A Soup Theory of Passover

I sit here writing this post on Thursday evening here in Israel, with less than a day left to complete the whirlwind of activity that precedes Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom.  

Every year at Passover, we remind ourselves that we were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and that we left suddenly in the night without time even to allow the bread to rise. 

Traditional Jews spend the week of the Passover festival removing the leavening from our foods – and our souls – focusing on our journey from slavery to freedom, and through redemption to a commitment of faith and service.  On a year when Passover starts Saturday night – immediately after Shabbat – there is an incredible amount of work to complete before the onset of the Jewish Sabbath.  I won’t bore you with a checklist of everything that we have done so far, much less the work ahead.  

To be blunt:  Passover is a holiday that requires a lot of time and attention in the kitchen to prepare meals, and where the best thing is to stay in your own lane.  I try not to worry about what someone else is cleaning, cooking, eating – the rules are so varied and the edicts on what is acceptable and what is not can be abstruse.  There will be always be those who are doing a lot more, others doing less, and no agreement on what is required. That is the Jewish tradition.

For the uninitiated, one of the key precepts for Passover is the elimination of fermented foods from the diet, including all prepared products that contain wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye EXCEPT for products specifically manufactured in a manner to prevent fermentation, ie total preparation in less than 18 minutes under rabbinical supervision.

There are additional traditions relating to consumption of pulses, corn, seeds, etc., that vary between different Jewish communities, and/or based on the views of individual rabbis. There is also a longstanding tradition in many communities to divest ourselves of leavened foods in our houses, and to enter into a formal bill of sale for any remaining non-Passover/leavened foods that remain, to eliminate personal ownership for the duration of the holiday.

Fermented foods that are so important to the Microbiome Diet are totally excluded during the Passover holiday.  So earlier this week I used the last of my sourdough starter on some Spelt-Rye Bread, and we are also finishing up the latest batch of Dosa batter (fermented rice/dal/millet vegan crepe/pancake). 

So what happens when tradition bars consumption of fermented foods – also known as Probiotics? If you are familiar with the Microbiome Diet, you may already be anticipating the answer: Prebiotics to the rescue!

As you may already be aware, Prebiotics are nutritionally dense, high-fiber fruits and vegetables:

Your body relies on the essential nutrients found in Prebiotics for effective care and feeding of our microbial fellow travelers.  Prebiotics are vegetables, fruits and whole grains that provide important dietary fiber to support your digestive health and promote the continuing diversity of the Microbiome. Due to their concentration of dietary fiber, Prebiotic foods also play an important role in metabolism and overall health including regulation of blood sugar, serum cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, supporting weight management and promoting regularity.

Egyptian Leek Potato Soup starts off as a lot of chopped vegetables, aka Prebiotics!

Prebiotics are the unsung heroes of the Microbiome Diet – at least and by increasing consumption of healthy soups throughout the Passover holiday, and continued focus on avoidance of processed foods (the B and C in the Microbiome Diet ABCs), we can maintain a healthful diet even in the absence of fermented probiotic foods.

For my family, focusing on soup during Passover has been an effective way to increase consumption of Prebiotics. This “Soup Theory of Passover” means that I generally have two soups on the stove at any given time – even for a small family – and I make a new soup when one of the first is exhausted. 

Every meal begins with a hearty soup and a salad, followed by a small main course and (of course) dessert.  In practical terms having fresh, healthy and delicious vegetable-based soups adds to the joy of the holiday in the best possible way. While it may sound time-consuming to make so many soups over the course of a single week, the reality is that Passover means cooking from scratch.

To be fair, I started the Soup Theory of Passover both for reasons of taste as much as health. Initially the most important impact of all of the soups – some of which I only make during the week of Passover – was to add more flavor and healthy diversity to our holiday meals when so many of the our regular foods are off the menu. 

The realization that soup could be the answer for my family actually predated my commitment to the Microbiome Diet by several years and it was only in retrospect that I realized why it was a good idea that is worth sharing. The first clue that I was onto something good was my husband’s reaction on the last day of the holiday that Passover could not be almost over because he wasn’t sick of the food yet.

Another welcome dividend of the Soup Theory of Passover is that it helps to prevent weight gain during what is traditionally not only a festival of freedom but also a festival of eating (somehow despite everything that is off the table during the week-long holiday results in everyone eating more)!

So now we are on the eve of another Passover holiday, and I am preparing my arsenal of soups to get through the week.  We will  start tomorrow evening with Happy Chicken Soup (my vegetarian, traditional matzah-ball soup) and Egyptian Leek-Potato Soup

Happy Chicken (vegetarian) and Egyptian Leek Potato Soup, recipes to follow.

Coming attractions may include Roman Soup with Passover dumplings, French Onion Soup with a Garlic-Parmesan (matzah) crouton, Cream of Tomato or Cream of Mushroom Soup, and/or Gazpacho – depending on how far we go down the soup rabbit-hole. (The idea is to always have two soups on tap.)

Over the next week I will try to post – and link – the recipes for our favorite Passover soups.  And of course I would love to hear from anyone else who has a good soup recipe out there for Passover.

Wishing everyone the best for a very happy holiday – Chag Sameach – for Passover, Easter, Holi or whatever you may be observing during this festive season. 

Published by skfinston

Born February 21, 1961 in Detroit, Michigan; enjoying 2nd Middle Age in Zichron Yaakov, Israel. After a misspent youth in the US Foreign Service (postings in London, Tel Aviv and Manila), I moved to the Semi-private Sector, working for a leading trade association in Washington DC before launching my own company Finston Consulting in 2005. Over the last 15+ years I have worked with innovative companies ranging from Fortune-100 to start up, as well as NGOs, and governments, including service as a cleared advisor (Secret level) to the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative (IPR, Tariff/Trade Facilitation). As a graduate of the University of Michigan, my degrees include a Bachelors of Science (Philosophy, High Honors), Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Policy. After law school I clerked at the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit before joining the U.S. Foreign Service (TSI-CodeWord Clearance). I am a member of the Illinois and US Supreme Court Bar.

3 thoughts on “A Soup Theory of Passover

  1. I’m looking forward to reading some of your soup recipes. We’ve planned after Seder for an aubergine casserole so far – I’ve baked my macaroons, apple crumble using matzah meal and cinnamon balls – so some healthy vegetable soups will go down well. What do you use for protein?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Danny, it’s great to hear what you have baked for Passover. Your apple crumble with cinnamon balls sounds amazing. Today I made the first two soups as mentioned above, and now have posted the recipe for Roman Soup with Passover dumplings and added the link above. Protein is a challenge for Pesach; we end up eating more dairy, eggs and fish than we usual (we don’t generally eat much chicken/meat), and we also have gone full-Sephardic over the years due to health issues in the family. It has made a big difference to be able to eat soy/legumes/rice/seeds, and seems like every year more people are coming around to this approach.

      Liked by 1 person

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