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THOSE HARD-TO-MAKE-HEALTHY PASSOVER RECIPES
by Steven Raichlen

Passover is one of the most festive and beloved Jewish holidays—even though for eight days you're not allowed to eat bread, cake, beer or other leavened foods. One reason for its popularity is that it's a holiday of liberation, celebrating the escape of the enslaved Jewish people from Pharaoh's Egypt. Kids love Passover because they get to ask the Four Questions ("Why is this night different than all other nights?") and hunt for the afikohman, a hidden piece of matzah whose finder gets a prize. Adults love Passover because they get to enjoy special holiday foods that are only eaten once a year.

Central to the celebration of Passover is the proscription of any food that contains leavening. The Old Testament tells us that the ancient Israelites were forced to leave Egypt in a hurry—so abruptly, their bread didn't even have time to rise before baking. To commemorate the departure, Jews all over the world eat matzah, unleavened bread, and avoid any foods that contain yeast or baking powder. Matzah is available in supermarkets everywhere. For a real treat, try to find an artisanal whole-wheat matzah, called shmurach matzah (literally "watched" matzah). It's available in Jewish grocery stores, or through your local synagogue.

Far from being a burden, Passover gives you the opportunity to enjoy traditional holiday foods like matzah brei (a sort of matzah French toast), matzah balls (dumplings served in chicken soup), and all manner of matzah meal desserts, like sponge cake. Most North American Jews also celebrate the holiday by eating an oniony fish pâté called gefilte fish.

So the health conscious Jew has two challenges for Passover. The first of course, is to cook without any sort of leavening. The second is to prepare dishes that are high in flavor and low in fat. I hope you'll enjoy the following heart healthy recipes whether you're Jewish or not.


A NEW TWIST ON A HOLIDAY SOUP

To most Americans the ultimate Passover dish is matzah ball soup. Greek Jews have a wonderful twist on this holiday favorite, made by replacing the rice in traditional Greek avgolemono (egg lemon soup) with matzah farfel (toasted matzah bits). You can find matzah farfel in supermarkets and Jewish grocery stores. The eggs make the soup thick and creamy, while the refreshing tang of the fresh lemon juice makes this unlike any chicken soup you've ever tasted. To reduce the fat, I used two whole eggs instead of the traditional eight yolks. The soup thickens beautifully this way, while containing only a fraction of the fat.


FILLING FISH

Another traditional holiday food is gefilte fish, a molded pâté made from ground freshwater fish and served with tongue-blasting doses of horseradish. There are two secrets to making great gefilte fish: use a variety of freshwater fish (like carp, pike, whitefish and trout) and don't grind the fish too finely. My Aunt Annette used an old-fashioned hand-cranked meat grinder to make gefilte fish that was legendary in three states. I'm not going to ask you to trade in your food processor for a hand-cranked meat grinder, but if you do use a food processor, grind the fish in short bursts, a little at a time, and grind it until finely chopped, but not pureed. For ease of preparation, you can use boneless, skinless fish fillets, but ask your fishmonger for the bones, skins, and fish head to flavor the cooking liquid. Again, to trim the fat, I've reduced the number of eggs.


LIGHTER THAN AIR: SPONGE CAKE

Jews are nothing if not creative when it comes to baking, and the injunction against the use of leavening agents during Passover has made us work even harder to create feather-light desserts. The secret is to use the leavening power of stiffly beaten egg whites to raise cakes, like my lemon poppyseed cake. The theory is simple enough: when you bake a sponge cake, the tiny air bubbles in the beaten egg whites expand, causing the cake to rise. The same method is used in making soufflés. The rising action of the egg whites enables you to have your cake and eat it too, because technically, you get an airy cake without the use of leavening agents.

related links THE PROPER WAY TO BEAT EGG WHITES
  • Add a half-teaspoon of cream of tartar, lemon juice, or vinegar to the whites before you start beating them. The acidity helps stabilize the whites as they rise, giving you sturdier bubbles.
  • Increase the beater speed slowly. Start beating the whites on low speed, then medium, then high. This forms smaller, more even bubbles, which are less likely to collapse when the cake is cooled. The whole beating process should take about 8 minutes. You can do it in less time, but the whites are more likely to collapse.
  • Add a couple tablespoons of sugar during the last 2 minutes of beating. The French call this meringuing the whites and it makes the air bubbles firmer and more stable.
  • Don't overbeat the egg whites for sponge cake. They should be light and airy, but still soft—the consistency of soft ice cream. Overbeaten egg whites rise quickly, but fall quickly too.


Try Steven Raichlen's Recipes:

Greek Egg Lemon Matzah Soup
Gefilte Fish
Lemon Poppyseed Passover Sponge Cake

About Steven Raichlen

Steven Raichlen is the author of 22 books, including the IACP/ Julia Child Award-winning Barbecue Bible and the new How to Grill (both published by Workman). His book on low-fat Jewish cooking is called Healthy Jewish Cooking (Viking). He recently created a Barbecue University at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. You can reach him at his web site: www.barbecuebible.com.

He has appeared numerous times on national television, including The Today Show and Good Morning America as well as CNN and The Discovery Channel. Raichlen lives in Coconut Grove, Florida, with his wife Barbara.

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