vegetarian Passover menu can be traditional and satisfying.
This year, "I see more things like salsa and Thai sauce that are kosher for Passover," says Debra Wasserman, a director and founder of the Vegetarian Resource Group, a local nonprofit organization that promotes meatless living. "Things like that add to the limited things you can eat. Even if you just have veggies, it's just different to add it in."
Ms. Wasserman is vegan. Like vegetarians, she eats no meat, fish or poultry, but additionally, she does not consume other animal products, including dairy items and eggs.
Many Jewish cooks turn to eggs to lighten dishes without using leavening agents which Jews remove from their home during the eight-day observance, but that's not an option for Ms. Wasserman.
She shuns the popular, egg-white dependent sponge cake or other fluffy desserts. "I wouldn't try to imitate sponge cake without eggs," she says.
But she would tinker with matzo brie, a breakfast dish usually made by frying matzo that has been soaked in an egg batter. She substitutes juice and mashed ripe banana for the egg batter. "It's not the same but it's good. You're not tring to imitate it. An egg's an egg."
Mashed bananas can take the place of eggs in Passover cake mixes, too, she says: One banana binds and gives recipes the moisture of one egg.
Ms. Wasserman's eggless and dairyless alternatives offer holiday options to people who are not vegetarians but who are on restricted diets for health reasons.
Because the Passover menu is so limited, she says, "people overeat those items that they wouldn't normally eat in such large qualities. They overdose on cheese and eggs."
Substitution finds its way to the Seder plate, too. With the plate's traditional shank bone representing the paschal lamb, and its roasted egg symbolizing an ancient festival offering, vegetarians must be a little creative.
A mushroom's fleshy texture makes it an ideal stand-in for the lamb and "an avocado seed is about the same size and also represents rebirth and the renewal of the season," says Ziona Swigart of the Vegetarian Resource Group's Vegetarian Journal. Roasted beets often do lamb duty and potatoes may replace the egg.
Other items on the Seder plate require no substitutions: a mild (often green) vegetable symbolizing the coming of spring, horseradish or other bitter herbs recalling the Hebrews' hardships under Pharaoh, salt water for tears shed in bondage, and charoset, a fruit, nut and wine mixture, represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves. Three matzos for three divisions in the society of ancient Israel, and four cups of wine for God's promises of freedom.
Here are some vegetarian dishes appropriate for the Passover table. They are from "The Lowfat Jewish Vegetarian Cookbook" by Debra Wasserman (The Vegetarian Resource Group, $15) The first is one of Ms. Swigart's personal favorites.
Kneidlach are matzo balls traditionally made with eggs. This eggless version contains potatoes instead. Serve in vegetable broth.
Ruth's eggless kneidlach
4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups or 1 quart water
1 1/4 cups matzo meal
pepper to taste
Boil potatoes in water in a large pot for 20 minutes until tender. Drain potatoes and mash them in a bowl. Add matzo meal and pepper. Knead dough until firm and smooth.
Fill a large pot 3/4 -full with water. Bring to a boil. Form smooth, 2 1/2 -inch balls out of potato-matzo meal mixture. Drop balls into boiling water. Cook for 20 minutes in covered pot. Do not overcook! Carefully remove from water and serve matzo balls in hot vegetable broth.
Per serving (without broth): 153 calories, 1 g fat, 4 g protein, .3 mg iron, 34 g carbohydrates, 4 mg calcium.
10 cups water
1/2 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
salt and pepper to taste
6 ounces tomato paste (optional)
Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 3 hours. Strain mixture if you prefer a clear broth. If you leave vegetables in broth, you have a simple vegetable soup. serve hot. This recipe freezes well.
Per serving: 23 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g protein, .8 mg iron, 5 g carbohydrates, 28 mg calcium.
Russian potato and mushroom croquettes
Makes 5 servings
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and chopped
5 cups water
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 pound mushrooms
1 teaspoon oil
1 tablespoon water
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup matzo meal
1 tablespoon oil
Boil potatoes in water until tender. Drain and mash potatoes.