It’s tough to diet during the holidays to begin with, and Passover lasts for eight full days. That’s over a week of matzoh in every possible permutation, as well as those heavy meat dishes, brownies and macaroons we look forward to every year, and the family gatherings where you sit and eat for hours.
The Seder is particularly challenging as there are so many courses: matzoh and charoset, eggs and salt water, gefilte fish and matzoh ball soup — all before a main course and buffet of desserts.
This year I offer three strategies for lightening your Seder menu so you don’t have to blow your diet.
Update family recipes
The family meals we grew up with tell our own food stories, so we have to include our historic recipes at our Seders. Yet many could use a modern-day makeover.
Passover food gives new meaning to “Let my People Go.” It’s not truly Passover without matzoh balls, and yet we all know what they do to our bodies. Mine are gluten-free, and though they are not true matzoh balls, they look legit while being better for you.
While researching the keto and Whole30 diets, I learned that onions and garlic have carbs. Given that all my holiday dishes are drowning in them, I created a brisket recipe that saves you from all that peeling and chopping, but still offers loads of flavor thanks to onion and garlic powders.
An easy way to lighten up any holiday meal is to serve a plated dessert. Surely, after all the courses, your family and guests will no longer be starving. Serve each person a small portion of dessert such as a cake, meringue, fruit tart or bar cookie with a fruit sauce. By making one dessert rather than several, you will have more energy for baking other treats to serve on other nights.
Many classic savory recipes have sugar, so definitely omit that. Your meal will be more healthful if you avoid dumping those Passover-certified packaged sauces on your chicken and meat. Instead, create your own toppings with fresh and dried spices, tomatoes or citrus. Simple is often more flavorful.
Substitute lighter dishes
Some recipes are hard to healthy-up, so you are better off swapping in something similar but more nutritious. When I was growing up, my mother always made turkey for Seder as we all loved her matzoh stuffing. For a more healthful spin, stuff your turkey or chicken with quinoa and vegetables instead. Saute some yellow and red peppers, shallots, garlic and celery, and flavor the medley with Middle Eastern spices. This moist, flavorful stuffing substitute is gluten-free and better for you. And in place of the expected gefilte fish at the Seder, try my Dry-Rubbed Roasted Salmon. Not only will it remove calories, but it will also reduce your workload.
Kugel is always a tough one for me as I dislike the concept of turning vegetables into cake. I would rather eat vegetables — and then cake. So, in place of kugel, I usually serve room-temperature side dishes I can make in advance, such as Eggplant With Capers and Mint. Not having to warm up food saves time.
Focus on what you can eat
Passover is a great time to go mostly gluten-free, because you already are staying away from pasta, bread and grains, and so many diets are based on eating protein and vegetables. This holiday could be the time when you start eating more straightforward food — grilled meats, chicken or fish, omelets and salads.
Instead of using matzoh and cake meal to create crusts so we can have pizza and rolls during Passover, try nut flours, coconut flour and gluten-free starches to make the foods you miss. The flavors are better without dry matzoh ingredients.
I often encounter people who do not trust chefs, like me, who maintain a healthy weight. My “Secret of the Four S’s” works for Passover and all year round.
● Sweat: I exercise.
● Salad: Lunch for me, daily, is salad with protein.
● Selective: I will not take a second bite of anything that isn’t worth the calories.
● The fourth S works with the first three or by itself, and is my personal secret — Spanx.
So when Passover ends, get outside to walk off that spongecake
Paula Shoyer, known as “The Kosher Baker,” is the author of four cookbooks, including “The New Passover Menu” and “The Healthy Jewish Kitchen.”
8 servings (makes about 14 small matzoh balls)
MAKE AHEAD: The “matzoh” balls can be made ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 1 day.
Recipes from cookbook author Paula Shoyer.
For the ‘matzoh’ balls
1 pound ground chicken
¼ cup no-salt-added chicken broth
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tablespoon coconut flour
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large egg
1 tablespoon coconut oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
For the soup
One whole 4-pound chicken, cut into quarters (giblet packet removed)
1 large onion, quartered
2 carrots, scrubbed well and cut crosswise in half
3 ribs celery, cut crosswise in half
2 cloves garlic
1 parsnip, peeled and cut in half
1 turnip, peeled and cut into quarters
1 fennel bulb, quartered
½ cup sliced shiitake mushrooms (optional)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
8 cups water, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
½ large bunch parsley
½ large bunch dill
For the “matzoh” balls: With your hands, mix together the ground chicken, broth, ground almonds, coconut flour, garlic, egg, oil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours and up to 1 day.
Wet your hands in cold water and shape the cold batter into 1½ -inch balls. Place the balls on a plate, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the soup: Put the chicken pieces in a large pot. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, parsnip, turnip, fennel, mushrooms, if using, bay leaves and salt. Add the water and bring to a boil. (Add more water, if needed, to make sure the chicken and vegetables are fully submerged.) Use a large spoon to skim the scum off the top of the soup. Add the peppercorns; then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low, and let the soup barely bubble at the edges, checking after 5 minutes and skimming off any additional scum. Add the parsley and dill, cover and let the soup barely bubble at the edges, about 2 hours. Let cool; then strain the soup through a large sieve, pressing on solids. Discard the vegetables and shred the chicken to add to the soup or use elsewhere. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, as needed.
When ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the “matzoh” balls and reduce the heat, so the water is barely bubbling at the edges. Cook for about 8 minutes until the balls are no longer pink in the center (cut one in half to make sure). Ladle the soup into bowls; then follow with the “matzoh” balls and the chicken, if using.
NOTE: You can also make the soup in a pressure cooker. Place all of the soup ingredients in the pot, seal, and cook for 45 minutes at high pressure. Let the pressure release naturally, about 1 hour.
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