Say the words “vegan Passover” and menu options shrink considerably. No matzah pizza. No brisket or matzah brie.
All Jews observing the eight-day holiday abstain from leavened grain products to commemorate the flat, sun-baked bread the Israelites baked on their backs as they rushed out of Egypt during the biblical Exodus.
And Ashkenazic Jews, vegan or not, observe further rules – they avoid rice, corn, peas, legumes, and some spices, based on early rabbinic decrees that these foods could too easily become mixed or confused with grains.
But legumes and grains are the foundation of many a vegan diet – eight days without tofu, pilaf, or a big pots of beans can be a big challenge.
However, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz says that people celebrating a vegan Passover – and their hosts at the seder table – should not fear.
“I don’t experience Passover as being very restrictive,” he tells Good Food host Evan Kleiman on this week’s show.
Yanklowitz is founder and CEO of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, an organization that advocates for veganism in the Jewish community,
“If one prepares properly for Passover and thinks creatively, then everything is possible,” he says.
For Yanklowitz, that means flavorful vegetable dishes, matzah farfel, and matzah ball soup made with potato flour instead of egg.
The seder plate, with its symbolic shankbone and roasted or boiled egg, can also be customized to meet vegan needs.
Yanklowitz says the seder plate can be filled with any cooked foods, not just the ones we’re used to using. He replaces the shankbone with a beet, echoing a suggestion in the Talmud, and this year he plans to use a white mushroom instead of an egg.
Quinoa is one of the most useful foods for a vegan during Passover. Because it was unknown to the European rabbis who banned legumes and rice, most contemporary authorities consider it permissible for the holiday. Many rabbis give amaranth and teff a similar status.
If quinoa and vegetables do start to feel monotonous after the fifth day or so, Yanklowitz suggests that eating simply fits very well with the holiday.
Jewish tradition teaches that Passover is a time to imagine what the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt was like, and to turn our attention to modern suffering.
“Tap into what it was like to be in slavery,” Yanklowitz says. “They were eating modestly.”
“If our ancestors could for a long time, we can do it for a few days to cultivate empathy.”