Pessah: The lighter side

Want to be healthier this Pessah? Here are five tips and three "alternative" recipes that can help.

In recent years, it's become increasingly hard to remember the flavors, sights, scents and smells that were once integral parts of the entire week of Pessah. One doubts that our ancestors would have approved of the New-Age Pessah self-raising flour, Pessah wafers, cake mixes, breakfast cereals, and other Pessah look-alikes, all made with matza. They're so perfected, you almost can't tell the difference. And that's the problem. Today, even Fido can eat kosher-for-Pessah. On the other hand, recent years have also seen the advent of whole wheat, mixed grain and spelt matzot and matza meal, all inspired by consumer demand for healthy and organic products. Quinoa has even got the stamp of approval since it neither rises nor is it technically a member of the grain family. These healthy basic ingredients can be parlayed into far more nutritious holiday fare than any of those just-add-water products. Want to be healthier this Pessah? Here are five tips and three "alternative" recipes that can help: 1. In recipes that contain eggs - substitute two egg whites for one of the whole eggs. Make an egg-white omelet and add lightly sautéed vegetables. (Save the egg yolks for a hair-conditioning masque - check the Internet for recipes.) 2. Use plenty of fresh herbs: Add parsley to matza balls, rosemary and thyme to baked chicken, and basil, fresh za'atar or fresh coriander to salads. Fresh herbs are a source of fiber and a storehouse of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. 3. Use unpeeled vegetables when possible because fiber will help us digest the heavy fats we consume during the holiday. For a snack, serve crudités - cut-up vegetable sticks of celery and carrots, thinly sliced celeriac, and strips of fresh peppers - with a light ricotta-and herb-based dip. You can also use ricotta to stuff the colorful mini-peppers sold in the supermarket. 4. Choose carbonated or still mineral water instead of soft drinks. Regular soft drinks are a waste of money and an ecological disaster; they're also a source of empty calories, harmful chemicals that affect calcium absorption, and acids that eat our stomach linings. Diet drinks contain all the harmful chemicals mentioned above plus questionable artificial sweeteners to boot. Both kids and adults can learn to be perfectly happy with ice water flavored with lemon and mint, natural no-sugar-added juices, and homemade iced regular or herb teas. 5. Kids hungry? Make them a fresh fruit shake, based on milk, natural fruit juice, or yogurt. A little honey and a frozen banana, and they'll be in seventh heaven. FISH KEBABS WITH GREEN HORSERADISH SAUCE I once developed these luscious fish kebabs as an alternative to gefilte fish for America's Bon Appetit magazine. They can be put together and pan-fried or grilled several hours before the Seder, covered tightly with aluminum foil and chilled. Reheat briefly. Serves 8 4 800 gr. skinless boneless Red Drum ("musar" in Hebrew) fish (from just under 2 kg. fish) 4 1 medium red onion, finely chopped 4 1⁄2 cup each Italian parsley and fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped 4 3 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil 4 2 tsp. coarse salt 4 freshly ground black pepper to taste 4 Horseradish sauce (recipe follows) 1. Rinse fish fillets and pat dry. Run fingers over both sides of each fillet to check for any remaining pin bones, and remove with tweezers if necessary. 2. Rinse, dry and finely chop the fillets with a sharp chef's knife, or cut each fillet into 4 pieces and process in two batches in a food processor till finely chopped. Place in a bowl and combine with the red onion, parsley, cilantro, olive oil and salt. Season with black pepper and mix well. Place a bowl of water near the work surface. Use wet hands to form 16 oval patties, each about 7 cm. long. Cover and chill for 30-60 minutes. 3. Heat a heavy grill pan and grease the ridges lightly with a paper towel dipped in olive oil. Sauté kebabs for 4 minutes on each side, turning every 2 minutes. Serve warm or bring to room temperature, cover with aluminum foil and chill till serving time. Reheat briefly uncovered in slow oven or microwave. To serve: Place two kebabs on each serving plate and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of Green Horseradish Sauce over the top. GREEN HORSERADISH SAUCE Makes 11⁄4 cups 4 1⁄4 cup cooked drained chopped frozen spinach, packed 4 1⁄4 cup chopped arugula (leaves only), minced 4 1⁄4 cup chopped parsley (leaves only) 4 7 Tbsp drained grated white horseradish 4 1⁄2 cup kosher-for-Pessah mayonnaise 4 5 Tbsp. white wine, divided 4 3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice 4 1⁄2 tsp. white pepper 4 pinch of sugar 4 1⁄2 tsp. salt, or more to taste 1. Thaw and cook chopped spinach in a covered glass bowl in the microwave on high for 3 minutes. Cool and transfer to a wire mesh strainer. Squeeze well to drain out moisture. (The spinach may be prepared several hours in advance, and combined with arugula and parsley). 2. Combine spinach, arugula and parsley in the food processor and process for 5 seconds. Wipe down sides of the processor with a rubber spatula and process 5 seconds longer. Add drained horseradish, mayonnaise, half of the white wine, lemon juice, lime juice, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Process till smooth, wiping down the sides of the processor as necessary. Add the remaining white wine and process to a thick sauce-like consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately, or transfer to a small airtight container. 3. Cut a piece of plastic wrap to cover the top, and place directly on the mixture, to help avoid contact with air, which will darken the top. Use immediately (the bright green color will turn olive the longer it is stored) or cover and chill in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. FABULOUS WALNUT & HERB STUFFED EGGPLANT ROLLS This traditional Pessah dish comes from Georgia on the Black Sea, and makes a great alternative to chopped liver. The filling may also be used as a scrumptious base for salads, a great filling for fresh vegetables, or a spread for matza. You might want to experiment with different nuts like macadamias and hazelnuts, or different herbs like basil, sage, or cilantro, throughout Pessah week. Use either elongated or round fat eggplant for this recipe. The longer eggplant results in smaller more delicate rolls with less filling, suitable for a first course, while the fatter eggplant is better for larger rolls, suitable as a main course. Serve 2 pieces per person as a first course, 3 or more as a main course. Makes about 20-30 pieces 4 About 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil 4 3 medium eggplant 4 Salt 4 Black pepper 4 2 cups walnut halves 4 2 medium garlic cloves, pressed (1 Tbsp.) 4 1⁄2 tsp. white or red wine vinegar 4 1⁄3 cup chopped onion 4 Scant 1⁄4 tsp. ground coriander 4 1 tsp. salt or more to taste 4 1 small dried hot pepper or cayenne to taste 4 1⁄2 cup packed chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) 4 1⁄2 cup packed chopped fresh Italian parsley 1. Cut the stem end off the eggplant, and slice lengthwise into 1 cm slices. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. 2. Grill on both sides until softened and golden brown. Check often to avoid overcooking and burning. Remove and place between two sheets of paper towels to absorb excess oil. 3. Grind the walnuts to a powder in a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients, blending until the paste forms a ball. Lay the eggplant slices on a work surface and place 2 or more tablespoons of filling (depending on type of eggplant), at the base. Carefully roll up from the bottom into a compact roll. Place on a serving platter decorated with fresh greens if desired, and serve. Variations: Cabbage Walnut Salad - Cook medium cabbage in boiling water till very tender, and squeeze out excess moisture with your hands. Chop coarsely by hand together with a few tablespoons of the walnut mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roasted Eggplant Walnut Salad - Roast 1-2 small eggplant on the stovetop and chop by hand, blending in a few tablespoons of the walnut mixture. Use the filling to stuff fresh mushrooms, celery ribs and cherry tomatoes.n Phyllis Glazer is a food writer, cookbook author and food consultant specializing in a healthy and ecological approach to cooking. [email protected]