I originally wrote this column for United Media at least 15 years ago. I figure a whole lot of people have joined — or rejoined — the low carb/keto ranks since then, and Passover is right around the corner.
Most people are aware of some Jewish dietary laws –– that Jews who keep kosher do not eat pork or shellfish, or consume meat and milk products together. The laws are more complex than that, governing how kitchens are run, how animals are slaughtered, and who may or may not prepare certain foods. These rules do not interfere with a low carbohydrate diet.
However, there are additional laws governing foods eaten during the Passover season, and many Jews who don’t keep kosher the rest of the year do follow the Passover laws. And of course, there are food traditions. Some of the Passover laws and traditions do, indeed, make it more difficult to stick to the diet.
A Passover rule followed even by many Jews who do not generally keep kosher is the ridding the home of chometz –– any leavened grain product. In memorial of the unleavened bread eaten by the Hebrews in their haste to flee Egypt, nothing leavened may be eaten during Passover. The chometz is ritually gathered up and disposed of.
Since grains may contain wild yeasts, they are not allowed during Passover, either. This is not a hardship for us, since we don’t eat grains anyway. However, Jews of European descent also shun rice, millet, corn, legumes, or foods made from them. This rules out soy and everything made from it –– including some low-carb/keto specialty foods. It also eliminates rice protein powder, which appears as a flour substitute in some of my cookbooks.
Usually, high-carb matzoh meal is used in place of flour. Perhaps you could simply skip things that are very carb-rich, like matzoh balls, but use small amounts of matzoh meal to, say, thicken a casserole. One-quarter cup of matzoh meal contains 27 grams of carbohydrate and just 1 gram of fiber, so you’ll want to go very easy. Potato starch is also used during Passover, but is even higher carb.
Rabbi Hirsch Meisels, who when I originally wrote this article oversaw www.FriendsWithDiabetes.org, a site for Jewish diabetics, tells me that ground nuts or seeds would also be acceptable flour substitutes. Almond meal is now widely available –– Bob’s Red Mill brand is available in many grocery stores. A quarter-cup of almond meal has 6 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of which are fiber, for a net carb count of just 3 grams.
Guar and xanthan gums, low carb thickeners, are okay. Guar is derived from a seed, not a grain, and xanthan from a microorganism. One of these would be my choice for thickening gravies and sauces. If you can’t find guar or xanthan at your local health food store, you can, of course, order it online. They are substantially similar.
Mass-market powdered artificial sweeteners, including Splenda, Sweet ‘n’ Low, and Equal, contain corn products, and are not acceptable. However, kosher for Passover versions are made, including one by Sweet ‘n’ Low; look for them. Liquid artificial sweeteners and stevia are both kosher for Passover.
At the Seder, there is a Seder plate of traditional foods which must be eaten. Eggs are dipped in saltwater, to symbolize tears. A roasted bone symbolizes the Passover sacrifices from before the destruction of the Temple. Bitter herbs –– usually horseradish –– symbolize the travails of the Hebrew people. A green vegetable, such as romaine or celery, symbolizes the fruits of the earth. All of these things are low-carb! There is also charoset, a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and wine, symbolizing the mortar made by Jewish slaves in Egypt. Very little of this need be eaten, but if you like, you may make it with more nuts than fruit, to reduce the carb count.
Eating 45 grams of carb worth of matzoh is required, unless you get permission from your Rabbi to eat less. Barring medical problems, I’d just eat it. It is a holiday, after all! If you can find it, oat matzoh has more fiber, and thus fewer net carbs, than wheat matzoh. Four glasses of wine are also required –– sounds like fun to me! Make sure it’s a dry wine; dry reds have 3 grams of carb per glass or less.
This Passover side dish is great for anyone!
Spinach Mushroom Kugel
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
30 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon beef bouillon concentrate
2 tablespoons almond meal
1/2 teaspoon guar or xanthan (optional)
Preheat oven to 350.
Saute mushrooms and onions in the oil until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms soften. Transfer to a mixing bowl, reserving 9 mushroom slices for garnish, and add spinach; mix well.
Stir together eggs, mayo, and bouillon concentrate till the concentrate dissolves. Stir this mixture into the vegetables. Stir in the almond meal. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the guar or xanthan over the mixture, and stir in well; repeat with the second 1/4 teaspoon.
Spread evenly in a greased 8×8″ baking dish. Decorate with reserved mushrooms. Bake for
1 hour. Cut in squares to serve.
9 servings. 214 Calories; 20g Fat; 6g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 4 grams usable carb.
Notes: When this column first appeared, I got an email from a woman who was furious, claiming this recipe was not kosher. Since it had passed muster with a Hassidic rabbi, I can only imagine she thought mayonnaise had dairy products in it, which, along with the beef bouillon concentrate, would have made this recipe traif (not kosher).
You will want to look for kosher-for-Passover bouillon concentrate. My favorite, Better Than Bouillon, contains soy, and therefore is not suitable.