A Gluten-Free Pesach

By the end of Pesach, I sometimes envy people who eat a very simple diet of matzah, boiled chicken, potatoes and carrots during most of the holiday. But then I realize how boring it would be. I’m much too used to a wide variety of food and new recipes. Besides, my family would rebel if they had to eat boiled chicken all week long!

Fortunately, I’m one of those women who enjoy cooking for Passover. Really now – it’s only a week, and there’s plenty of fresh produce to choose from. Here in Israel we’re lucky to have hormone-free kosher chicken and many varieties of fresh fish. If the weather’s still chilly, I make vegetable soups like sweet potato, potato-leek, asparagus and zucchini. In warmer weather I prepare salads with lots of vegetables or fruits (fresh or dried) and nuts.

Special diets can add to the challenge of Pesach cooking, but they shouldn’t keep anyone from eating healthy and tasty meals. If you’re gluten intolerant (unable to fully digest gluten – a component of wheat, rye, barley and other grains), you’ll have to forgo matzah balls as well as baked goods and kugels made with matzah meal. Forget most of those store-bought cakes and cookies.

Passover noodles and soup almonds made with potato starch are usually fine for a gluten-free diet, but check labels carefully. Many macaroons are made without matzah or cake meal, and they should be allright as well.

What about matzah? That’s certainly a challenge if you can’t eat gluten. For the seder, try gluten-free oat matzah. Very expensive, but as far as I know, they are the only ones acceptable for fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah at the seder.

After the seder, I suggest Gluten Free Matzo – an Israeli product produced by the Yehuda company. It’s made from tapioca and potato starch, palm oil (not great, but you’re only eating it once a year), egg yolks and honey. I gave out samples to several people – some gluten-intolerant, others not. Everyone found them crisp, flaky and very tasty. In fact, their taste is closer to potato chips than regular wheat matzah. They are certified Gluten-Free and O-U parve. (The brachah is “shehakol”.) If you can’t find them locally, order them on line at Use their code GFM979 to receive a free box of matzah with your order.

Gluten Free or not, enjoy a happy, healthy and kosher Pesach!

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Passover Banana Coffee Cake (Parve)

This recipe is healthier than the original in several ways: I reduced the amount of sugar and fat by cutting the amount of streusel topping in half. I added walnuts for fiber and heart-healthy fats. Instead of margarine or butter, I substituted liquid oil (mild olive oil, canola or walnut oil) Given the sweetness of bananas, I used less sugar in the cake itself.
Streusel Topping
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup matzah meal
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons oil
6 large eggs, separated
½ cup white sugar, divided
4 large ripe bananas
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 2 packages vanilla sugar)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup matzah meal
½ cup potato starch
13 x 9 inch (33 x 23 cm) baking pan
Preheat the oven to 325 F (165 C). Oil the baking pan or line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, stir together all of the topping ingredients.
Using a food processor, process the yolks with ¼ cup of sugar until they’re thick and pale. Slice the bananas and add them to the yolk mixture along with the vanilla, salt, matzah meal and potato starch. Blend until smooth and transfer to a mixing bowl.
Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, beating until the whites hold stiff peaks. Fold ¼ of the meringue into the banana mixture to lighten it. Gently fold the rest of the meringue into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and sprinkle with the streusel.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a cake rack. 
Chag Sameach V’Kasher to Everyone!
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My 5771 Dietary Guidelines

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published their 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  These guidelines, revised every five years, are vague. They advise us to “eat less salt, trans fat and sugar” and “eat more whole grains, dairy products, fruits and vegetables”.  
Why can’t the USDA be more specific? Why, for instance, do they not come right out and say: “Don’t drink soda pop and don’t eat fatty meat”? 
It has to do with conflict of interest.
The root of the problem is that the USDA is a “bi-polar” agency. While it’s mandated to encourage healthy eating, it’s also mandated to promote American food industries, regardless of the type of food they produce. So any dietary guidelines it publishes must not be overly offensive to industry lobbyists, such as the influential meat and sugar lobbies.
I’m not indebted to the food industry, either in the US or here in Israel. (When Coca Cola sent promotional coupons to Israeli dietitians, mine went straight into the recycling bin.)  With that in mind, I offer you my straightforward and simplified dietary guidelines,  including what to eat and what not to eat this Passover.
5771 Dietary Guidelines
Eat home-cooked food
Eat plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits every day
Choose whole grains instead of processed grains
Use olive and canola oil
Drink water
Eat fish, poultry and low-fat dairy foods
Eat real food
Rely on catered, take-out or restaurant food for most of your meals
Buy commercial baked goods high in sugar and saturated fat
Eat highly processed foods
Drink soft drinks
Eat fatty meat
Eat foods that contain trans fat
Passover Guidelines
Pesach presents its own set of dietary challenges. Eating whole grains is the hardest, unless you eat quinoa or kitniot. But there’s still plenty you can do to eat right during Passover.
Stay away from highly processed Passover food
Eat fruit for dessert instead of candy, cookies and cake. When the occasion calls for a cake, bake your own using nuts, fruit and eggs. (Try the recipe for Banana Coffee Cake in my next blog.) Reduce the amount of sugar called for in your recipe by at least a quarter. Stay away from cake mixes and store-bought baked goods. Most of them are high in sugar and trans fat.
Drink water. Just because Coke is kosher-for-Passover, you don’t have to buy it.
Use olive oil as your cooking, baking and salad oil during Pesach.
Make your own matzah balls instead of using a mix. It will only take a little longer, but you’ll be getting a lot less salt.
Spread matzah with mashed avocado, fruit-only jam or low-fat soft white cheese instead of margarine or butter. Go easy on the matzah altogether.
Snack on fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, nuts and low-fat yogurt and cheese.
Plan holiday meals using lots of vegetables (think soup, salad and vegetable-based main courses); Serve a small amount of low-fat protein, like chicken, turkey and fish and go easy on the potatoes, knaidlach, kugels and matzah.
Eat real, home-cooked food!
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Pre-Pesach Leftovers: Turn (some of) them into Granola Bars

After Purim, many of us start thinking about Pesach. I’m not the “Spring Cleaning” type, but I have started going through my pantry and refrigerator. I actually enjoy the challenge of using up leftovers. I just tried this recipe, using some of my own leftovers. I’m not a big granola bar fan, but these are yummy. Soft, not too sweet and certainly healthier than most anything you can buy. And …they don’t even need to be baked. Just mix, refrigerate and cut them up!
There’s plenty of room for variations: Use any chopped dried fruit instead of raisins; or peanut butter chips instead of chocolate chips; Double or halve the recipe.
No-Bake Granola Bars
1 cup granola (homemade or store bought)
½ cup raw oatmeal (regular or quick-cooking)
½ cup chocolate chips or raisins
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts or almonds
¼ cup honey or date syrup (silan)
1 cup natural peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
Mix granola, oatmeal chocolate chips and walnuts in a bowl. Stir in the honey and peanut butter. Mix well. Spray an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking pan with non-stick spray. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan and refrigerate for an hour or so.
Turn the pan upside down on a cutting board and cut into bars or squares. Wrap each bar in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready for a little snack.
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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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