Don’t Grain on My Parade: Grain Alternatives for Passover

Passover begins in 15 days, at sunset on Monday, March 25.  Last year I made the mistake of purchasing many packaged “kosher for Passover” foods, such as special pasta made for Passover, hot cereal and even a chocolate pie crust.  These items are generally made with either matzo meal (ground up matzo), potato starch or a combination of the two.  Eating just one of these Passover items at each meal is much, much more starch than I am used to eating.  Just a few days of eating these types of foods…. well, we were feeling absolutely miserable… bloated, low-energy, etc.  I will not make that same mistake again, when there are so many other possibilities of things to eat that are permitted during Passover.

During Passover, which lasts 7 or 8 days, depending on which tradition or affiliation you follow, we are forbidden from eating any foods made from wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats, unless it has already been turned into matzo.  Matzo is made from wheat which has been specially collected and watched to make sure it has not come into contact with water or other liquids until it is ready to be made into matzo.  The whole process, from when the liquid touches the wheat until it is completely cooked through, must take no more than 18 minutes, to prevent the dough from rising.  

When I teach this concept to students, whether children or adults, there is usually some confusion as to why crackers, tortillas and pasta can’t be eaten during Passover, as those items are “flat.”  The problem is not one of being flat or risen, rather, it’s that the items are made from one or more of the five grains which are prohibited during Passover.  Any of those grains must have already been made into matzo in order to be permitted for eating during Passover.  
Last year, I actually made my own matzo, out of wheat flour.  I put a little olive oil in the dough, and topped it with sesame seeds, which was most definitely more tasty than boxed matzo.  Technically, though, in order to be Kosher L’Pesach (Kosher for Passover), if you are going to make your own matzo to eat during the holiday you need to use special flour, which is made for this purpose, not your regular year-round flour.  The flour is called kemach shel matzo shemura.  It is flour that has been watched and protected from harvest until packing to ensure that no moisture has come in contact with it.  It is also near impossible to find.

So what are some options, if you don’t want to make your own matzo, and you don’t want to eat a primarily matzo-meal or potato starch based diet?  There are actually quite a few good options.  Many foods which we think of as “grains” are actually not grains at all, but rather, plants or seeds.  Quinoa is one option.  Quinoa is technically a seed, not a grain or grass.  (Source: Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood by Wayne Coates, PhD)  It’s actually related to spinach and Swiss chard, of all things!  It is a source of protein, about 8 grams per serving, and also contains a full range of amino acids, in addition to fiber and iron, so quite a better alternative to eating the nutritionally-lacking Passover foods made from matzo meal.
Quinoa comes in multiple colors.  This is red quinoa that has been cooked.
Amaranth is another option.  It also has a grain-like texture to it, but is technically a seed.  Amaranth, like quinoa, is loaded with protein, amino acids and fiber.  I buy mine from the bulk bins at The Food Conspiracy Co-op.  You can also find it online at VitaCost.  I cook up big batches of amaranth for  my dogs, to supplement their kibble, and keep it in the refrigerator for about a week.  I use it as a hot breakfast cereal, too.  Heat it up with a little butter, add some milk and fresh berries for a great start to your day.
Amaranth, before cooking
Millet’s kosher for Passover status is debatable.  Some sources see it as related to rice, so would not allow consumption of millet during Passover.  That opens up a whole Pandora’s Box, the question of kitniyot, which are legumes, corn and rice.  Those of Sephardi descent, meaning Eastern Jewish tradition, from countries including Spain, Morocco, Yemen, Egypt and Iraq, do eat Kitniyot during Passover, as these items were such a substantial part of their diet that eliminating them would not have been feasible.  Jews of Ashkenazic descent, meaning countries such as Poland, Russia and Germany, typically do not eat kitniyot during Passover, but there has been much debate on the validity of this practice, depending on which authority or affiliation you follow.  Millet is a seed-grass, and is gluten-free.  So, should you avoid millet during Passover?  If you do not eat kitniyot during Passover, then, yes, you should not eat millet.  There are exceptions for infants and the elderly, who might need millet to maintain their health.  For more information visit the Orthodox Union website, which has excellent information on Kosher for Passover guidelines.

Both quinoa and amaranth, while acceptable for Passover, do require Kosher for Passover certification, which is to ensure that they have not come into contact with other grains during processing.  For more information, along with a printable guide of what does and does not require special certification, visit the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) website.

In the two weeks leading up to Passover, I will post recipes using quinoa and amaranth, so please check the blog this week and next week!


One Comment Add yours

  1. An interesting post on Jewish culture & food. Explore the Israel cuisine at Habyit restaurant. Visit http://www.habayitrestaurant.com/ for more info.

    Like

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