I was raised in an Ashkenazi Jewish family, which means that unlike my friends from Sephardic or Mizrahi backgrounds, who eat rice and legumes and corn on Passover, I was instructed to avoid them all, along with any grain-based products that aren't matzo. As such, I grew up associating Passover with an upset stomach. (This is what happens when you subsist on seder leftovers, matzo pizzas, and matzo spread with butter and jam.)
Only as an adult did I realize that I don't have to sacrifice my everyday food values to celebrate the holiday — and neither do you.
1. Think outside the (matzo) box.
You'll certainly eat matzo during the seder meals and throughout the week, and frying up matzo brei is a real treat on a special morning, but why spend the week of Passover dressing matzo up in the form of lasagna or pizza or kugel or casserole? We can do better and still feel satisfied. Sure, matzo is the symbol of Passover, and supermarkets are practically giving it away, but it will not do your GI system any good to eat matzo for every meal. So don't let matzo be your crutch; stick as close to your normal diet as possible.
- Make these stunning Hasselback potatoes. And don't forget about other tubers and starchy vegetables.
- Rather than making yet another matzo topped with cheese and sauce, maybe it's time to try cauliflower pizza? Also, put an egg on it.
- Think of Passover as a chance to try those recipes you bookmarked when you thought about going gluten-free a while back.
2. Eat real food — even for snack time and dessert.
I grew up in a healthy home: We avoided sugar cereals and made cookies from scratch, for special occasions only. But when Passover rolled around — as is the case for many families — we'd buy off-brand Passover cereals that tasted like cardboard (truth be told, I kind of liked them), macaroons from canisters, and marshmallows coated in low-quality chocolate.
These were all "foods" that would have never made it into my house any other time of the year. And while I accept that holidays are a time for indulgence, it shouldn't mean you need to compromise. Try making some of the holiday treats and desserts yourself, rather than buying the processed versions, or go for something indulgent, but light.
3. Incorporate live-cultured foods.
There's a reason Jewish delis serve pickles to start the meal and to accompany the heavy dishes they follow. A good Jewish pickle or sauerkraut should be chock-full of healthy bacteria that populates your intestines with polyflora, which aid in digestion. This is Eastern and Central European Jewish food at its best — and best of all, you don't have to do any "cooking" to make these pickled items. While you're at it, eat (or make) yogurt for the holiday. Let acidophilus be your friend.
- Make your own cultured yogurt.
- Head to the produce section of your market or the farmers market and find green cabbage to turn into homemade sauerkraut in a Mason jar.
- If you happen to find cauliflower, pick up a head of it, along with some carrots, and lacto-ferment those veggies.
- Get fancy and make fermented asparagus pickles.
4. Think of Passover as an opportunity.
Having to work with fewer ingredients is your chance to get creative — or eat really clean. I have a few friends who use Passover as a time to experiment with juice cleanses or raw food diets. Hey, if you're going to eat weird new foods, you might as well eat ones that might make you feel good — and skip the potato starch rigatoni and cardboard macaroons.