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Pesach (Passover) Cooking Tips

Level: Basic

• Focus on things you can eat, instead of what you can't
• Know how to identify products that are kosher for Passover

See also:
Passover
Passover Seder

Many people are frustrated at how difficult it is to come up with meals for Pesach and how bland and tasteless Pesach meals can be. Actually, it's not that difficult if you reorient your thinking. It's human nature to focus on the things you can't have, so many people make the mistake of trying to figure out how to make breakfast cereal, waffles, macaroni and cheese and pizza for Passover and wind up with very poor substitutes. Instead of focusing on the things you can't have, you should focus on the things you can have.

So let's focus on some foods you might want to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner and some fruits and vegetables that are permitted. I will also provide a few substitution suggestions and a few recipes. But before we get started, a few words about finding Passover food in your local grocery store.

Kosher-for-Passover Certification 

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Kosher for Passover certification
Kosher for Passover (in Hebrew)

Pesach foods generally require special Kosher-for-Passover certification. Regular kashrut certification is not sufficient for Pesach, and many foods that are perfectly kosher year-round are not kosher for Pesach. Look for a "P" (not the word "pareve"!) to the right of the hekhsher, like the one at top right, or the letters KFP (Kosher for Passover) or KP, or the words Kosher for Passover in English or Hebrew, seen at bottom right.

In areas with a significant Jewish population, grocery stores often gather Passover items together in a single aisle. Be aware that some supermarkets are very sloppy about what they shelve in their Passover aisles. The Acme supermarket near me routinely mixes the Kosher-for-Passover sardines (packed in olive oil) with the year-round sardines (packed in corn oil) on their Passover shelves, routinely restocks the Kosher-For-Passover soda pop display with regular soda pop and so forth. One year, they put some corn-syrup Purim lollipops in the Passover aisle. But then, what do you expect from a chain that once advertised a sale on "Challah: A Passover Tradition"? (the only Passover tradition related to challah is not eating it!)

Suggested Meals and Foods 

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To help you reorient your thinking, here is a list of things that you CAN eat during Pesach with minimal substitutions:

Dinner 

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Breakfast 

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Lunch 

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Vegetables 

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Most people will eat any fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables from the grocery store, as long as the vegetable itself is kosher for Passover.*

* Some especially strict people will not eat fresh or frozen vegetables, because the vegetables may have been cut using non-Passover knives, or may have been exposed to chametz in transit. People who observe this level of strictness eat only canned or pre-packaged fruits and vegetables with KFP certification. These are often available in the Passover aisle of the grocery store. On the other hand, some especially strict people will not eat the canned fruits and vegetables, even with KFP certification, because they don't trust the certification! These people will eat only fruits and vegetables with removable skins, such as potatoes, carrots, apples and bananas, and will eat them only after removing the skins.

Fruits 

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Pesach Options for Vegetarians and Vegans 

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All fruits and most vegetables are kosher for Passover, but they aren't a very good source of protein. Many popular vegetarian sources of protein are not kosher for Passover: beans, grains, pasta, soy products (tofu, tempeh, etc.) and many seeds, among other things, are all forbidden. What is a good vegetarian to do?

Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products are in luck: eggs and milk are kosher for Passover and do not require special certification if they are purchased before the holiday begins. Cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese and sour cream require certification, but several leading national brands routinely carry such certification. Hard cheeses (cheddar, mozzerella, etc.) are more difficult to find, but only because kosher hard cheese itself is difficult to find -- rennet that is used to harden cheese is a complicated kashrut issue. Kosher brands of cheese, such as Miller's, are commonly kosher for Passover.

For vegans, who refrain from eggs and dairy, there are still a few options. Most nuts are kosher for Passover, though you must make sure they are kosher certified: processed nuts are made with preservatives BHA and BHT, which is suspended in corn oil, not kosher for Passover. You can find a nice selection of kosher for Passover nuts at Oh Nuts. Important Note: Peanuts are not nuts, they're legumes, and they are not kosher for Passover.

