Matzo shmeared with deliciously fluffy cream cheese and some sweet preserves or jam is what Passover food means to me. That, and, of course, matzo pizza delicately baked and devoured within minutes. I haven’t been observing Passover long enough to really loathe the classic Passover treats, so I tend to find a sort of misplaced joy in these once-a-year concoctions. All of that changed, however, last year after I spent the entire week of Passover sick with stomach cramps and aches. No matter how much or how little matzo or matzo by-products I ate, I felt rotten. For the first time in several years, I really learned to suffer through Passover.
After a test, some advice, attempting to give up other foods (like dairy and coffee), and a huge decision, I decided that a gluten-free diet was the best way to feel better. In the simplest terms possible, that means the five grains that Jews so cherish -- barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat -- became off limits to me. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, spelt, barley, rye, and, according to some, oats. (I haven’t had problems with oats, so I purchase gluten-free oats, which are sold by Bob’s Red Mill.) Many of those who hold to a gluten-free diet have Celiac Disease, but there also are individuals who have found relief from IBS and other gastrointestinal woes. Although I took the gluten-free plunge before finding out if I officially have Celiac Disease, I haven’t looked back and over the past year have been feeling better and better. And no matter what anyone tells you -- it is not as bad as it sounds. Believe me, you can live without challah, not to mention barley in your cholent (rice makes a great substitute, as does quinoa).
I’ve surprised myself and others by finding the perfect gluten-free bread and muffins, nutritious bars, pizza crust, and all of the other things that I miss from my gluten-filled diet. There is little that I miss these days, other than a gluten-free protein substitute in the vein of Morningstar that is wheat and soy free.
So here comes Passover, rearing its ugly head of matzo, taunting those of us who are gluten free. So what’s a girl to do? For those who don’t eat oats, oat matzo is out, and not all oat matzo is certified gluten free anyhow. Now, there are some -- even those with Celiac Disease -- who will eat the minimum amount of matzo to fulfill the mitzvah. But what about all of those other, non-seder meals? How do you get through Passover on a gluten-free diet?
My first piece of advice? Stick to fruits and vegetable as much as possible, and if you can handle them, eggs. The great thing about a gluten-free diet is that it forces you to eat those things that come out of the ground and off trees, because they are naturally gluten-free and kosher. When it comes to grains, rice is naturally gluten-free, and so is quinoa. The former isn’t kosher for Passover if you’re Ashkenazic, but luckily, there are certain brands of quinoa that are perfectly kosher for Passover, and quinoa is packed with protein and fiber and is an incredibly versatile grain. There is more than one way to cook a vegetable, and I don’t advise a week of salads -- so get creative!
But we all have cravings for sweet treats, and Passover is a mere week, right? Lucky for you, I happened to accidentally stumble upon the Passover aisle at my local ShopRite and found an amazing assortment of gluten-free Passover foods that have me salivating and ready for Passover. Potato starch is every gluten-free foodie’s best friend, and, luckily, on Passover it is a staple in most houses. Likewise, there are tons of products on the market this year from the brands we all know and love like Osem, Gefen, and Kedem that are gluten free and non-gebrokts. I picked up some cake mixes, lady finger cookies, macaroon-style crusts, and more. I even got a chance to try out Osem’s pre-packeged gluten-free cakes, which come in a ton of flavors like chocolate chip and coffee cake and are actually quite delicious and moist (even my gluten-loving husband was raving about them), and they aren’t too expensive, either. There also are “matzo-like crackers” this year, which look and taste like real matzo, which will be more than perfect for my favorites. Just remember that they are not a substitute for matzo, as they lack wheat. It’s easy to look the Passover part without dealing with the unfortunate side effects. And the great thing is that you can stock up during Passover and have some gluten-free options for the rest of the year, too.
But beware: A lot of gluten-free products are packed with sugars and lacking in nutritional value, so make sure you balance the sweets and treats, crackers and cakes with natural goodies like potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables. It’s good to indulge, but don’t go crazy. I had to stop myself in the grocery store because the amount of gluten-free goods was overwhelming this year. Noodles, cakes, bread-like crumbs, crackers, cookies, you name it, they have it.