A vegetarian Seder

Sep 28, 2007 at 9:29 p.m. ET

Vegetarian fare for Passover? You bet! Writer Elizabeth Bauchner shares her non-traditional menu ideas for this festive holiday.

Wine and Matzah

An update on the traditional Seder

In my home, the Jewish holiday Passover, or Pesach, brings together an eclectic mix of friends and family for a not-so-traditional Seder. Sure, we read the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt in the Haggadah. We drink the requisite four glasses of wine (grape juice for the kiddos). And my in-laws recite the correct Hebrew prayers at the correct time (not always easy to do after the third glass of wine). What's not so traditional is the vegetarian menu (oh, and the fact that I'm not Jewish!).

As always, the Seder table is set with candles, flowers, bowls of salt water and a haggadah for each person. Wine is poured for each guest, and a cup of wine is set out for Elijah. A plate with three Matzot, covered, is placed on the table. The centerpiece is the Seder Plate. Traditionally, the Seder Plate contains Maror (bitter herbs such as grated horseradish), Karpas (vegetable such as celery), Chazeret (bitter vegetable such as Romaine lettuce), Charoset (apple, nut, spice and wine mixture), Zeroa (shank bone) and Beitzah (egg).

Because there are vegetarians in the family, our Seder Plate has one minor break from tradition. Instead of the shank bone, symbolizing the sacrificial lamb, we place a long, skinny yam. My mother-in-law says that we replace the Pascal Lamb with the Pascal Yam. Vegans may also wish to replace the roasted egg. Some people replace the bone and egg with olives and grapes, or a beet and avocado seed. Other vegetarians have even used papier mache models.

I won't go into detail here about what comprises a Seder, or try to explain the history and story of Passover. If you're interested in learning more, there are many websites that can teach you all about this eight-day holiday (see www.holidays.net/passover or www.passover.net to start). For an excellent vegetarian Seder menu, however, read on.

Vegetarian Seder menu

Appetizer: Stuffed Kishke
Soup: Vegetarian Matzoh Ball Soup
Entree: Vegetable Nut Loaf
Vegetable: Oven-Roasted Potatoes
Salad: Beet, Carrot and Cabbage Medley
Dessert: No-Bake Chocolate Matzoh Roll with Berry Garnish

During the first part of our family Seder, we eat the vegetable on the Seder plate dipped in salt water, matzoh, the bitter herbs, and hard-boiled eggs and potatoes. We also eat the charoset with matzoh and bitter herbs. We usually skip an "appetizer" and go right to the festive meal, but you may want to try the Kishke. It looks good!

Vegetarian Seder recipes

Stuffed kishke recipe

Serves 8

1-3/4 cups matzoh meal
1 medium onion, grated fine
1 large carrot, grated fine
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 large celery rib, grated fine
4 tablespoons melted margarine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix ingredients together and shape into two long rolls, each about 2 inches in diameter. Grease two pieces of aluminum foil. Place rolls on foil and wrap tightly, but don't squeeze. Bake rolls for 1 hour, then open foil and bake another 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool slightly before slicing. May be made in advance and served cold, or reheated for about 10 minutes in oven.

Vegetarian Matzoh ball soup recipe

Serves 8 to 10

8 cups vegetable stock* (or water)
Matzoh Balls*
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
3 large potatoes, cubed
Several white mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Saut the onion and celery in a little olive oil in soup pot. When the onion is translucent and soft, add the carrots, salt and pepper. Add the vegetable stock or water (or a combination), and stir well. Add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Add the mushrooms 5 minutes before serving. You can also flavor the soup with fresh parsley.

For the Matzoh balls, purchase a Matzoh Ball mix at the store and follow directions on box. Add to soup before serving.

To make vegetable stock: simmer vegetable scraps (such as onion peels, carrot tops, mushroom stems, celery tops) in water for 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Strain into bowl. Can be used immediately or frozen for later use.

Vegetable nut loaf recipe

Serves 8

1 large onion, finely chopped
garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, grated
3 cups of mixed ground nuts
1 cup matzoh meal
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large onion, sliced thinly
2-1/2 cups vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix all ingredients except stock and onion. Grease an oven safe casserole dish with vegetable shortening or oil. Spread sliced onions over bottom. Form nut mixture into a loaf and place on top of sliced onions. Bake for 45 minutes. Baste with vegetable stock every 20 minutes to keep it moist. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Oven roasted potatoes recipe

One medium potato per person, scrubbed with skin on (I like Russets best for this)
1 tablespoon Olive oil (use more if using lots of potatoes)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the potatoes into wedge shapes. Mix with oil in bowl. Spread over baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for at least 30 minutes, turning once during baking to prevent burning. Check for doneness with fork.

Beet, carrot and cabbage medley

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound small beets, peeled and grated
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Salt to taste

Combine beets, cabbage and carrots in bowl. Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and dress salad. Cover and chill before serving.

No-bake chocolate matzoh roll recipe with berry garnish

Serves 10 to 12

This dessert is very rich and a little goes a long way!

4 squares plain matzoh
Water for moistening matzoh
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons strong coffee
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon brandy, optional
1 cup margarine at room temperature
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 tablespoons water

1 pint strawberries, washed but not hulled

In a large bowl, soak matzoh in water briefly. Drain water and crumble matzoh. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler with coffee and sugar. Add brandy, if using. Cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat margarine until fluffy. Add chocolate mixture, beating well. Stir in matzoh and nuts.

Place a piece of wax paper about two feet long on your work surface. Use a long spoon to shape a mass about 10 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the wax paper around it and shape it into a cylinder. Tuck the ends under, place it on a plate, and refrigerate at least 3 hours until firm.

After it's chilled for at least 3 hours, melt the glaze ingredients together. Unwrap the roll, pour the glaze over it, and chill again. To serve, arrange on platter surrounded by berries. Slice with a serrated knife.

A women's Seder

My mother-in-law, Susan Bauchner, occasionally gathers with other women for a women's Seder. During their celebration, they tell the following story, which has been circulating for several years. No one knows for sure if it's real or Jewish feminist myth. At any rate, it's become a tradition for us, and one, I believe, worth continuing.

"Among the symbolic foods on our Seder plate is an orange. It has special meaning for women's Seders. In the days when women were just beginning to become rabbis, scholar Susannah Heschel was traveling in Florida, the land of oranges. One night she spoke at a synagogue about the emerging equality of women in Jewish life -- as rabbis, teachers and students of Torah, synagogue presidents and in all other ways. After she spoke, a man rose in wrath, red with fury, and said, 'A woman belongs on the bimah [altar] as much as bread belongs on the Seder plate!'"

"'No,' said our sister Susannah, 'The teachings of women do not violate the tradition, but rather renew it. Women bring to the bimah what an orange would bring to the Seder plate. Transformation, not transgression.' The orange on our Seder plate is a symbol that women belong wherever Jews carry on sacred life."

More on Passover and Seder recipes

Prepping for Passover
Passover recipes to celebrate the festival of freedom's sweet tooth