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Passover Detective

Passover is a joyous time of year. Recounting the Exodus is good times, followed by delicious meals with plenty of wine to wash it all down. Passover is fun.

Passover is also a time of year when companies and stores prey on un-savvy shoppers.

Last year I posted a photo of a particularly deceptive package of candy made by Streit’s. But the photo has not had any effect it seems, as an abundance of mega-packaging candies still fill the stores.

Shopkeepers are also charging premiums of food that is kosher for passover and all year round. Except for a few loss leaders, prepared and packaged foods are sold at a huge premium.

So to add some consumer activism to repretoir, infused with some humor, I present a short series entitled “The Passover Detective.”

Let My People Eat Quinoa

Quinoa Real grown near Uyuni on the Bolivian Altiplano (3653 m). Mt. Tunupa in the background.

The NY Times just picked up on the debate about quinoa on Passover – and if this mushy stuff from the Andes is fit for consumption on Pesach.

The article missed the major point of contention about the entire quinoa issue. There is no scholarly rabbinic dispute about whether or not quinoa is a grain (in halachic terms) and hence chametz, and totally forbidden for consumption, possession, and benefit on Passover. The only question is whether it is KITNIOT (pronounced kit-ne-ot) or not, i.e. grain type foods that Ashkenazi and some Sephardic Jews do not consume on Passover.

The Oral Torah, codified in the Mishna, specifies that only five types of grain can become chametz: wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats. These items and food made from them with the exception of matzah, are forbidden the entire holiday. The question is really whether this quinoa grain-type food is classified along with rice.

A legitimate and significant concern that the NY Times did pick-up, is about the factories that process quinoa. These processing plants, generally in rural areas, also process other grains, and there is the problem of contamination of the quinoa with wheat and other grains.

One does not need to be a certified rabbinic authority from Chicago or New York to be concerned about contamination of bagged dry products. It is common practice among many people who run a kosher kitchen —or any careful chef — that you always check grains, rice, beans and even flour for hitchhikers.

The problem is that during the rest of the year, if someone comes across a rock in a batch of rice, or an odd object in a bag of barley, its no big deal. On Passover however, that grain of barley becomes kryptonite.

The Chicago based CRC certifies quinoa based on the places where it is processed, the OU doesn’t according to and Baltimore’s Star-K says that it fine, according to the NY Times article.

CalKosher (the certifying body that I supervise) after consultation with one of the leading halachic authorities in the world, is of the opinion that quinoa is not kitniot and hence OK for consumption on Passover by Ashekanazi and Sephardic Jews alike.

One doesn’t need a trip to the remote Andes to know that quinoa is a great substitute for rice in sushi, and a carb-neutral alternative to barley in tabouli. Vegans absolutely worship quinoa because it is a complete protein.

So enjoy your quinoa. Make sure to check it before Passover to eliminate any wheat-type grain that got in there and have a joyous and festive Festival of Freedom.

Kosher For Passover: A Step-By-Step Guide

You don't need a blowtorch 🙂 - simple cleaning supplies can do the trick.

Please, leave the blowtorch in the garage. 

Getting your home and life Kosher for Passover shape seems complicated — maybe even dangerous — but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps you love Passover and the Seders and want to take your spiritual journey to a new level, or maybe you try to clean for the holiday but feel that it is a totally impossible task — use this guide (and accompanying podcast classes) to get Passover Ready.

The process does not have to be crazy or impossible. Starting seven years ago I began publishing the Going Kosher For Passover One-Page Guide on my website. Since then it has been downloaded tens of thousands of times.

This year I did not make any changes from last year in terms of process, but I will add this piece of advice:

Do what you can, do it without stress, and every year aim to take your Passover koshering to the next level.

And if you are experienced in koshering for Passover you should still read this guide as it can help you do it more efficiently and effectively. While a blowtorch is a method some use – you can leave your’s in the garage.

As an addition to the Guide, consider listening to several classes that I recorded last year that go into depth on Passover and koshering:

Going Kosher For Passover

Going Kosher For Passover – Seder Edition

Mystical Passover

May you and your loved ones have a joyous and healthy Passover!

A Dream Realized – The Finest Kosher For Passover Slivovitz Anywhere

It started when we lived in Warsaw and Rabbi Kastenbaum, our shochet, brought community-made slivovitz from Budapest to us for Passover. It was like nothing I had ever tried, was %70+ alcohol, and redefined slivovitz for me. It had no label, was in clear half-liter bottles, and sealed with a tiny cork.

I found myself on a ski trip on the Slovakian side of the Tatry Mountains soon thereafter. When we checked into the large guest home we were renting with a bunch of Polish Jews for our ski trip, and we sealed the deal with his home-brewed slivovitz. Within a day, I had learned to drink the 150 proof mountain dew first thing in the AM like our hosts.

Hand crafted Slivovitz is unlike vodka is every way. It is delightfully aromatic, bathing your mouth in ripe plum essence. It rolls down the back of your throat without a burn. You can drink it at room temp or cold, without a chaser, mixer, or anything else to divert your taste buds from the experience.

Sadly, poor quality slivovitz has flooded the markets from Yugoslavia, Hungary, and other Central European countries. The heavy drinking blue-color, immigrant slivovitz drinkers just want sliv. They drink so quantities that they don’t care really how it tastes. The cheaper the better. I have also seen plum-flavored vodkas being passed off as slivovitz. They are merely taking low quality vodka and adding plum taste – it should be illegal.

When we returned to the States, I looked in vain for a decent Passover Slivovitz. I tried every brand, and was disappointed at every turn. I made a promise to myself that some day I would make a real slivovitz like we used to drink back in the old country. When we moved to California in 2004 it seemed that destiny was edging us closer, and closer to the dream.

In 2008, a beshert meeting between winemakers proved the missing link. Bill Mosby, a highly respected wine and spirits producer had been making eau-de-vie from raspberries, strawberries, plums, and grapes. He had a special equipment from Europe and sources for the highest quality fruits. All he was missing was a rabbi to help him make kosher slivovitz. The winemakers he bumped into were none other than Jewlicious Festival’s own “Wine Guys” – Jonathan Hajdu and Gabriel Weiss. The Wine Guys told Bill – we have the rabbi.

From the moment I met Bill up at his winery, I knew that this was going to work out to be a beautiful partnership. We saw the operation, discussed how to do everything so that the slivovitz would be not only kosher, but kosher for Passover, and meet rigorous kosher standards. We would have to kasher his equipment, buy new storage barrels, be on site during production, and so on. He agreed to everything, and we started making slivovitz.

It took over a year until we were all satisfied that this was the best slivovitz possible. We brought down the alcohol to %43 a bit so that mortals could drink it. Bill’s artist from Europe created a stunning label. It was bottled on Rosh Codesh Adar.

Currently, this much anticipated Cal Kosher Certified, Mosby Plum Brandy Slivovitz, Kosher for Passover is available in LA at two stores – K and L Wine Merchants, with online ordering, and The Duke of Bourbon of Canoga Park. Both stock the slivovitz, and K and L will ship it to you around the country.

Wishing everyone a kosher and joyous Passover!