Unlike traditional holiday dishes that are loaded with fat and calories, these recipes are lean and healthful. But you don’t have to save them only for the holidays. You can use them individually to make any spring menu a bit more special.

This festive vegetarian menu is a healthful alternative to the typical meat-based Easter dinner. The individual courses are light versions of familiar foods, with no compromise in flavor.

THREE-ONION FOCCACIA

Serves 6-8

Foccacia is a thick flat bread made from the same dough as pizza. Garnished with thin olive slices and parsley, this foccacia is both attractive and delicious. The onion topping can be prepared up to a week in advance.

  • Topping
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin
  • olive oil
  • 3 cups red onion, sliced in thin
  • half moons
  • 2 heaping cups shallots, sliced thin (about 10 shallots)
  • 2 cups scallions, sliced fine(about 2 bunches)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white
  • pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons black olives, slivered for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, minced for garnish

Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the three types of onions and the garlic, and saute briefly. Sprinkle a pinch of the salt and the pepper over onions. Turn flame to low and cover pan. Cook for 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the volume has shrunk by about two-thirds and the onions have released their juices. Add the remaining salt and pepper. Turn up the heat to high, and add the lemon juice, mixing continuously. When all the liquid is absorbed remove the pan from the heat. Reserve olives and parsley to garnish finished foccacia.

Dough cornmeal

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon rice syrup
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached white flour

Oil and dust a pizza pan or rectangular baking dish with cornmeal. Combine yeast, water, and rice syrup in a bowl, and place in a warm place for 15-20 minutes until foamy. Add oil and salt. Sift flours together and add. Knead until elastic (about 10 minutes). Cover with a damp cloth and set in a warm place until dough doubles in size (1-1/2-2 hours). Gently punch down dough, roll out, and press into a pan. Let rise 10-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 [degrees] F. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil, top with the onion mixture, and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust is golden brown. Garnish each slice with a few slivered olives and a sprinkle of parsley.

CREAMY WHITE BEAN PASTA PRIMAVERA

Serves 6-8

Pasta primavera is often based on a cream sauce. I’ve replaced the dairy with a creamy white bean puree. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. The recipe is not complicated.

Beans

  • 1 cup dried navy beans
  • 6-8 cups water
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped into
  • 2-inch pieces
  • 8 sprigs parsley, washed
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 2-inch strip of kombu
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

Roasted onion

  • 1 large red onion, peeled and kept whole
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Green vegetables

  • 1/4 pound snow peas
  • 1/2 pound asparagus
  • 1/2 pound green beans
  • 1/2 pound mustard greens

Pasta

  • 1 pound favorite ribbon pasta
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Garnish

  • 8 sundried tomato halves, soaked in water until softened, about 15minutes

Sort the dried beans, discarding stones and broken or discolored beans. Put the beans into a medium bowl and wash. Drain, and cover them with 3 cups of cool water. Soak the beans for 6 hours, or refrigerate and soak overnight.

Drain the soaked beans and add to a 2-quart saucepan. Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil, skimming the white foam that rises to the top. Add the garlic, onion, celery, parsley, herbs, bay leaves, and kombu. Gently simmer, uncovered, until the beans are almost tender, about 1 hour. If you find it necessary, add 1-2 cups more water, in order to keep the beans covered by an inch of water. Add salt and cook 15 to 30 minutes longer, or until the beans are soft and creamy, but not mushy. Cool the cooked beans in their broth. Using tongs, pick out and discard the parsley, bay leaves, celery, and kombu. Pick out the whole garlic cloves and save. Using a slotted spoon, put about 1-1/2 cups beans, 3/4 cup of the broth, and the cooked garlic cloves into a food processor. Blend until smooth and creamy. Save the rest of the beans and broth for assembly of the finished dish.

While the beans are cooking, wash and trim the vegetables. Snap the bottoms off the asparagus (bend the stalk and the end will snap off), then cut the stalks into diagonal pieces, about 1-inch long. String the snow peas, trim the green beans, and cut into 1-inch pieces. Arrange the vegetables in a steamer basket with the green beans and asparagus stalks on the bottom and the snow peas and asparagus tips on the top. Steam the vegetables for 10-15 minutes. Remove the vegetables, add the greens, and steam 3-4 minutes.

