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Low-Carb Passover

Planning Your Low-Carb Pesach

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Updated April 02, 2012

Seder Plate

Seder Plate

Photo: Mitch Hrdlicka/Getty Images
You’d think low-carbers would have an edge at Passover. After all, we don’t really go in for bread (leavened or not) at any time of the year, and we tend to make most of our dishes without flour. To a large extent, it's true that there are advantages to low-carb eating at Passover. There are only two real problem areas. One is traditional starchy foods such as potato kugel. And the other is, of course, matzo, which is required, at least at Seders: matzo, with 22 grams of effective carb each.

When it comes to traditional holiday foods of any type, my guideline is “substitute where you can, otherwise, have a little.” After all, holidays are special, and it feeds our souls to enjoy them in traditional ways with family and friends. While I wouldn’t advise starting an ultra-low-carb phase of a diet right before Passover, a little deviation now and then is really OK -– if we won’t allow some flexibility in our eating, we probably won’t be on any eating plan for long. And there truly are many lower-carb possibilities for Passover.

Here are some tips for reducing carbohydrate at a typical Passover meal.

Traditional Seder Foods

Matzo - Try to get whole grain matzos, which have slightly less carbohydrate (19 grams instead of 22), and at least a little fiber. Also, there's no obligation to chow down on them. Have some raw vegetables on hand for munching if you're hungry before the main meal.

Charoset - Charoset is mostly really healthy, but don't load it down with sugar or honey. If you want it sweeter, you can add a little sugar substitute.

Gefilte fish - Gefilte fish does not have to be hard to make, and that way you can control the extra ingredients. Homemade is so much better than the stuff in jars! If you shop at a store with a fish counter, they will even grind the fish up for you, which speeds up the process. Jewish food writer Joan Nathan says to think of them as dumplings and they won't seem as big a deal. Here's a recipe for Classic Gefilte Fish from Giora Shimoni, About.com's Guide to Kosher Food.

Main Dishes

Most main dishes are fine. Giora has some great Tips for Making Brisket, with links to lots of recipes. For an easy version, try my Crockpot Brisket recipe.

Perhaps because I live near the Pacific Coast, and since Passover usually coincides with the beginning of the salmon season, I've noticed that grilled salmon or baked salmon are also popular main dishes here.

Of course, traditions differ in different areas and in different families -- and sometimes it's fun to bend tradition and try something new (see links below).

Side Dishes

Spring vegetables are common side dishes, especially asparagus. Passover can be a nice time to transition from the often-starchier winter vegetables to the lighter spring ones, which are usually low in carbohydrate. Spring vegetables can include greens, oven-roasted or grilled asparagus, or even artichokes.

Kugels made with potato are high in starch, of course. Either have just a few bites, or try a vegetable kugel with less or no potato. Giora has a great-looking recipe for Vegetable Kugel. It has potatoes, but you could probably cut them down or out. It is also similar to a frittata, which could be used to substitute, and is easy to make. Another idea is to make a grated squash casserole such as my Italian Zuchinni Casserole or Southwest Squash Casserole, which are also similar to kugels.

Desserts

Believe it or not, there are a lot of options for low-carb Passover desserts! I have been charged with bringing dessert to Seder for the last 10 years -- usually no one guesses they are low-carb. Here are some favorites:

Chocolate Pecan Torte - This is almost a "Cheater Dessert" because you can mix it up so fast, and still get lots of credit for it.

Torte del Re - This is my low-carb version of an Italian almond cake which is a popular Passover dessert in Italy.

Sugar-free Coconut Macaroons - These are SO easy! Four ingredients!

Snow Pudding - Light, delicious, and very low in carbs, fat, and calories. Just the thing after a long heavy meal.

More Low-Carb Passover Resources

Low-Carb Passover Tips from Dana Carpender’s Low Carb Ezine – includes a recipe for Spinach Mushroom Kugel

Low-Carb Passover Recipes from Gourmania

More Passover Recipes from Giora Shimoni, About.com's Guide to Kosher Food

Ten Tips for Passover Cooking from Giora

Passover Recipes from Lisa Katz, About's Guide to Judaism

Passover Recipes from Peggy Trowbridge Filppone, About's Guide to Home Cooking

Italian Passover Recipes from Kyle Phillips, About's Guide to Italian Cuisine

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