“I really needed to re-think all my cooking. It was mind-boggling.”
If you’ve ever been advised to eat a special diet for medical reasons, you’re nodding your head in agreement with Alix Greenblatt’s statement.
Her grandson, Cayden, was diagnosed at age 2 with celiac disease, and cannot eat anything containing gluten.
He isn’t responsible for feeding family pets, to avoid contamination from their food, and must wash his hands after using Play-Dough because of its gluten content and the potential for any ingestion.
Gluten intolerance seems to be on the rise, and many people try to limit their intake of the substance, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats.
But, according to the Mayo Clinic: “If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients. ... Eventually, your brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment. In children, malabsorption can affect growth and development.”
As Mrs. Greenblatt says, though, “I have a 7-year-old who likes snacks,” who is very good at advocating for himself to protect his health and conscientiously asks about ingredients before eating.
Cayden’s mother, Denise, also has celiac disease, having been diagnosed after Cayden’s illness was discovered. So, Mrs. Greenblatt re-thought all of her cooking and grocery purchases for them, finding solutions that are “quick and fast. I love to cook, but I’m for ease,” she says.
She bought a copy of the Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping Guide by Dr. Mara Matison & Mr. Dainis Matison, which offers a list of more than 45,000 gluten-free products.
Mrs. Greenblatt found that the ingredient substitutions were not as overwhelming as she’d thought at first, as so many companies are offering gluten-free products these days and the resulting dishes and meals have improved considerably.
But ... the Greenblatt family is Jewish, and Passover begins at sundown today.
Is it possible to maintain a gluten-free diet at this time, when so many foods are forbidden by Jewish law?
At Passover, observant families eliminate chametz [ha-MAYTZ], leavened products that are not to be either consumed or owned during the eight-day holiday; they purchase a new assortment of groceries that meet the religious standards.
And it is part of the ritual of the Seder, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, to eat matzo.
But matzo is made with wheat, which contains gluten. A popular song at Passover is Dayenu, meaning “it would have been enough.” Dayenu, it would have been enough, to cope with a gluten-free diet.
But a gluten-free diet that’s kosher for Passover, too?
Surprisingly, it’s possible to observe both the Passover and the gluten-free restrictions simultaneously.
Mrs. Greenblatt is hosting Seders on the first and second nights of the holiday; 21 guests are expected at each.
Among the multiple dishes being served will be gluten-free matzah balls in soup, gluten-free macaroni and cheese, and also a vegetarian lasagna using gluten-free matzo-style squares which serve as the “noodles” between layers.
These squares are not strictly considered matzo for sacramental purposes, though. For the Seder itself, with its rituals and required foods to eat, there are “Kestenbaum’s Oat Matzos which are a British import,” says Valerie Galler of Ann Arbor, who also eats a gluten-free diet to control celiac disease. She buys “one Kestenbaum’s and then a couple” of boxes of gluten-free squares for the holiday.
According to the website glutenfreeoatmatzos.com, “Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum’s gluten-free shemura oat matzos ... are the only matzos in the world which are free of gluten.” Rabbi Kestenbaum and a colleague searched for oat farmers and tested their harvests, “and after 4 years were happily surprised to come across a very small patch of gluten free oats on the farm in Scotland. Tests at health laboratories confirmed that these exceptional oats are free of gluten.” The Rabbi “has since continued with these gluten free oats with his own seeds for years and they are constantly tested.”
Several companies produce gluten-free items which are also kosher for Passover, such as Gefen, Lieber’s, Yehuda, and Manischewitz.
Chebe brand produces a gluten-free pizza crust mix that is also “soy free, corn free, rice free, potato free, yeast free, peanut free, tree nut free, egg free, lactose/casein free, iodine free, sugar free, non GMO, kosher certified,” and is “made with manioc (tapioca) flour, modified manioc starch, iodine-free sea salt, oregano, onion, garlic.”
Below is Mrs. Greenblatt’s recipe for lasagna to serve during the holiday. And although it’s not kosher l’Pesach - kosher for Passover - one of her favorite gluten-free recipes is for Cookie Truffles to serve the rest of the year. Both recipes are delicious and easy to make with ingredients that are readily available, making a gluten-free diet less mind-boggling for those who need it.