Passover the Healthy Way: Easier Said Than Done
Let me preface this review by giving points for degree of difficulty. Cooking anything for Passover, let alone something healthy, is as hard as herding cats, or putting a plate of cookies in front of a five-year-old (or my husband) and telling them “not to touch.” There seem to be two schools of thought on Passover: pile on the eggs and dairy (not exactly healthy), or view the holiday as an eight-day cleanse of sorts.
In that context, Bonnie Giller's new cookbook, Passover The Healthy Way: Light, Tasty and Easy Recipes Your Whole Family Will Enjoy, is a remarkable achievement. Unfortunately, the dishes do not quite live up to the title. Yes, they are light and easy, but they do sacrifice some flavor to get there.
The author, a registered dietitian, set out to write a cookbook that her patients could enjoy -- patients with diabetes, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal conditions and weight issues. Year after year, Giller heard the same four common concerns from her clients as they attempted to cook for Passover: "I never get out of the kitchen; I am constantly cooking and baking." "I always gain weight over Passover." "Every Passover recipe contains huge amounts of eggs and oil." "I serve the same recipes with a little variety each year."
Inspired by her patients’ exasperated pleas, Giller offers more than 100 recipes following strict dietetic guidelines. Each recipe lists the Exchange per Serving, in compliance with American Dietetic Association and American Diabetes Association Exchange Lists for Meal Planning. Four appendices cover measurement equivalents, tips for sodium reduction, cooking and baking substitutions, and food labeling terms.
I'm a bit of a cookbook fiend. I read every recipe, every page. I can usually imagine what dishes would taste like, and sometimes, if the recipe really sings to me, I drop everything I am doing to cook the dish. I’m a little sorry to report that this was not the case with this cookbook. While I can appreciate the daunting task Giller has set for herself, on first reading there wasn't one recipe in it that sounded delicious to me. I passed the book off to my husband, who, shall we say, has a less discerning palate, but he, too, came up empty-handed.
When faced with dietary restrictions, one strategy is to increase flavor through healthy means -- fresh herbs, say, or garlic. Unfortunately, these are both conspicuously absent from the ingredients list. I can understand the substitution of dried herbs for accessibility's sake, but garlic is readily available, familiar, and actually has beneficial effects on blood pressure.
After struggling to decide on which recipes to test from each of the expected sections of a cookbook: soups and salads, poultry and other meats, fish, vegetables, side dishes, kugels (an entire chapter’s worth!), dairy dishes, and an extra-large dessert and baked good section, my husband finally chose three dishes he wouldn’t mind trying: a turnip and leek soup, savory sweet chicken and low carb cheesecake. Keeping the sodium-restricted parameters in mind, I cooked the recipes exactly as they were written.
And how were they? Well, the soup could have really used several cloves of fresh garlic and of course, lots of salt. The chicken was sweet but not at all savory. It was very nice to see that it really did only take a little more than a teaspoon of oil to sauté the large onion, so the amount of fat in the chicken dish was really low. It needed salt and spice, and something that would represent the “savory” part of the dish’s title. As for the cheesecake, the less said the better.
Still, for Jews with very particularly dietary and health restrictions, this cookbook is well-researched, extensive and easy to follow. Giller has clearly worked very hard to write recipes designed to reduce your intake of calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Just don't expect big flavor or exciting preparations.
Savory Sweet Chicken
1 large onion, chopped
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
1 whole chicken, quartered, no skin
¼ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup reduced or sugar-free apricot jam
1 cup orange juice
Juice of one lemon (~2 ½ tbsp.)
2 cups fat free, low sodium chicken broth, or water
10 large prunes, pitted
½ cup dried apricots
Pepper to taste
1. Sauté onion in large pot in olive oil until soft, but not browned.
2. Mix ginger and cinnamon and sprinkle on chicken pieces.
3. Place chicken in the pot with the onions, and brown on all sides.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together all other ingredients except pepper.
5. Pour over mixture.
6. Cook over a low flame for at least 40 minutes. Add more broth if necessary.
7. Add pepper to taste.
Serving size: ¼ chicken (~4 oz.)
Exchange per Serving: 4 Meat, 2 Fruit
Total Fat: 7 gm
Saturated Fat: 1.5 gm
Polyunsaturated Fat: 2 gm
Monosaturated Fat: 2.5 gm
Cholesterol: 115 mg
Protein: 38 gm
Carbohydrate: 36 gm
Dietary Fiber: 3 gm
Sodium: 163 mg