Planning for Passover? The holiday is always a challenging time for meal providers. There are those who rely on ready-made products like matzah-based Passover pasta, Passover self-rising flour, Passover wafers, cake mixes, breakfast cereals and other Passover clones, lest the family feel deprived . And there are others who prefer to celebrate the week with the traditional foods that remind them of their childhood.
I’m for the latter. Many, if not most, prepared Passover products are virtually nutrient-free, and in my mind, miss the point. By creating and exposing our family and guests to homemade traditional Passover foods, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardic (and preferably both), we help keep our centuries-old collective culinary history alive, and that too is a visceral part of “telling the story” from generation to generation as we are instructed to do.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t add new and healthy kosher-for-Passover ingredients to our weeklong Passover menu, like quinoa. The “mother grain of the Incas,” quinoa has made a major impact on Israel since it was first imported here from Bolivia over a decade ago. In fact, today Israelis consume more quinoa yearly than all of Europe combined. Quinoa (pronounced “keenwa” in the US and “kinoa” in Israel) is not really a grain but a seed, was recognized by American rabbinic authorities as kosher for Passover 14 years ago, and in recent years has made inroads in Israeli Passover cuisine as well. [There are discussions going on now between different American kosher certification organizations as to whether quinoa may be grown too close to barley and wheat fields, making it possibly nonkosher for Passover according to the OU, but Star-K is still calling it kosher. – Ed.]
Why quinoa? Because it can add a whole new health perspective to our Passover menu (and our menu throughout the year). Rich in protein, iron, calcium, and a host of other minerals, quinoa also contains a list of heart-healthy fats and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in especially concentrated amounts. In comparison to cereal grasses like wheat, quinoa is higher in fat content and can provide valuable amounts of heart-healthy fats like monounsaturated fat (in the form of oleic acid).
Super versatile, quinoa is also quick cooking, but it’s important to remember to rinse it in a wire-mesh strainer before cooking to remove any trace of the bitter-tasting saponin contained in its coat. In Israel, quinoa is sold in three colors — creamy white, brown and black (and sometimes a combination). I personally prefer the darker colors which are richer in nutrients.
And who knows? One taste of the following recipe, and you might want to adopt quinoa as a permanent resident the year through.
Quinoa salad, Mexican style (4 servings)
- 1 cup black or brown quinoa
- 10 cherry tomatoes, each quartered
- Half cup coarsely chopped flat-leafed parsley
- Quarter cup coarsely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
- 1 cup frozen corn, thawed and drained
- 1 large ripe but firm avocado, cubed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (like the kind used for pizza)
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano or half teaspoon dried
- ¼-½ teaspoon cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse the quinoa in a wire-mesh strainer, drain and place in a small pot with the water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove cover, fluff with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl.
- Add the rest of the ingredients except for the avocado and the dressing.
- Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a screw-top jar and shake. Just before serving, add the avocado and half the dressing. Toss and add additional dressing to taste (or save it to refresh any leftover salad).
Adapted from “Healthy, Easy Cooking” (in Hebrew), by Phyllis Glazer (Korim Publishers)