Complying with the dietary restrictions that are part of Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, can sound complicated, but it doesn't have to be.
Just ask an expert.
Lori Riegel, religious and cultural education coordinator at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging in Tucson, does lots of cooking and experimenting with food, so she's had her share of failures and successes.
Mom to 15-year-old Logan, Riegel volunteers with Southern Arizona Greyhound Adoption and is a full-time graduate student at Hebrew College in Boston. Yet she finds time to come up with new dishes and write a blog, Kosher Chic.
"I cook every night. We hardly ever go out. I'll see something on TV and I'll get a craving and I'll make it," she said.
Still, Passover can be a challenge.
During the seven- or eight-day celebration - depending on their affiliation - observant Jews don't eat foods made from oats, barley, wheat, rye or spelt, unless it has already been turned into the unleavened bread called matzo or crushed into matzo meal.
Many Jews also refrain from eating rice, corn, soy, millet, beans, peas and other legumes.
That makes cooking challenging because many products contain some derivation of grain or corn.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, fresh meat and fresh fish are allowed.
Most Seders - ritual dinners - have gefilte fish as an appetizer and matzo ball soup. Main dishes are often brisket, cornish game hen, chicken and kugel (a kind of noodle casserole).
Riegel offered some tips for cooking during the holiday:
1. Keep it simple.
"There's no reason to panic," Riegel said. "Think about what you normally eat and just take out the starch."
On non-Seder days, which still require restrictions, she might make Cheesy Mashed Potato Bake with Yukon gold potatoes. "It's pretty much gluten-free," Riegel said, "so I pretty much didn't have to change anything."
For Seders: Chocolate Truffle Cake, which uses no flour. Her mom, Freddi Pakier, created the confection in the early 1980s.
"It is just so fabulous," said Riegel, 40. "We use it for everything - we don't just use it for Passover."
2. Go ahead - experiment.
Since she's vegetarian, Riegel can't eat most matzo ball soup, which is usually made with chicken stock. So she makes her own with vegetable broth.
And while many people serve brisket during the Passover Seder, the last time she hosted a Seder Riegel served fish.
One of her new favorite ingredients, which is acceptable during Passover, is chia seeds (see accompanying story).
"My daughter calls it my weird hippie food. But I think it tastes good," she said. "I sprinkle it on foods to add protein."
She says the seeds provide a crunchy texture and work well on cream cheese-covered matzo.
3. Don't overbuy things you don't need.
"The mistake I made last year is I got all excited because I had a newly kasher kitchen" - to kasher is to make kosher - "so I bought a lot of matzo products."
She ended up not using them, so they went to waste - they can't sit for an entire year until the following Passover. Riegel says buying fresh is the way to go.
And she aims not to overdo matzo because it can be weighty and binding. Though a substitute has been hard to find, she says quinoa is a good alternative.
Quinoa is "perfectly fine over Passover because it's a seed, not a grain," she said.
When she is in the mood for kosher food, Riegel heads to the Safeway at 4752 E. Sunrise Drive.
"They have a refrigerator section, frozen foods section and they have a little aisle with packaged foods including things that are really hard to find," she said.
However, Riegel repeats a familiar warning: things labeled kosher might not be kosher for Passover.
Chocolate Truffle Cake
• 5 eggs, separated
• 1 pound good-quality semisweet or dark chocolate chips (like Ghirardelli)
• 5 ounces butter or margarine, plus extra to grease the baking pan
• Fresh raspberries (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a spring-form pan.
In a stand mixer, whip egg whites on high speed until they form stiff white peaks.
Carefully melt chocolate and butter together in a microwave or over a double boiler, stirring occasionally.
In a medium-size mixing bowl or mixer, lightly beat egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks with the chocolate mixture (gradually add a little of the melted chocolate mixture to the egg yolks to bring up the temperature of the yolks).
Add the rest of the egg yolks to the chocolate mixture.
Fold egg whites into the chocolate mixture and pour into the spring-form pan.
Bake for 12-14 minutes. The cake will look slightly "molten" in the middle after baking, but will firm up as it cools.