To roast the onion, cut it into thick slices. Put the slices on a lightly oiled, parchment-covered baking tray. Lightly brush the slices with oil and sprinkle them with salt. Roast at 400 [degrees] F for 20 minutes or until they are soft and slightly caramelized. Let cool, then chop the onion.

Cook and drain the pasta. Put the cooked pasta into a large bowl. Add the white bean puree, reserved beans, 1/2 cup broth, steamed vegetables, roasted onion, and lemon juice. With a rubber spatula, mix gently but thoroughly. Adjust seasoning and serve in large bowls or on dinner plates. Garnish each serving with a few strips of sundried tomatoes.

RED RADISH AND MESCLUN SALAD WITH LIGHT VINAIGRETTE

Serves 6-8

Mesclun is a premixed combination of young greens like lettuce, chicory, dandelion, and cress. This simple salad, colorful with red radishes, is complimented by a light tangy dressing.

Salad

  • 1 pound mesclun or favorite salad greens, washed and dried
  • 1 bunch red radishes, washed and sliced thin

Vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
  • 3 tablespoons chives, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground
  • black pepper

Arrange lettuces and radishes in a bowl. Put the olive oil into a small bowl and whisk in the rest of the ingredients, or put all ingredients into a small jar and shake until mixed. Drizzle the dressing over the prepared greens and toss well.

Variations

Substitute other oils, such as walnut or hazelnut oils, for part of the olive oil, and rice, raspberry, or sherry vinegar in place of the balsamic vinegar.

LEMON SUNDAE CAKE

Serves 12

Makes One 9-By-13-Inch Cake

This moist, lemon cake is prepared without eggs, dairy, or refined sugar. Serve with nut cream and fresh strawberry sauce (both recipes follow) for a special dessert. Prepare the cake glaze, cashew cream, and strawberry sauce while the cake is baking.

Cake

  • 2/3 cup plain soy beverage
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1 teaspoon nonaluminum
  • baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/3 cup canola or safflower oil
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract

Preheat oven to 350 [degrees] F. Oil and flour the cake pan. Pour the soymilk into a small bowl and add the lemon juice. Mix and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flours, baking powder, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the lemon zest and mix with a whisk to combine.

To the soy-lemon mixture add salt, oil, maple syrup, water, vanilla, and lemon extract. Whisk together until thickened (about 30 seconds).

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and, using a wire whisk, beat together until well-mixed, about 30 seconds. The batter will be thin and pour easily. Add to a cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake looks lightly browned and springs back when touched. A cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out dry. Cool the cake, in the pan, on a rack for 5 minutes.

Glaze

  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract

In a small bowl, mix together glaze ingredients. Using a soft brush, lightly glaze the cake. Cut cake into 3-inch squares and place in shallow bowls. With a teaspoon, spread some cashew cream on each piece. Spoon enough strawberry sauce across the center of each slice so that it pools around the cake. Garnish with a whole fresh strawberry and a mint sprig.

Variations

  • Add 3/4 cup of toasted poppy seeds to the dry ingredients for a lemon-poppy seed cake.

CASHEW CREAM

Makes 2 Cups

A little of this rich, smooth cream goes a long way. Use it to top any dessert.

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plain soy beverage
  • 1/2 cup rice syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Put the nuts in a food processor and blend until they become a fine meal. Be careful not to over-process or you will turn the nuts into nut butter. Add the water and soy beverage and process for one minute, pulsing to break up any lumps. Add the rice syrup, lemon juice, and salt and continue to process until creamy and smooth. This may take 5-10 minutes. Stop the machine once and scrape down the sides. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and process for 10 seconds. Remove to a bowl and store the nut cream in the refrigerator. Stir before serving. The cream thickens as it stands.

Variation

Blanched, whole almonds may be used to make an almond cream, following the same recipe.

FRESH STRAWBERRY SAUCE

Makes 4 Cups

This sauce has a beautiful ruby color. Sweeten to taste since the sweetness of the berries varies. You can use this recipe to prepare other fresh fruit sauces, such as blueberry, raspberry, and peach. The sauce stays fresh for 2 days, refrigerated.

