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How to have a free-from Passover

Pesach can be a trying time for those on specialist diets

    (Pictures: Lara Smallman)
    (Pictures: Lara Smallman)

    Keeping Pesach can be stressful for most of us but it is even more challenging for people on specialist diets.

    You would think for those following a gluten-free diet it would be business as usual. Not according to nutritionist Laura Southern: "It's actually a very limiting time of year for people on a gluten-free diet," she says. "Lots of your staple diet is suddenly taken away, like rice flour - a widely used replacement for wheat - and pulses. It's surprisingly challenging."

    Southern also believes a strictly kosher-for-Pesach diet may be dangerous for those with severe allergies. "If you're a Coeliac, the tiniest taste of wheat or gluten can set you off for days." Even last year's matzah crumbs falling out of a Hagadah can be "very debilitating".

    What can be difficult is finding certified gluten-free, kosher for Pesach products, as already niche manufacturers are not prepared to clear production lines to produce a kosher for Pesach line for one week a year. The KLBD - the kashrut division of the London Beth Din - does not currently certify any gluten-free products as kosher-for-Pesach.

    For those with egg-based allergies, Pesach can also be especially difficult. "It's harder to be egg-free at this time of year; there are no kosher for Passover egg substitutes and the majority of the cakes and biscuits are egg-based,' says Southern.

    However, with a bit of lateral thinking, egg-avoiders might be able to find ways to manage. Vegan coeliac Lara Smallman, director of the Jewish Vegetarian Society (JVS) and editor of The Jewish Vegetarian, sees it as a challenge. "I know all about food limitations," she says. "Focus on what you can have and make the most of that, rather than on what you can't have."

    Last year Smallman organised a sell-out Ashkenazi vegan seder at JW3. The menu included 'chopped living' - a meat-free version of chopped liver; roasted garlic-infused aubergine with pesto; and a chocolate mousse made with cocoa and avocado.

    "Being vegan helps with the free-from side of things, as I'm already in the habit of cutting things out" she says, although the challenge of finding substitutes can make a notoriously unhealthy time of year healthy. "I'll be shopping in a farmers' market to get the freshest fruit and vegetables, and if you stock up with spices and fresh herbs it can be an exciting time of year to try out new recipes."

    On Smallman's menu this Pesach will be sweet potato, and aubergine moussaka with cinammon and nutmeg and a big salad made with peach, fennel, avocado, pear, red onion, celery, chive and orange. She finishes up with a jewel fruit tart with a base made of nuts and dried fruits, an almond butter caramel filling, topped with fresh berries. She recommends berries to make interesting and colourful salad dressings.

    Southern suggests making the most of spring-like colours at this time of year, with her rainbow vegetable pie using layers of sweet potatoes, courgettes, onions, peppers and pesto. It has no pastry crust so it's gluten-free and very healthy.

    For the gluten-free, Pesach breakfast can be particularly tough. Southern's go-to for her family is baked egg muffins - essentially mini-omelettes baked in muffin cases.

    Combine your favourite vegetables, cheese and egg for a breakfast or snack you can make ahead.

    Food writer Lisa Roukin, who follows a diet free from gluten, refined sugar and dairy doesn't miss matzah at all: "My diet doesn't include bread, so I have always found other ways of making it up" she says. "There are so many healthy ways you can use what is available to eat and not be dependent on starches like potato flour".

    She recommends investing in a new food processor for Pesach to allow you to create kosher for Passover raw, gluten-free healthy treats, combining dates and nuts. She suggests filling up on fruit and vegetables: smoothies for breakfast, salads for lunch and using the current fashion-pack favourite - a spiralizer - to make vegetable noodles for dinner.

    She's also a fan of cauliflower: "It's a lifesaver," she says, "and can be utilized in so many different ways - cauliflower rice, cauliflower pizza, roasted cauliflower and cauliflower soup."

    Pesach is also tricky for people avoiding refined sugar. "Cinnamon balls and plava can send hungry Jews back to old eating habits" laughs Southern.

    Roukin recommends replacing the cinnamon balls with almond biscotti or her raw jaffa cake slice (recipe on her blog). Smallman's tips are to make sweet treats with nuts: raw chocolate 'cheesecake' using cashew nuts and raw chocolate truffles using dates and nuts, both of which are on the JVS website. All gluten-free, vegan and surprisingly healthy. Similarly, Southern's date and walnut balls are a healthier alternative to cinnamon balls, but she warns that while they don't contain 'refined' sugars, they are packed with dates, so unsuitable for those following a strictly sugar-free diet.

    If you do want some ready-made foods you can buy specialist, imported kosher-for-Pesach products, such as gluten-free matzah and products made with potato flour, from America, which is way ahead in this area than the UK. Yehuda, Manishewiz and Geffen provide certified gluten-free alternatives over Pesach, some of them egg-free.

    This year, there's no reason why the free-frommers cannot eat just as well as - and probably better than - everyone else.

    Find these recipes and more online at thejc.com/recipes

    www.londonfoodtherapy.com

    www.myrelationshipwithfood.com

    www.jvs.org.uk

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