By Mollie Katzen/JNS.org
Vegetarians, and especially vegans, need some high-protein plant food with a bit of heft to keep them going during Passover, especially if observing the Askanazic tradition that forbids eating kitniyot—a category that includes legumes, most grains, and some seeds. Meat eaters also might want to break the monotony of potatoes, matzoh, or matzoh affiliates (farfel) in their carbohydrate options.
Enter quinoa—the tiny, ancient, highly nutritious grain originally from Peru—to address the need. In December 2013, the Orthodox Union (OU) announced that quinoa will now be certified as kosher for Passover. Quinoa is delicious, texturally interesting, and compatible with enough other ingredients to give it a wonderful range on your Passover seder table. Here are three savory quinoa dishes that celebrate not only Passover itself, but the spring season in general:
Quinoa Pilaf with Asparagus & Leeks
(Possibly stuffed into grilled portobello mushrooms)
Enjoy this springy pilaf plain as a side dish, or heap it into grilled portobello mushrooms for more of an entrée. It’s cheerful, easy, and delicious. The pilaf keeps well in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to five days and reheats easily in a microwave or on the stovetop. Same with the mushrooms. The best way to clean leeks is to cut them first (in this case, very thin circles) and then submerge them in a bowl of cold water. Swish them around, then lift them out and into a colander. Change the water and repeat, then spin and/or pat dry.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil (plus extra to taste)
1 heaping cup very thin leek rings (1 medium leek)—cleaned and dried
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces feta cheese, cut into tiny dice
Optional: Six 4-inch portobello mushrooms, prepared for stuffing (see below)
1. Combine the quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to the slowest possible simmer, cover, and cook (with a heat diffuser, if available, inserted underneath) until the grains are tender—20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork to let steam escape. Set aside.
2. Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat and wait about a minute, then add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the leek rings, and sauté for about 5 minutes. When the leek is very soft, add the garlic, asparagus, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring often, until the asparagus is just tender—about 5 minutes, depending on its thickness.
3. Fork in the cooked, fluffed quinoa, and stir to combine, adding the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of black pepper as you go. Stir in the feta as well. If the mixture seems dry, you can drizzle in a little extra olive oil. Serve hot or warm, plain or stuffed into mushrooms.
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms directions:
Here is a way of cooking portobellos that greatly firms them up and condenses their flavor, getting them ready to stuff—or to simply enjoy plain.
Remove the mushroom stems, and wipe the caps clean with a damp paper towel. Place a heavy skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add a little olive oil, wait about 30 seconds, then swirl to coat the pan. Place the mushrooms cap-side down in the hot oil, and let them cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes. Turn them over and cook on the other side for 10 minutes, then flip them over one more time, to cook for about 5-10 more minutes on their cap side once again.
Green Onion-Quinoa Cakes
Servings: 4-5 (about 10 cakes) using 1/4 cup measure to scoop the batter
These appealing and tasty disks are crisp on the outside and fork-tender throughout. They’re wonderful as a breakfast or brunch entrée, topped with salsa or with strips of roasted red pepper (okay to use some from a jar, for convenience, if it complies with your kashrut). This is also a fun side dish or appetizer. You can make the batter and even form the cakes up to two days ahead of time, and store it—covered—in the refrigerator. No need to bring it to room temperature before frying.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
4 scallions, very finely minced (whites and reasonable greens)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs beaten
Butter for the pan
1. Combine the quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to the slowest possible simmer, cover, and cook (with a heat diffuser, if available, inserted underneath) until the grains are tender—20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork to let steam escape. Add the scallions, salt, pepper, and beaten eggs, and stir well to combine. (It’s fine if the quinoa is still hot.)
2. Meanwhile, melt some butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low, and swirl to coat the pan. Lightly spray a 1/4-cup measure (ideally one with a handle) with nonstick spray, and use it to scoop the batter, evening off the top with a knife, to form neat cakes. Shake the formed batter into the pan, and cook on both sides until golden and crisp. Depending on your pan and your stove, this will take approximately 5 minutes (or perhaps a little longer) per side. Serve hot or warm.
Speckled Quinoa Salad
Servings: 5 or more
Fluffy quinoa combines beautifully with an assortment of colorful vegetables, apples, currants, and almonds to make a bright lunch salad, laced with olive oil, lemon, and honey. The contrasting textures are fun and refreshing—and the palette becomes even more interesting if you use red quinoa. Roasted almond oil can swap in for some or all of the olive oil. You can add more vegetables, if you like. The amounts and type are flexible.
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 to 2 finely minced scallions (whites and reasonable greens)
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
1/2 a medium-sized apple, chopped small
1 medium-sized carrot, minced
1/2 a medium-sized red bell pepper, minced
A handful of currants
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons light-colored honey
A handful of almonds, chopped and lightly toasted
Sliced or minced radishes
Finely minced red onion
Finely minced celery and/or fennel bulb
1. Combine the quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to the slowest possible simmer, cover, and cook (with a heat diffuser, if available, inserted underneath) until the grains are tender—20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork to let steam escape, then let it cool to room temperature. Continue to fluff as it cools, to assure the grains stay separate. Transfer the cooled quinoa to a medium-sized bowl.
