The Edgy Veggie

Vegan Passover gets a lift from nuts, produce

Eggless: All the savory comforts of traditional kugel, but without the dairy.
Eggless: All the savory comforts of traditional kugel, but without the dairy. For the Miami Herald

Passover begins Friday at sundown, starting a week in which Jews abstain from chametz — leavened goods and anything made with wheat, barley, spelt, oats or rye.

If you’re Ashkenazic, as many South Florida Jews are, you can add kitniyot to that list — seeds and beans. No grains, no seeds, no beans, no tofu (it’s made with soy), and if you’re meatless, no brisket, no roast chicken, no gefilte fish.

For vegan Jews, the list keeps going — no eggs, no dairy, which means no matzo balls, no matzo brei, no kugel, no fancy flourless Passover desserts.

Where’s the yes? Produce always saves the day.

A salad of local greens or roasted vegetables dressed with a warm herbal vinaigrette is just the thing for spring. But then comes the Seder. We knot food and feelings together all the time, never more so than at the holidays with favorite family dishes. Vegetables by themselves may feel a little meager beside Bubbe’s brisket, your mamma’s gefilte fish and the assorted egg-intensive kugels.

In recent years, my family’s Seder table has included quinoa. It’s protein-rich, cooks and tastes like a grain but is a grass and is Seder suitable. This year, though, I wanted to try something different … and yet something the familiar.

And something nutty. Nuts are the answer to the list of Passover ixnays. All nuts excluding peanuts are Passover-friendly. They’re delicious and rich while offering fiber and protein. But do yourself a favor, don’t just toss a few almonds on that salad, go beyond.

The fabulous produce of spring, along with abundant herbs and nuts combine to create a new — and vegan — spin on an old favorite: vegetable kugel. It’s lightened up and luscious with cream from cashews, not cows, it’s got an oomphiness without being eggy and gets a rabbinical good to go.

Tradition and plant-based can meet at the Passover table. If the dietary no-nos seem daunting, the holiday reminds us of the importance of welcome — whatever we eat. I mean, please, we let the spirit of Elijah in.

This vegetable kugel probably won’t bring back an ancient prophet, but has the spirit of inclusion. It’s a vegan kugel that can be enjoyed by everyone. Your Bubbe might even approve. Happy Passover.

Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”

Spring Zucchini Kugel

Look, Ma, no eggs. Light, moist and springy, this savory dish pays tribute to traditional kugels — baked casseroles or puddings — but bends the rules and breaks no eggs. Cashews need a minimum of two hours to soak and become cashew cream-worthy, so plan accordingly. Recipe may be made a day ahead and kept covered and refrigerated. Gently reheat, covered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through. Serves 4 to 6. Recipe may be doubled or tripled.

1 cup raw cashews

4 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup matzoh, coarsely crumbled (about 1 sheet) or matzoh farfel

1 large zucchini

1 medium onion

2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

4 tablespoons fresh dill or basil, finely chopped

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously oil a 1-quart baking dish or casserole.

Pour raw cashews in a bowl or jar. Add cold water to cover. Let cashews sit for 2 hours or up to overnight.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the minced garlic and optional red pepper flakes. Stir garlic around for 3 minutes or until it starts to turn golden and fragrant. Pour in the crumbled matzo. Toast, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes or until matzo bits turn golden and crispy at the edges. Remove from heat and set aside.

Coarsely grate the zucchini and onion, using the shred attachment on a food processor or a handheld grater. Transfer grated onion and zucchini to a large bowl. Drain and rinse cashews. Pour into a food processor or blender. Add 1/2 cup of water and puree for 1 to 2 minutes, or until mixture becomes thick, white and smooth. Pour into bowl with the grated zucchini and onion and give a light stir to combine.

Measure out 1/4 cup of the toasted matzo crumbles for a crusty topping and set aside. Add the remaining matzo to the zucchini, onion and cashew cream mixture and mix. Squeeze in lemon juice and add the chopped fresh dill or basil. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon everything into the prepared baking dish or casserole. Sprinkle the top with the reserved 1/4 cup of toasted crumbled matzo. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden on top.

Source: Ellen Kanner for Edgy Veggie.

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