Passover meal gets veggie makeover

A traditional seder dinner includes elements that are symbolic of Jews' exodus and freedom from slavery in Egypt.

When Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and her guests sit down for their seder meal Monday night, they’ll do it without meat.

It’s been that way for 25 years.

“Really, there’s very little in a mainstream seder that isn’t vegetarian,” she says. “I don’t think we miss anything.”

Monday marks Passover, the holiday when Jews celebrate their ancestors’ exodus and freedom from slavery in Egypt.

It’s traditionally marked with a seder meal, which generally includes several symbolic elements:

¢ Matzo, an unleavened bread. According to tradition, Jews didn’t have time for their bread to rise as they were leaving Egypt, so they ended up with matzo.

¢ Bitter herbs, to symbolize the bitter times the Jews endured in Egypt.

¢ Charoset, a mixture of nuts and apples, to represent the mortar used by Jewish slaves when working in construction in Egypt.

¢ Four cups of wine, to represent the four deliverance promises made by God.

Many seders also include a roasted lamb bone.

But Goldberg’s seder – which usually includes about 35 people – forgoes meat options. One of the families who attends is vegetarian, so the group decided to go without meat for the whole dinner.

Instead of a meat entree, she cooks a vegetarian shepherd’s pie with eggplant and other veggies. The stock in her matzo-ball soup also is vegetarian.

“When I was growing up, I never got the sense there was a ‘traditional’ seder,” she says. “There were a lot of variables in my own tradition.”

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of the Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th, says the variations among seders help to represent the meaning for the celebration. Vegetarian-focused seders would be among that list.

“It’s fascinating,” Tiechtel says. “There are hundreds of different kinds of traditions people do. The reason Judaism supports a variety of traditions is a key part of the seder is to support freedom, and to relive that night Jews experienced so many years ago.”