Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays. It commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt over 3,000 years ago. Passover lasts for 8 days (7 days outside of Israel), during which time Jews avoid eating leavened bread and eat only unleavened bread called matzo. This commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt is called the Passover Seder and includes specific rituals, symbolic foods, prayers, and traditional dishes.
When is Passover?
The Jewish calendar is lunar, so the dates of Passover change every year. In 2023, Passover will be celebrated from April 5-13. The first two nights of Passover (April 5-6) are marked by Seder meals. Avoiding leavened bread and eating matzo instead lasts the entire 8 days of Passover.
Why can’t you eat leavened bread during Passover?
According to the biblical story of the Exodus, when the Israelites were finally freed from slavery in Egypt, they left in such a hurry that there was no time to let bread rise. So they could only bake unleavened matzo bread. To commemorate this, Jews do not eat leavened bread or foods made with wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt during Passover. These are known as “chametz” and are avoided for the duration of the holiday.
What is kosher for Passover?
In addition to avoiding chametz, there are special guidelines for keeping kosher during Passover. All food, dishes, pots/pans, and utensils must be kept completely separate from any chametz. There are also certain foods like legumes and corn that some consider off-limits during Passover. However, opinions differ between various Jewish denominations. In general, Ashkenazi Jews avoid legumes and kitniyot (rice, corn, peanuts) while Sephardic Jews do consume those foods during Passover.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy products
- Leavened bread
- Legumes (for Ashkenazi Jews)
- Rice (for Ashkenazi Jews)
- Corn (for Ashkenazi Jews)
Substitutions for forbidden foods
There are many creative kosher for Passover substitutions that allow you to still enjoy some of your favorite foods:
|Forbidden Food||Passover Substitution|
|Pasta||Quinoa, rice noodles (Sephardic only)|
|Cereal||Oatmeal (kosher brands only)|
|Cake||Macaroons, flourless chocolate cake|
There are also many Passover-friendly packaged foods available in kosher stores, including kosher for Passover versions of mayonnaise, ketchup, soda, candy, ice cream, and more.
Traditional Passover meals
In addition to avoiding chametz, there are also special symbolic foods eaten during the Passover seders. Here are some of the most important traditional Passover dishes:
Matzo is the unleavened cracker-like bread that substitutes for leavened bread during Passover. It is made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly before rising. Eating matzo is a central mitzvah (good deed) of Passover.
Matzo ball soup
Chicken soup with matzo balls is a classic Passover tradition. The soup is made with chicken stock, carrots, onions, and matzo balls – dumplings made from matzo meal, eggs, oil, and seasoning.
Brisket is a popular Passover main course, often served with gravy or sauce. Beef brisket is seasoned and cooked slowly to tenderize the meat.
Kugels are baked puddings, made in a variety of sweet and savory versions. Popular Passover kugels include potato, matzo, and noodle kugels made with Passover noodles.
Poached and baked fish patties or loaves made from ground deboned fish like carp, whitefish, or pike. Gefilte fish is traditionally served as an appetizer.
A sweet paste made with fruits, nuts, wine, and spices. Charoset symbolizes the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build structures for the Egyptians.
Bitter herbs, usually horseradish or romaine lettuce, that symbolize the bitterness of slavery. Often eaten in a sandwich with charoset.
Finding Passover desserts without flour or wheat can be tricky. Here are some traditional treats that are chametz-free:
- Macaroons – made with nuts, coconut, and egg whites
- Flourless chocolate cake – uses matzo meal instead of flour
- Matzo crack – buttery, sweet crackers made by topping matzo with sugar and chocolate
- Coconut macaroon sandwich cookies – uses coconut instead of flour
There are also many kosher-for-Passover packaged cakes, cookies, fruit snacks, chips, and candies. Be sure to check labels for the OU-P kosher certification.
Kosher for Passover meal ideas
With some creativity, you can make delicious Passover meals within the holiday’s dietary guidelines:
- Matzo brei – Fried matzo pieces with eggs
- Lox and onions – Smoked salmon with red onions and capers
- Egg salad – Hard boiled eggs mixed with mayo and veggies
- French toast casserole – Like a strata but made with matzo instead of bread
- Tuna or egg salad sandwiches on matzo
- Matzo pizza – Top matzo with sauce and kosher cheese
- Falafel – Fried chickpea patties with hummus, tahini, and Israeli salad
- Quinoa tabbouleh salad
- Chicken soup with matzo balls
- Brisket or roast chicken
- Kugel or roasted vegetables
- Grilled salmon with dill sauce
- Potato kugel or roasted potatoes
- Flourless chocolate cake
- Fresh fruit like berries, mango, pineapple, grapes
- Sorbet or fruit ices
Shopping for Passover
The key to eating well during Passover is planning ahead and shopping strategically. Here are some tips:
- Check your pantry early and discard any chametz foods
- Shop at Jewish specialty markets for the best Passover selection
- Buy lots of quality extra virgin olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables
- Look for kosher for Passover packaged goods
- Buy plenty of chicken, fish, and eggs for protein
- Stock up on matzo, matzo meal, and matzo farfel
- Try quinoa or legumes if permitted by your traditions
- Buy kosher for Passover desserts, snacks, condiments
Eating out during Passover
It is possible to enjoy restaurant meals over Passover, as long as you choose kosher establishments using kosher for Passover ingredients. Some options include:
- Kosher restaurants with Passover menus
- Jewish delicatessens and bagel shops
- Grocery store kosher sections with prepared Passover foods
- Synagogue and community seders
- Israeli restaurants that observe the holiday
Call ahead to confirm that a restaurant is indeed serving kosher for Passover meals. Avoid chametz foods like bread, pasta, and beer. With some advanced planning, it’s totally possible to stick to your Passover diet while dining out.
Passover requires following specific dietary laws to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt thousands of years ago. By avoiding leavened breads and chametz ingredients, eating matzo, and choosing kosher Passover foods, the holiday can still be full of flavor. With symbolic dishes like brisket, gefilte fish, and matzo ball soup, as well as creative substitutions for restricted foods, it is possible to find diverse and satisfying Passover meals. Shopping ahead and planning menus around meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and kosher specialties allows observing the Passover dietary traditions while still eating varied and enjoyable holiday meals.