One of Judaism’s most important holidays, Passover, begins this week, commemorating the emancipation of the Israelites from enslavement under the pharaoh in ancient Egypt. According to the Torah, the prophet Moses beseeched the pharaoh to release the Jewish people from bondage. When the pharaoh refused, plagues of biblical—literally—proportions ensued. Drinking water turned into blood, people broke out into boils, and death befell every first-born son—except the Israelites, whose sons God spared. Passover celebrates the night The Angel of Death “passed over” their homes.
Today, the story is commemorated with an annual feast called the Passover Seder. Participants recline on pillows, chug wine, sing songs, play hide-the-afikoman (flat bread), read aloud from a personal Haggadah (religious text containing the story), and eat traditional food. The centerpiece of the evening is the Seder plate, which displays symbolic foods that helps tell the story of Passover. Since the holiday is all about the celebration of freedom and release from bondage, why not walk-the-walk with an ethical, vegan Seder plate?
The Seder Plate
Matzoh (unleavened flat bread)
This traditional cracker is the centerpiece of the Passover holiday. It symbolizes how quickly the Jews had to flee Egypt. In their haste to get the heck out of Cairo, they didn’t have time for their bread rise before baking it. Thus, crunchy matzoh was born. No other breads or leavened grains may be consumed during Passover (a boon for you gluten-free folks). Be sure to snag egg-free matzoh.
Charoset (mixture of chopped nuts and apples, agave, spices, and wine)
Substitute agave for the traditional honey, and you have yourself some vegan charoset. Its texture resembles the mortar used to layer bricks, symbolizing the backbreaking work performed by the enslaved Israelites. Also, remind us—why are we only eating this delicious, succulent sweet at Passover?
Zeroa (fresh beet)
Although tradition calls for use of a shankbone to honor the sacrificial lamb, a red beet is scripturally permitted on the Seder plate—in fact, it’s common for even omnivores to use this substitution instead.
Maror (bitter herbs)
Horseradish is typically used to symbolize the bitterness and anguish of slavery. (Matzoh slathered with maror—delicious!)
Beitzah (avocado or eggplant)
While the beitzah actually calls for a hard-boiled egg to symbolize fertility, try a silky avocado or a small, de-stemmed white eggplant.
Karpas (vegetable dipped into salt water)
Springtime parsley is dipped in salt water to represent the tears that the Jewish people shed during captivity under the pharaoh’s rule.
The Haggadah also calls for four—yes, four—cups of wine to be consumed over the course of the Passover Seder ceremony. In Judaism, wine and religious observances go hand-in-hand. Be sure to find a vegan wine that’s specifically marked with a P, denoting that it’s Kosher-for-Passover.
The Seder ceremony can take several hours—but it’s all good because you’re getting drunk and lounging on the floor, anyway. Once it’s complete, everybody is ready to chow down in a big way. Being vegan makes it easy to keep Kosher, but remember that no grains are permitted on the banquet table. The following fare can serve as a launch pad for developing your own, delectable Passover menu from the Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and Sephardi traditions—it takes a village! Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover!