Pesach Strategies for Eating Healthy & Shopping Smart

Pesach (Passover), especially for those of us who do not eat kitniyot (certain legumes, grains, and vegetables) and/or gebrochts, often find the holiday to be onerously heavy on the matzah and potatoes. Faced with what’s perceived as “the possibility of near starvation” for a week, diets become laden with all types of matzah and potato recipes, products, and derivatives. And because all our food and some of our personal products must be kosher for Pesach, we have to buy new just about everything we will be using for the week, even if we have the same items on hand for use during the rest of the year.*

Over the years I have discovered two things that have helped us significantly in these respects – cutting back on carbohydrates such as matzah products and potatoes keeps our waistlines from expanding, and not buying (or overbuying) anything for Pesach that will not be eaten or we will not need after Pesach keeps our pocket book from slimming down too much.

Having learned many years ago that carbohydrates, especially processed carbohydrates, are the foods predominantly responsible for weight gain, we dramatically reduced our consumption of matzah and starchy vegetables like potatoes. I significantly limit the number of recipes I make that are based on matzah (my Matzah 101 cookbook featuring all kinds of gebrochts recipes is a casualty of this matzah crackdown) and cut back on the white potato dishes as well. (Don’t forget that potato starch falls into this category too.) Incredibly, the first year we did this my husband actually lost weight over Pesach!

As we do during the rest of the year, any cakes and cookies we eat are generally limited to the one or two that are baked for Shabbos and Yom Tov. And, by the way, we only buy whole wheat and spelt matzah which are a lot healthier and kinder to the digestive system than matzah made from white flour.

If you don’t eat kitniyot, but do eat quinoa, be sure to soak the quinoa before cooking it in order to increase its digestibility and nutritional value. Quinoa recipes, such as quinoa porridge (see below) may also be a good substitute for breakfast cereals. If you eat kitniyot on Pesach, be sure to soak all your grains and legumes before cooking.

Although it’s nice to have special Pesach dishes that we enjoy at this time, there are many good recipes that we use year round that can be made on Pesach with little or no modification so, for the most part, we do not need to change our diet too much.

In general, I don’t buy ready-made foods and mixes or cold cereals during the year so I don’t buy cake or matzah ball mixes, Pesach cereal (which is really just another, more unhealthy, form of matzah) and any of the myriad other products that we think we need but really don’t use too much of or that will go to waste after Pesach (after all, who wants to eat Pesachdig cereal after the holiday is over?). If you do buy “only for Pesach” foods, be honest with yourself about what you will really need and use and purchase accordingly. Buying extra “just in case” only makes sense for those products that you will enjoy after Pesach as well.

Avoiding post-Pesach product duplication is also important. There is often little use for two or more of the same item sitting in your cabinet after Pesach since you already have the same non-Pesachdig item stored away during the holiday. After too many years of buying Kosher for Pesach dried herbs and spices and other condiments of which I already had enough for use during the rest of the year, I decided to only buy for Pesach what I could find fresh. This means that there are some items I may do without, and there are others for which there is no dried Kosher for Pesach option, but that we can buy fresh and use during Pesach. We regularly buy fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley, and cilantro, and we use them fresh or dry them ourselves, so this no longer represents a Pesach challenge for me. Those that we forgo, I’ve found that my family and I (and my purse) can live without for the week of Pesach.

money

In order to avoid laying out money each year for items like paper goods and certain staples that last from year to year, we pack these all up and keep them for the following Pesach. This also means that I don’t have extra foil, baggies, napkins, etc. hanging around the house for months after Pesach is over. I keep a list of these items accessible so that I know what I don’t need to buy the following year; many times these items will actually make it through several Pesach holidays before I need to buy new.**

My list includes items such as:

  • Toothpaste
  • Hairspray (that does not contain denatured alcohol)
  • Dish washing liquid
  • Shelving paper
  • Cheese cloth/cheese cloth bags
  • Baggies, foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper
  • Assorted aluminum baking pans (yes, I know using aluminum for baking is not really healthy. Never use aluminum for tomato products since the acid reacts with the metal.)
  • Toothpicks
  • Plastic plates and utensils
  • Napkins
  • Coffee filters
  • Disposable plastic tablecloths
  • Cocoa
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Sea salt

We bought several bedikat chametz kits last year and have the extras stored away for use in following years. They’re inexpensive and it’s one extra item that we don’t have to worry about purchasing or find we’ve forgotten at the last minute.

I also save the packaging, paper towels, and bubble wrap in which I’ve stored my Pesach dishes and glassware for repeat use.

Unless your family has any minhagim (customs) that further limit your Pesach consumption or you do not buy any food after Pesach’s begun, these guidelines should be fairly easy to put into practice. If you are living outside of Israel, I know that it is harder to find kosher for Pesach products after the holiday’s begun and stores do not replenish what they’ve run out of. However, I practiced this more circumspect way of buying for Pesach for many years when we were living in the United States and had no problem making sure we had what to eat throughout the holiday. Stocking up on meat, dairy, and fish are generally not a problem since they will be eaten after Pesach just as well. Fresh vegetables do not need to be certified for Pesach except, possibly, for pre-packaged greens and slaw.

To further help you save money, keeping track of and recording this year’s holiday consumption will help you buy appropriately and rein in unnecessary expenses the following year.

Quinoa Recipes (pronounced Keen-wa) 
(Quinoa, called the “mother grain” has an excellent nutrition profile.
It was used by Peruvian Indians to nourish expectant mothers .
)

Quinoa Plants Growing in the Field This is what quinoa plants look like, growing in the high altitudes of mountainous regions.

 Quinoa Porridge (notes in italics are mine)
(from Hamodia mMagazine – October 31, 2007)

  • 3/4 cups quinoa (pre-soak measure)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (use honey if no Pesach syrup available. Never use imitation syrup)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • Optional Add-ins:
  • Raisins
  • Craisins
  • Apples
  • Nuts
  • Dates
  • Pecans
  • Whatever suits your fancy

Put soaked and drained quinoa, water, salt and cinnamon in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer while covered for 15 minutes. Add the maple syrup (or honey) and milk. Continue to simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes. Stir in add-ins and let sit for another 10 minutes before serving. The porridge will thicken as it cools.

Apple-Almond Quinoa (notes in italics are mine)
(Hamodia Magazine – January 9, 2008)

1 cup quinoa (pre-soak measure)
2 tsps. olive oil, divided
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, finely diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 cups vegetable broth or water
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. curry powder (leave out if not available for Pesach)
1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple (sweet is good too), finely diced
3 tbsps. slivered almonds
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in saucepan. Add onion, carrot, and garlic. Saute for five minutes or until onion is soft and carrot begins to brown. Stir in broth or water, quinoa, salt, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and keep warm.

Heat the remaining tsps. of oil in a skillet. Add apple and saute for about 7 minutes. Add sauteed apple, almonds and pepper to quinoa, tossing to combine. Serve warm. (Personally, I just add the apple and almonds to the pot a little before it is finished cooking.)

To your health.

Best wishes for a happy & healthy Pesach

* Food prep equipment, dishes, utensils, and the like are stored away for Pesach use, so except for items than need to be replaced or filled in, this is generally a one-time expense for most families.

** It also helps to keep a list of items that you have run out of or find that you are missing like silver polish, knives, etc.

Israeli (and other) Consumers: Scan those ingredients lists – or eat at your own risk!

According to the Israel Consumer Council, most people don’t read the labels on food packages.

Only 17% take care to always read the label, with 40% of consumers not reading the label at all. The survey also shows that the reason that people don’t bother reading the labels is that they are not interested in the information. 10% claim that they don’t understand what is written, and 10% don’t believe the data printed there. 50% of the women surveyed will read the labels, as opposed to 29% of the men.

