Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays. It commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. When the pharaoh refused to release the slaves to the prophet Moses, ten plagues were brought upon the land. The tenth plague, the death of every first-born, “passed over” the Jews and the pharaoh released them from bondage. Passover is a celebration of freedom that extends far beyond the Jews and the story of their exodus as we acknowledge and fight for the freedom of all who are enslaved.
Passover is observed for eight days and begins with a feast called the Passover Seder held on the first and second nights of the holiday. The seder (which means “order”) is a festive meal where the haggadah, the story of the exodus plus prayers and song, is read while certain rituals are practiced in a set order. Passover has a lot of food restrictions centering on the forbiddance to eat leavened food products which symbolized the haste at which the Hebrews had to escape Egypt. Plus, several animal foods are integral to the rituals. When you add that to the already long list of foods vegans do not eat or use, the holiday can seem extremely challenging. Still, it is possible to hold a vegan Passover seder with just a few changes. Here are some ideas on how to hold a vegan Passover seder.
1. Forbidden Foods
On Passover, it is forbidden to eat leavened foods such as bread or pasta. During their escape from Egypt, the Jews did not have time to let their bread rise and instead ate unleavened bread or matzoh. Leavened foods are called chametz and include bread, pasta, and any foods made with yeast, wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats.
In addition to these restrictions, Ashkenazi Jews also stay away from other foods known as kitniyot. This includes rice, corn, millet, peas, beans, legumes, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and mustard seeds. Quinoa is not considered a grain and is therefore, allowed. Soybeans are prohibited which makes it somewhat harder for vegans. The origin of these restrictions is not clear and it is not written in Jewish law but most Ashkenazi Jews follow this prohibition on Passover. Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, do not follow the kitniyot prohibition. You will want to know which customs your guests follow when preparing your Passover seder. Note that some of the recipes in this article may contain kitniyot.
2. The Seder Table
The haggadah is the book that contains the story of the exodus along with songs, prayers and directions for the seder ritual. For people who extend the idea of freedom to people all over the world and to animals, the traditional haggadah might seem limiting. I would recommend getting a new haggadah that is more in line with animal rights and plant-based eating. There are three veg-friendly haggadahs available: “Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family” and “Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb” by Roberta Kalechofsky, and “Open-Eyed Heart-Wide Haggadah” by Debra Jill Mazer.
Anyone who has been to a Passover Seder knows that the Seder Plate is the centerpiece of the table. It is rich with symbolism of the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves and is a main part of the Seder’s ceremonial rituals. Each of the six foods on the seder plate symbolize a part of the story of emancipation. But some of the items on the Seder plate are not vegan-friendly and can be replaced by other items that are more in tune with one’s ethics.
Karpas: karpas is a vegetable or herb such as potato, celery or parsley to symbolize spring. It gets dipped in salt water to symbolize the tears of the enslaved.
Maror: these are the bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness of slavery and captivity. This can be lettuce, horseradish or other bitter greens such as radish greens or dandelion greens.
Charoset: charoset is a mixture of nuts, apples, wine and spices. It is used to symbolize the mortar used to layer bricks and the hard labor done by the slaves but it is also sweet for the sweetness of freedom. To make my Charoset: combine 2 peeled, cored and diced apples, ½ cup walnuts, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, a pinch of ground allspice, a pinch of nutmeg, 1 tsp. agave nectar, ¼ cup grape juice or wine and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Pulse until pureed but with some texture. Store the charoset in a container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Makes about 1 ½ cups.
Z’Roa: traditionally, a shankbone is used to symbolize the sacrificial lamb. A good substitute for this is beets. The blood-red color is symbolic of the blood shed as well as the blood smeared over the doors of the people the Angel of Death passed over. According to the “Haggadah for the Vegetarian Family,” olives and grapes can also be used to symbolize the commandments of compassion for the oppressed.
Beitzah: a hard-boiled egg symbolizes the mourning over the loss of the temple but eggs are also common in spring holidays as a symbol of new life, renewal and hope. Wonderful substitutes for eggs include oranges, seeds, ripe fruit with pits and even edible flowers. I usually use an avocado pit or oranges on my seder plate.
The seder table will also have matzoh and wine. Be sure to get egg-free matzoh and vegan wine.
3. Traditional Passover Dishes
There are some dishes that are traditionally served on Passover even though they don’t play a part in the seder ritual. Matzoh ball soup fits right in, of course, as this is a holiday filled with matzoh. Recipes that use soy for the matzoh balls may be off-limits but you don’t need tofu to make light, fluffy matzoh balls. Make this Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup with matzoh meal and for a gluten-free version, use quinoa flakes as in this Vegan Matzoh Ball Vegetable Soup.
Gelfilte fish is also a traditional dish on Passover. It is made from ground fish and is served with horseradish. My Vegan Gefilte “Fish” is made with chickpeas, sauteed vegetables, seaweed flakes, Old Bay seasoning and lemon. I serve it with prepared horseradish on a bed of purple cabbage.