Another exciting Passover protein option for vegetarians and vegans is quinoa, the new world grain-that's-not-a-grain. Quinoa is one of the best, most complete vegetarian sources of protein available. Some rabbis have held that quinoa is kitniyot and is forbidden, but many widely-respected kosher certification organizations have held that quinoa is kosher for Passover. See for example Star-K. At one time, the CRC organization held that Ancient Harvest brand whole grain quinoa (not flour or flakes) was kosher for Passover without special certification, though at this time (4 Mar 2010) they have not yet made that determination for 2010. Several have said that whole grain quinoa can be used but must be sifted carefully to make sure no forbidden grains have slipped in. See for example OU.

Two of the recipes on this page are vegetarian (though not vegan): matzah brie and matzah lasagna. I have posted a number of vegetarian and vegan Passover recipes on my blog.

Substitutions 

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As I said above, you should generally avoid substitutions and focus on foods that are naturally kosher for Pesach. That being said, there are a few simple substitutions that can give you more options for your Pesach cooking without compromising flavor.

Potato Starch
Potato starch can be used instead of corn starch or flour to thicken sauces, stews or gravies.
Matzah Meal
Matzah meal is ground up matzah in pieces about the size of bread crumbs. It is an effective substitute for bread crumbs to make breading for things like fried chicken or eggplant parmesan. In fact, I use it that way year round. It is also an effective substitute for bread crumbs or rice in recipes where they are used to hold ground beef together, such as stuffed peppers, meatloaf or meatball recipes.
Matzah Farfel
Matzah farfel is chunks of matzah about the size of a dime. It is a useful substitute for noodles, rice or pasta as a side dish. Serve your main course over matzah farfel and it will soak up the sauces nicely. It can also be used much like croutons on a salad, or can be used as the basis for a Kosher-for-Passover stuffing.

Recipes 

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The ingredients specified for these recipes are all available with Kosher-for-Passover certification in the supermarkets near me; your mileage may vary. Make sure the ingredients you use are certified, as many of these things contain grain products when they are not KFP-certified.

Matzah Brie (Fried Matzah) 

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There are many different ways to make matzah brie (usually rhymes with "rye," although some pronounce it like the cheese), and I will undoubtedly be branded a heretic for my particular technique, but this is the way I learned to make it and this is the way I like it. This recipe is really just French toast with matzah instead of bread!

Prepare the same kind of soaking batter you would make for French toast: beat a couple of eggs with some milk or water and some cinnamon. Break up some matzah into pieces about the size of your palm (precision is not required) and soak them in the batter until they are a little soggy but not falling apart. Fry them in butter in a frying pan until they are crispy. If you need to use up the last of the egg mixture, you can pour that into the pan with the last of the matzah.

Serve with honey (because it's hard to find syrup that is kosher for Passover -- most syrup these days is corn syrup). It's good hot or cold, so you can put your leftovers in the refrigerator and have them for lunch!

Beef Brisket 

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Once again, I will probably be branded a heretic for this simplistic brisket recipe, but it works well for me. I'm not sure of the quantities, because I don't make this very often and I go by feel:

Mix the ketchup and soup mix with enough water to get a smooth consistency (not a soupy one; about the consistency the ketchup originally was). Pour it over the London broil in a roasting pan. Cook at 325 degrees until it's done (depends on the size and shape of the meat). For more tender brisket, you may want to marinate it for a while before cooking.

Matzah Lasagna 

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This is the ultimate expression of a substitution mentality, which is exactly what I tell you to avoid throughout this page... and yet, I really like the way it tastes. It is my Pesach guilty pleasure. Basically, this is a typical lasagna with matzah substituted for the noodles and cottage cheese for the ricotta (because ricotta cheese is usually made with grain vinegar, though it's not called that on the ingredients list -- it's called catalyzer or something goofy like that).

Beat the egg. Mix it with about 8 oz. cottage cheese and the parmesan cheese. If using vegetables, mix those in as well. In an 8x8 inch cake pan (conveniently the same size as a piece of matzah), put down a thin layer of tomato sauce. Put a piece of matzah on top of that. Put a thin layer of tomato sauce on top of the matzah. Spread the cottage cheese mix over the matzah. Put a thin layer of sauce over the cottage cheese mix. Cover with the second piece of matzah. Cover with sauce and shredded mozzarella. Bake at 350 degrees until the mozzarella turns dark brown.

Links to Other Recipes 

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Elsewhere in this site, I have provided recipes for the following dishes which are (or can be made) Kosher for Passover:

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