“I really needed to re-think all my cooking. It was mind-boggling.”
If you’ve ever been advised to eat a special diet for medical reasons, you’re nodding your head in agreement with Alix Greenblatt’s statement. Her grandson, Cayden, was diagnosed at age 2 with celiac disease, and cannot eat anything containing gluten. He isn’t responsible for feeding family pets, to avoid contamination from their food, and must wash his hands after using Play-Dough because of its gluten content and the potential for any ingestion.
Gluten intolerance seems to be on the rise, and many people try to limit their intake of the substance, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. But, according to the Mayo Clinic: “If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients. ... Eventually, your brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment. In children, malabsorption can affect growth and development.”
As Mrs. Greenblatt says, though, “I have a 7-year-old who likes snacks,” who is very good at advocating for himself to protect his health and conscientiously asks about ingredients before eating. Cayden’s mother, Denise, also has celiac disease, having been diagnosed after Cayden’s illness was discovered. So, Mrs. Greenblatt re-thought all of her cooking and grocery purchases for them, finding solutions that are “quick and fast. I love to cook, but I’m for ease,” she says.
She bought a copy of the Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping Guide by Dr. Mara Matison & Mr. Dainis Matison, which offers a list of more than 45,000 gluten-free products. She scoured ingredient lists, too -- “It pays to read everything” -- and researched Celiac disease, cooking techniques, baking ingredients, and more. Mrs. Greenblatt found that the ingredient substitutions were not as overwhelming as she’d thought at first, as so many companies are offering gluten-free products these days and the resulting dishes and meals have improved considerably.
But ... the Greenblatt family is Jewish, and Passover begins at sundown on Monday evening, April 14. Is it possible to maintain a gluten-free diet at this time, when so many foods are forbidden by Jewish law? At Passover, observant families eliminate chametz [ha-MAYTZ], leavened products that are not to be either consumed or owned during the eight-day holiday; they purchase a new assortment of groceries that meet the religious standards. And it is part of the ritual of the Seder, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, to eat matzo. But matzo is made with wheat, which contains gluten. A popular song at Passover is Dayenu, meaning “it would have been enough.” Dayenu, it would have been enough, to cope with a gluten-free diet. But a gluten-free diet that’s kosher for Passover, too?
Surprisingly, it’s possible to observe both the Passover and the gluten-free restrictions simultaneously.
Mrs. Greenblatt is hosting Seders on the first and second nights of the holiday; 21 guests are expected at each. Among the multiple dishes being served will be gluten-free matzah balls in soup, gluten-free macaroni and cheese, and also a vegetarian lasagna using gluten-free matzo-style squares which serve as the “noodles” between layers. These squares are not strictly considered matzo for sacramental purposes, though. For the Seder itself, with its rituals and required foods to eat, there are “Kestenbaum’s Oat Matzos which are a British import,” says Valerie Galler of Ann Arbor, who also eats a gluten-free diet to control celiac disease. She buys “one Kestenbaum’s and then a couple” of boxes of gluten-free squares for the holiday.
According to the website glutenfreeoatmatzos.com, “Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum’s gluten-free shemura oat matzos ... are the only matzos in the world which are free of gluten.” Rabbi Kestenbaum and a colleague searched for oat farmers and tested their harvests, “and after 4 years were happily surprised to come across a very small patch of gluten free oats on the farm in Scotland. Tests at health laboratories confirmed that these exceptional oats are free of gluten.” The Rabbi “has since continued with these gluten free oats with his own seeds for years and they are constantly tested.”
Several companies produce gluten-free items which are also kosher for Passover, such as Gefen, Lieber’s, Yehuda, and Manischewitz. Chebe brand produces a gluten-free pizza crust mix that is also “soy free, corn free, rice free, potato free, yeast free, peanut free, tree nut free, egg free, lactose/casein free, iodine free, sugar free, non GMO, kosher certified,” and is “made with manioc (tapioca) flour, modified manioc starch, iodine-free sea salt, oregano, onion, garlic.”
Below is Mrs. Greenblatt’s recipe for lasagna to serve during the holiday. And although it’s not kosher l’Pesach -- kosher for Passover -- one of her favorite gluten-free recipes is for Cookie Truffles to serve the rest of the year. Both recipes are delicious and easy to make with ingredients that are readily available, making a gluten-free diet less mind-boggling for those who need it.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium zucchini, thinly sliced (about 5 cups)
- 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
- kosher salt
- ground pepper
- 2 Dorot brand garlic cubes
- 1 24-ounce container 1% milk fat small curd cottage cheese
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 4 Yehuda brand gluten-free matzo-style squares
- 1 8-ounce package part-skim shredded mozzarella
Gluten-Free Matzo Lasagna (kosher l’Pesach)
Slightly adapted from a recipe on wegmans.com.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9”x13” baking dish.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in pan on high; add zucchini and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook, stirring 30 seconds.
Add cottage cheese, basil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to blender or food processor; puree until smooth. Remove to bowl; wash out blender or food processor.
Add tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper to blender or food processor; puree until smooth. Season with salt.
Spread bottom of baking dish with 1/3 of sauce. Top with 2 matzos (will overlap slightly). Spread matzo with 1/3 of cottage cheese mixture. Top with 1/2 of zucchini mixture; followed by 1/3 of mozzarella cheese.
Repeat layers in step 4.
Spread with remaining sauce, followed by remaining cottage cheese mixture, and mozzarella. Cover with foil.
Bake 20 minutes. Uncover; continue baking 30-35 minutes until bubbly and cheese is light golden color.
Remove from oven; rest 20-30 minutes before serving.
Gluten-Free Cookie Truffles (not kosher l’Pesach)
- 1 8-ounce package gluten-free cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies (i.e.: K-toos brand)
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
- chocolate, for coating
In a food processor, finely crush the entire package of cookies. Place in bowl and mash in entire package of cream cheese. Form into very small (less than 1”) balls. Refrigerate to firm up.
Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Drop cookie balls, a few at a time, into the chocolate to completely coat. Remove balls from chocolate, drain excess chocolate, and place onto prepared cookie sheet. Repeat this process until all balls are coated. Freeze on cookie sheet to firm up.
Store in plastic bag in freezer and serve as needed.
Yields 5 dozen.