2. Add the vegetables and currants, and stir to combine, sprinkling with the salt as you go. In a separate small bowl combine the olive oil, lemon juice, and honey, and whisk to blend. Pour this into the quinoa and vegetables, mixing to thoroughly combine. Serve at room temperature, or cover, chill, and serve cold. Stir in the almonds shortly before serving.
With more than 6 million books in print, Mollie Katzen is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time and has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.” Her most recent book is “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013).
Quinoa pilaf with asparagus and
leeks in a portobello mushroom.
Credit: Mollie Katzen.
Green onion-quinoa cakes.
Credit: Mollie Katzen.
Speckled quinoa salad.
Credit: Mollie Katzen.
Kitniyot among few remaining strands of Ashkenazi-Sephardi difference in Israel
By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org
Israel is a country that has spent more than six decades weaving the two formerly disparate basic branches of the Jewish family, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, into one people. These days, nary an eyebrow is raised as they hang out, date, and marry in the Jewish state, and most of their cultural differences have nearly evaporated.
But for seven days each year, the lines are drawn all over again, over something as seemingly innocuous as a bowl of rice—and the result can be a lively Passover seder debate.
Most Ashkenzim were raised with the belief that, along with yeasty breads, crackers, cereals, and other baked goodies, kitniyot—corn and rice and all foods made with them, as well as legumes of all kinds (yes, that does include tofu)—are also off the Passover menu. For traditional Ashkenazim, these foods are as chametz (leavened foods) as a fluffy loaf of challah.
Of course, it’s no less than the Torah itself (Exodus 13:3) that strictly forbids Jews from dining on chametz during Passover, as defined as leaven from the “five grains”: wheat, spelt, barley, shibbolet shu’al (two-rowed barley, says Maimonides; oats, says Rashi), and rye. The rabbis in ancient times added to the list anything made from these grains other than matzah and matzah products.
Over the centuries, Ashkenazim have expanded the list of Passover-prohibited foods to include other grains and legumes, a tradition called kitniyot that usually applies to corn, rice, peas, lentils, and beans, and as often as not to peanuts and soy, green beans, snow peas, sugar-snap peas, chickpeas, soybeans, and sunflower and poppy seeds.
One theory as to why the prohibition on these foods, said to date back to 13th-century France, is the fact that kitniyot items tend to look like chametz, and are often sold right alongside them. This, before the day of sealed packages in supermarkets, posed a real threat of cross-contamination.
But in Israel, because the food packagers have two very different markets to please (and Sephardim outnumber the Ashkenazim), the traditional Ashkenazi approach can be challenging.
“‘Kosher for Pesach for those who eat kitniyot’ is really the phrase you look for [on packaging] so you know not to buy it,” says Arlene Barnhart, an Ashkenazi living in Beit Shemesh. “Sometimes ‘Kosher for Pesach’ is in large letters and the rest is really small. So, even when you have great Hebrew—and mine is pretty good—it can still take hours in the store struggling to decipher what you can and can’t buy. You have to be a bit of a detective. Otherwise you get it home and find you can’t use it.”
There are plenty of examples of tricky situations, including halvah, whose packaging states “Kosher for Passover” in large letters, yet whose corn syrup makes it kosher for Passover only for Sephardim (or kitniyot-loving Ashkenazim). The same applies to candies and other desserts, salad dressings, and countless other products, which are all labeled “Kosher for Passover” but aren’t actually so for traditional Ashkenazim.
Yet there is a subtle but decipherable shift among many Ashkenazim—even the traditionally observant ones—to say yes to consumption of kitniyot on Passover. Some mainstream rabbis, including Rabbi Zvi Leshem of Efrat, have put forth the ruling that kitniyot foods are acceptable for Ashkenazim, assuming that that ingredient in question isn’t the main one and clearly recognizable.
In fact, there is even a Facebook group called Kitniyot Liberation Front that boasts hundreds of followers, not surprisingly mostly Anglos, overtly pushing the anti-kitniyot agenda.
The traditional Jewish community in the U.S. (heavily Ashkenazi in numbers), meanwhile, is not seeing much of this kitniyot pushback, says Kashrut.com Editor Arlene Scharf. And it’s also safe to assume that, even in Israel, Pesach 5774 (2014) will still see most of the traditional Ashkenazim passing on the bowl of rice that their Sephardic friend—or mother-in-law—offers them.
“It’s just something we’ve always stayed away from,” says Rabbi David Aaron, founder and dean of the Jerusalem-based Isralight Academy of Adults Jewish Studies. He adds, with a good-natured shrug, “For a week I can live without rice.”