I think that’s a shame. My family’s been checking food labels for many years now. Even my children will call me from the grocery store to inquire about products and ingredients they are not familiar with. It’s important to check the ingredients listing since even a rudimentary understanding or scan of the label will offer big clues as to whether or not you should by the product. (And, no, I don’t mean the Nutrition Facts – they are essentially meaningless, telling you little, if anything about quality and real nutritive value of the food.). My rule of thumb is:

the fewer ingredients, the better.

I don’t buy foods with ingredients that aren’t necessary, such as (in many instances) added sugars, vegetable oils which are not identified (and no polyunsaturated oils), and non-food chemical additives. In Israel, as in Europe and several other countries, additives are listed as E-numbers (more about those in a following post) so, as much as possible, I avoid products that include E-numbers.

Manufacturers add many different ingredients to a food product, many of which are designed in the lab to make you want to eat more so you will buy more (think Pringles, for instance. Oh, how I used to enjoy eating and eating and eating those chips), to make the product cheaper, or to give you a shelf-stable uniform product that looks better than the real thing and will last forever (hint: real food spoils). Many ingredients, such as sugar in tomato paste and sauce or vegetable oil in Parmesan cheese (which makes the cheese cheaper to produce and less healthy), don’t need to and shouldn’t be in there. Ingredients that you would never have at home or ever add to your own recipes such as foaming agents, stabilizers, waxes, and packaging gases are included in packaged food products, although they are rarely identified outright as such. The unsuspecting consumer ingests a confection of, generally, lab created chemicals that do not benefit, and are often quite deleterious to, their health,  And, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Become a more savvy food shopper and make wiser choices to benefit your health and the health of your family. Whether you are you part of the 40% who don’t read the label or the 17% that do, click on Shopping Guidelines, my new page here on Nourishing Israel based on the Weston A. Price Foundation 2014 Shopping Guide, to help you get back to the basics of quality food and good nutrition. Learn which foods are best or good to buy and which foods you are wise to avoid. Print the page and take it with you when you go to the supermarket. Make sure to share the Shopping Guidelines with your friends and family, too!

Start on your road to better health and well-being today!

Easy ways to boost your salad’s nutritional value

I recently received an email from one of my teenage nieces asking for some nutritious salad recipes that she could make with ingredients generally kept on hand. While salads, by definition, are considered to be healthy, it’s an unfortunate reality that many of us are not getting the full nutritional benefits from our salads that we believe we are. What a shame to eat an entire salad but miss out on a good portion of the vitamins and minerals that it contains! There are several easy things we can do to to boost the goodness in the veggies and other ingredients in those salads. I would like to share with you the recipes I sent to her along with some tips to make sure that you reap all the benefits.

vegetables still lifeThe most healthful salads are made with fresh, unprocessed foods, preferably organic and/or local produce. In Israel there are a number of CSA (community supported agriculture) organic farms, health food stores, and people providing delectable organic produce and organic and natural products.  Aim for a variety of different colored vegetables and different types of foods in order to get as many of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients important for good health as possible.

I like to have a raw vegetable salad as a first course since raw foods provide a variety of enzymes (which are destroyed when cooked) to help with digestion. Enzymes break down the foods we eat so that our bodies can utilize the nutrients in them. This is particularly necessary since most of us tend to stop producing sufficient digestive enzymes as we get older.

nuts_seeds_grainsIncluding any grains, nuts, seeds, or legumes in your salad? Be sure to give them an extensive soaking to remove the phytates and enzyme inhibitors present. Phytates (which bind minerals) and enzyme inhibitors prevent spontaneous germination. When seeds are planted and watered, their phytates and enzyme inhibitors are deactivated so that a plant can grow. Similarly, when we soak them (learn how here and here), we deactivate the phytates and enzyme inhibitors to make their nutrients more accessible to us.  Otherwise, not only will they prevent us from absorbing all of their vitamins and minerals, but they can also act as anti-nutrients, preventing us from utilizing many of the enzymes, vitamins, and minerals in the other foods in our meal.