Chopped liver is a part of many Jewish meals and while I never tasted it, I make a simple vegan version with mushrooms, walnuts and spices. It takes about 15 minutes or less to prepare. To make my Mushroom and Walnut Pate: put a skillet over medium heat and add 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil. When the oil starts to ripple, add 10 oz. chopped cremini mushrooms and 1 small chopped onion to the skillet. Cook until they are browned and softened; it should take around 10 minutes. Mix in ½ tsp. dried thyme, ½ tsp. dried rosemary, ½ tsp. Herbes de Provence and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Don’t add salt yet as salt takes the moisture out of the mushrooms and keeps them from browning. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add 1 cup of chopped walnuts, ½ tsp. kosher salt and 1 Tbs. water. Process until it’s a smooth paste. Taste for spice adjustments. I find I often have to add a pinch more of this or that until it’s just right. Refrigerate in a covered dish for a couple of hours. The flavors really intensify over time and it’s even better when made a day in advance. Other dips you could make include Baba Ganoush, Beet, Fennel and Lime Pate, or Muhammara Spread made with roasted red peppers and walnuts.
4. Other Dishes
Even with all the food restrictions, you can make a festive and delicious feast for the holiday. Besides the traditional matzoh ball soup, you can serve a beautiful bowl of Borscht or beet soup with vegan sour cream. Also try this Beet, Butternut Squash and Apple Soup, Beet and Avocado Soup with Cashew Cream or my Roasted Eggplant Bisque. A lovely salad with greens, fruit and nuts is a refreshing way to commemorate spring and renewal. Try this Cinnamon Spiced Apple and Grape Salad, Rainbow Salad, Carrot Coconut Salad, Quinoa and Beet Salad with Hazelnuts, or Quinoa Salad with Figs, Purslane, and Goji Berries.
For the entrée, everyone will celebrate this Eggplant, Onion and Tomato Stew, Quinoa and Sweet Potato Noodle Bolognese with Toasted Crushed Almonds, Roasted Root Vegetables on Quinoa with Yogurt Sauce, Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf, Portobello Mushroom Steaks, Portobello Mushrooms with Artichoke Hearts and Sundried Tomatoes, Raw Vegan Curry with Marinated Mushrooms and Onion, Rainbow Eggplant Stacks, and this Legendary Middle Eastern-Style Vegan Bake. Tzimmes is a traditional sweet stew made with root vegetables and dried fruits. Regular pasta may be off the menu but you can still enjoy pasta-type dishes made with veggie noodles. Try this Avocado Herb Pesto with Zoodles, Sweet Potato Noodles and Coconut Curried Veggies, or Buffalo Cauliflower with Sweet Potato Noodles. If you don’t think you can live a week without pizza, make this Healthy ‘Digestive-friendly’ Quinoa Pizza Crust and top it with your favorite veggies. Matzoh Brei and Fried Matzoh are always a favorite but if you are following kitniyot and cannot use tofu or chickpea flour, make the batter with quinoa flour instead.
Side dishes should focus on vegetables instead of the forbidden grains. Make Potato and Onion Kugel with Sauteed Apples and substitute matzoh meal for the flour. Other side dishes to make include Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Braised Garlicky Kale, Roasted Red Potatoes with Turmeric and Thyme, Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Red Chile Flakes, Baked Cinnamon-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries With Apple Date Butter Dipping Sauce, Maple Roasted Parsnips, Caramelized Radishes, Early Summer Light Vegetable Saute, and Rosemary Roasted Carrots with Creamy Thyme and Rosemary Sauce.
It might seem daunting to make desserts without the usual flours but remember, there is still a lot of decadent ingredients you can use such as chocolate, coconut, fruit and nuts. Try this Gluten-Free Grain-Free Vegan Birthday Cake, Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies, Vegan Grain-Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, Grain-Free Tuxedo Cupcakes, and Rockin’ Raw Lemon Bars. Raw desserts are usually grain-free like these Carrot Cake Bites, Almond Butter Fudge, Chocolate Beet Cake with Raspberry Frosting, and this Triple Layer German Chocolate Cake. For more ideas, check out 15 Decadent Raw Vegan (No-Bake) Dessert Recipes. These Raw Fruit Tartlets made a beautiful presentation. Read How to Make Indulgent Fruit-Based Desserts for more fruity ideas. A dessert that is as beautiful as it is refreshing is this Lemon Basil Granita: zest 3 lemons and reserve the zest. Juice 5 lemons and add the juice, ¾ sugar and ¾ cups water to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then remove from the heat. Add ½ cup torn basil leaves and the lemon zest to the saucepan and let it sit for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid to remove any pieces. Add 1 ½ cups of cold water and pour the mixture into an 8-inch baking dish. Cover and freeze for 5 to 6 hours. Every hour, scrape the ice with a fork to break it into granules. Serve the granita in chilled bowls and garnish each with a fresh basil leaf.
For more traditional Passover desserts, you will definitely want to make these Vegan and Grain-Free Passover Macaroons. If you’re wondering what to do with all the extra matzoh you have, make this Chocolate-Covered Matzoh and this Matzoh Toffee.
Passover is the perfect time to stop and think about all the beings, past and present, human and animal, who suffer from discrimination, oppression, captivity and enslavement. As we remember and give thanks for our freedom from slavery, may we all continue the fight for the exodus of ALL the lives in bondage. Happy Passover!
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