Serve with fresh raspberries, if desired.
Courtesy of Lori Riegel.0
Cheesy Mashed Potato Bake
Note: This recipe is appropriate for Chol HaMoed, or non-Seder, days.
• 2 pounds Yukon gold baby potatoes (or your favorite variety)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1/4 cup butter
• 1/2 cup milk
• 1/3 cup sour cream
• 1/2 onion, chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 cups cooked chopped fresh (lightly saute or steam) or chopped frozen spinach
• 1 Mexican gray squash
• 1 red bell pepper, diced
• 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
• 1/2 cup chopped carrot
• Olive oil for vegetables
• 1 1/2 cup shredded cheese (use a cheese that melts easily, such as cheddar)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice potatoes into quarters and place in four-quart saucepan and boil in lightly salted water until soft enough to mash. Drain potatoes and mash with butter, milk and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper.
In a separate pan, saute onion and garlic in olive oil with a pinch of salt until lightly browned. Add remaining vegetables. Cook until soft, but still a bit firm, over medium-high heat, for approximately 10-12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon vegetable mixture into 13- by 9-inch rectangular glass baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes, then cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.
Courtesy of Lori Riegel.
• 2 cups matzo farfel
• 6 eggs, beaten
• 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water and drained
• 1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons cinnamon
• 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9- by 13-inch baking dish with butter or margarine.
Soak farfel in water for 10 minutes. Drain.
In a large bowl combine farfel and beaten eggs and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in raisins, apple, salt, sugar, cinnamon and butter or margarine. Transfer to baking dish.
Bake for 50-60 minutes. Make at least one day before serving, refrigerate, and serve cold.
Courtesy of Wendy Weise Cohon.
Apricot-Glazed Cornish Hens
• 8 whole or halved (16 pieces) Cornish game hens
• 2 teaspoons salt, kosher for Passover
• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 8 tablespoons margarine, melted and divided
• 1 cup apricot preserves, kosher for Passover
• 4 tablespoon honey
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated onion
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Split hens or wash and prepare to bake whole.
Combine the salt and cayenne. Rub 1/3 of the mixture inside hens.
Brush 1 tablespoon margarine over hens; sprinkle with remaining seasoning mixture.
Place in a shallow baking pan or foil-covered half sheet pan. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
In a saucepan, combine the preserves, honey, onion, nutmeg and remaining margarine. Cook and stir until slightly bubbly and combined. Brush onto hens.
Bake 35-40 minutes longer or until golden brown. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the hens should read 180 degrees.
Cover and let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Courtesy of Wendy Weise Cohon.
Passover Celebrates Jews' freedom from slavery
Most people know that Passover marks the Jews' freedom from slavery in Egypt.
Samuel M. Cohon, senior rabbi at Tucson's Temple Emanu-El, says it is likely the oldest Jewish holiday, dating back 3,200 years.
"Slavery was a part of life - nobody thought it was a bad thing, necessarily. To celebrate slaves being liberated from bondage was not really part and parcel of the mentality of human beings," he said, calling Passover "the first great festival of liberation in human history."
Passover exemplifies ritual. To remember the Jews' midnight flight from Egypt, before they even had time to allow their bread to rise, observant Jews don't eat anything with leavening during Passover, using flat cracker-like bread called matzo, or crushed matzo meal, instead.
Strictly ordered and structured meals called seders tell the Passover story. Prayers, games, songs and riddles teach the value of liberty and of recalling that event in Jewish history.
Ritual foods, some eaten and some not, include a lamb shank bone to commemorate the blood of lambs, which was spread on doors for the angel of death to "pass over" Jewish houses during the final plague, and charoset - a mixture usually containing apples, nuts and honey meant to evoke the mortar the slaves used. Throughout the meal, four cups of wine are drunk, and one is left for Elijah the prophet.
C'est kosher chic
For more of Lori Riegel's recipes, go to kosherchic.blogspot.com online.
Suggestions offered here are general guidelines, so if you have questions about what's OK to eat during Passover, consult a rabbi.