English: Vinegar & Olive OilAre you topping of your salad with an oil-based dressing in order to make the salad more flavorful? You might be surprised to know that using a good quality oil-based salad dressing is an imperative. Vegetables contain the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, & K.

These vitamins not only work synergistically with each other, but also work synergistically with essential minerals such as magnesium and zinc to perform a multitude of critical functions supporting many of the systems in our body. It is important to choose high fat dressings for this purpose since they yield the greatest rates of absorption of these vitamins and extra virgin olive oil is a preferred salad oil for this purpose.  (Yellow butter on veggies will also serve the same purpose, imparting great flavor and enhancing vitamin absorption.)

Canola oil and polyunsaturated vegetable oils have been found not only to be less effective than extra virgin olive oil or animal fats  in promoting the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, but actually impair our health due to their high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, creating a great omega-6:omega-3 imbalance in the body. The proper proportion of both of these fatty acids is critical for overall health and brain health and our tremendous reliance on vegetable oils high in omega 6  has created a dangerous fatty acid imbalance for many of us and may be partly responsible for a lot of the chronic illnesses and infirmities we are afflicted with. Oils which are not cold pressed are extracted from the vegetable or fruit with chemicals, excessive pressure, and high heat, causing them to become denatured and rancid before they are even bottled. (See my blog post about oils here).

Make sure that the olive oil you buy is really olive oil. Unfortunately the olive oil industry is olive oilrife with fraud and had been for centuries. U.C. Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has been testing olive oils commonly sold in the U.S.  Many of the brands sold in major supermarkets, including Philipo Berrio, Bertolli, and Colavita did not past their testing for quality and purity.  Kirkland organic and most of the olive oils made in California did pass their testing and are recommended. For more information click here and here. I blogged about Israeli olive oils here.

These are the recipes (along with this Cole Slaw recipe) that I sent to my niece:

MY BASIC VEGETABLE SALAD

(I like to cut vegetables up into bite-sized pieces)
Lettuce and/or other salad greens
( I do not use Iceberg lettuce since it has the least nutrition of all the lettuces)
Peppers – all colors
Cucumbers
Apple(s) help keep the doctor away and add sweetness and extra crunch

Depending upon what else is being served with the meal, what I have on hand, and how much time I have, I also usually add some of the following:

Nuts or seeds such as chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds (To remove some of the phytic acid and increase digestibility, prepare them beforehand by soaking them in warm acidulated water (lemon juice works well) for 6-7 hours and dry them in the oven at about 100º C or 225º F) .

Raisins
Shredded carrot
Avocado
Chopped pickles
Olives
Tuna or salmon
Red onion
Bulgarit Cheese (or the somewhat saltier Feta)
A nice addition to salads that I’ve had in some of the restaurants here in Israel is baked slices of sweet potato

Depending on which family members are home and their specific likes/dislikes, I may put one or more of the above items in a bowl(s) on the side.

Herbs which I add to the salad (fresh or dried organic since dried herbs and spices are often irradiated) include: Parsley, Basil, Dill, Marjoram, Thyme, Mint (when I have apples), Sage, Rosemary, and Cilantro.

a_variety_of_spices_and_garlic_mortar_highdefinition_pictureDressing is usually Extra Virgin Olive Oil with either red or white wine vinegar or lemon juice, and good quality sea salt.

TOMATO SALAD

Sliced and quartered tomatoes mixed with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, salt, and oregano. The longer the salad sits before serving, the better the flavors will blend.

HEARTS OF PALM SALAD

Romaine Lettuce
Can of Hearts of Palm (drained)
Avocado – chunked
Tomato – chunked
Red Onion – finely diced

Dress with homemade Italian dressing:
1 clove garlic
4 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

Cut garlic clove in half. Mix mustard, salt, garlic and vinegar thoroughly. Add oil and stir until all ingredients are blended. Store in covered jar and shake well before serving.