Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kosher bloggin'

At sundown Tuesday evening, the Jewish holiday of Passover ended -  shortly thereafter, I feasted on a very un-kosher seafood pad thai and cocunut curry...Reason being, I decided to observe the rules of passover this year...foodwise of course.  A couple of my Jewish friends have the wonderful tradition of sharing a meal with their families every Friday night.  The fanfare around celebrating food with your family gets kicked up a few hundred notches when is comes to celebrating Passover.  I have personally witnessed my Jewish coworker's exhaustion (and indigestion!) following passover Seders, a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the 8 day festival.  This eating kosher for passover challenge also lends itself to being an interesting blog post ;)

The abridged 'wiki' version is that Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the Israelites/Hebrews (Jews are modern decendants) were freed from slavery in Egypt.  In the story, God inflicts ten plagues upon the Egyptians - the tenth plague being the killing of every firstborn male. The Hebrews were instructed to mark the doors of their homes with blood of a spring lamb and upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes.  When Pharaoh freed the Hebrews, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is called "The Festival of the Unleavened Bread". 

Now the unleavened bread rule is a little more complicated than one would think!  Products made from the traditional five species of grain: wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats, are forbidden unless specifically labelled Kosher for Passover.  Some Jews (there are many different observance levels) also avoid rice, beans (think soy), other legumes (peanuts), and corn...pretty much all grains, other than quinoa strangely enough.  Now, there are loads of kosher products out there, but kosher for passover is a different ballgame!  Processed foods are basically OUT! no corn oil, soy bean oil, soy lecithin, corn or wheat starch etc...almost all food additives come from corn, soy or wheat!

The full-time kosher rules also apply and include no pork, no shellfish, and no meals with a combination of dairy and meat.  I just learned this last rule comes from old text that suggests eating milk and meat together cause disease. This is obviously now a rule followed for tradition purposes.

So what can I eat?! Well...fruits and veg are unlimited.  Dairy and meat are too, but should be marked 'kosher for passover'.  I don't have easy access to Kosher meat/ dairy, so I bought those items from my 'hood, but didn't eat meat outside the home.  Matza...the traditional passover unleavened bread is encouraged...think cardboard, or eucharist if you're Christian.  I've posted a photo above with my dinner one night.  A veggie antipasto (tomatoes, onions, vinegar, olives, tuna, sugar...and no un-kosher additives) and matzo. Well rounded eh?!

I did pretty well - only cheated intentionally once - Easter dinner, I had a piece of amazingly-well-worth-it tiramisu.  This broke a couple of rules, the ladyfingers were obviously a no-no, but since we ate beef tenderloin for dinner - I mixed milk and meat. blasphemy!  However, I cooked an entirely kosher meal for Easter! (no photos unfortunately)

Roasted garlic, leek, and turnip soup
Oven roasted Beef Tenderloin (medium rare)
Roasted cauliflower and brocolli
green salad with a red wine vinaigrette

No one missed the bread/rice/stuffing/corn/rolls at all!

To be honest, it wasn't all that hard! I cooked quinoa for the first time ever and loved it! It will be on the regular rotation in our house.  A wonderful whole grain option, that only takes about 12 minutes to cook.  I cooked a couple of big batches, and used it as both a side (as seen below with roasted beets, and sauteed chicken thighs - this is a photo of our leftovers for lunches), as a base for a stirfry (with sautee kale, onions, tomato, garlic and balsamic vinegar - not pictured), and as a hot breakfast 'cereal' heated with a little milk, topped with dried apples, cranberries and honey - this was AMAZING!) 

I ate so much produce this past week! And I had a wonderful delivery last tuesday, which included the mango, kiwi and strawberry combo I packed for lunch one day with plain yogurt and a dollop of my homemade strawberry jam (that I made last summer).

I got to try some tradional passover foods too - compliments of Dara who goes all out with her mom for the holiday preparing everything from scratch!

Gefilte fish - basically boiled fish balls - I truly was reluctant to try these, they're traditionally made with carp and/or pike, but they pretty much tasted like a light and flaky low sodium tuna - dare I say, it was tasty!

Charoset - kind of an apple salsa - with nuts and cinnamon and sugar

Pesach - a beet and horseradish condiment - DEELISH!  especially along with charoset on mazta...hits all the flavour notes, sweet, savoury, bitter, sour, and a little spicy!

I found the challenge was going out to eat.  Of course it had to be that I went out to eat 3 times during passover!  The very first night of Passover was a scheduled 'social' evening with my volleyball team... wings and beer are standard fare.  Not for me!  I'll have the portabello mushroom salad please! with a vodka soda...oh ya, no booze (think grains) except for vodka, which can be distilled from potatoes (although likely not in this case), no pop either...because of the evil high fructose corn syrup.  Still, I tried!  Now my team thinks I'm a crazy health nut.
While travelling to Windsor for Easter, we went out a couple of times with my parents too - I stuck to salads, but I suppose now that I think about it, I cheated with fries...not the potatoes, but the oil! Unless they were cooked in olive or canola oil, which I'm positive they weren't...not Kosher! 

I have to say, I'm happy to be back in to the swing of things.  I'm glad it's only an 8 day holiday...I don't know how long I could go without the grains - nothing beats a satisfying carbohydrate rich snack when you're starving, and matza's just not cuttin' the mustard for me! 

Tonight for dinner...shellfish and pork cooked in butter and smothered with cheese!!
JJ ;)  I do need to get by cooking pants on though!!! I've been seriously slacking with my posts!

L'Chayim friends!!!!

p.s. sadly, I didn't learn this Hebrew translation of 'cheers' from any of my Jewish friends...I picked it up from the Black Eyed Peas song - I Gotta Feeling...yup, pop culture junkie here!


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