  • 2 pints fresh strawberries, rinsed
  • 1 cup apple juice or strawberry apple juice
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1-3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon kuzu dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, silvered

Halve or quarter the berries. In a medium saucepan, bring the juice, salt, and maple syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add the kuzu mixture, stirring constantly. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce is clear. Add the strawberries and lemon juice, and stir for one minute. Remove the sauce from heat and stir in the vanilla and zest. Place the sauce in a covered container and refrigerate until needed.

Traditional Passover foods play as rich a role in the holidays as the religious and cultural rituals. Unlike a traditional meat and kugel Passover dinner, these dishes are much lighter and are suitable for any spring meal.

DILLED VEGETABLE BROTH WITH MATZO BALLS

Serves 10

This rich but light broth is made from chickpeas, mushrooms, and herbs, and it has as much flavor as the traditional chicken stock. It can also be used as a base for hearty soups such as split pea or barley.

  • 1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 2 leeks, washed well and chopped
  • 4 1-inch pieces kombu seaweed
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 5 shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 12 medium mushrooms, halved
  • 4 carrots, quartered
  • 10 white peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon dry parsley (or 6 stems fresh)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each dried thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (or lemon juice)
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 teaspoons Herbamare (or favorite herbal seasoning salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 3/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

Drain chickpeas and combine with vegetables, peppercorns, herbs, wine, and water in a 6-quart stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Add Herba-mare and white pepper. Simmer another 15 minutes. Strain broth into a large bowl or another large pot. Discard vegetable remnants. Return broth to the soup pot, add the chopped dill, and simmer for 5 minutes. This broth will keep up to a week in the refrigerator or a month in the freezer.

MATZO BALLS

Yields 10 Balls

Traditional Passover foods rely heavily on eggs, but I found that matzo balls are just as good with half the eggs. I also add extra virgin olive oil, which gives them a subtle fruity flavor.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sparkling water
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1-1/4 cup matzo meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (the dough can be prepared a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator). Form into 1- 1/2-inch balls and add to boiling broth. Cover and simmer 40-50 minutes without opening the lid. (If you peek, the balls will be more dense.) Remove and serve immediately. The matzo balls will be fluffiest when just cooked. The longer they sit in the hot soup, the heavier they will become.

CARROT ORANGE WATERCRESS SALAD

Makes 6 Servings

If you’re enjoying a traditional Passover meal, this salad goes well between the soup and main course. Or you can serve it any warm spring evening with your favorite pasta.

  • 5 cups carrots, grated
  • 1- 1/2 cups watercress, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • radicchio leaves
  • 1 orange, peeled, sectioned, and cut into halves
  • 1/4 cup red radish, sliced into thin
  • half-moons

Combine ingredients and serve on a bed of radicchio leaves.

ROASTED PEPPER AND CAPER-BAKED CATFISH

Serves 6

The capers and roasted peppers give this dish a festive appearance. It is easy to prepare and the topping can be made up to 3 days in advance.

  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine or lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 pounds catfish or another whitefish such as scrod

Preheat the oven to 400 [degrees] F. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and bake until skin blisters and browns. Turn the peppers to blacken evenly on all sides. Put the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly. Let steam 10-15 minutes or until the skin peels off when rubbed lightly. Remove the skin, seeds, and stem, and chop.

To a large skillet, add the oil, onion, garlic, and capers. Cook over medium heat until the onions become translucent. Add the remaining ingredients (except fish) and simmer for 5 minutes. Place fish in a baking pan and cover with the sauce. Bake for 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish, or until it becomes flaky.

POTATO PANCAKES

Makes Approximately 10 Pancakes

You won’t miss the chicken fat or eggs in this version of traditional potato latkes. Boiling the potatoes and onions contributes the creamy texture instead of the fat.

  • 1 pound red new potatoes, scrubbed, and sliced into quarters
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, and sliced into thin quarters
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Put the potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic cloves into a medium pot and add just enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil and gently simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables are easily pierced with a fork.

When the vegetables are tender, use a slotted spoon to lift them out of the cooking water (reserve the water) and put them in a medium bowl. On a small plate, mash garlic cloves with a fork. Mash the potatoes, carrots, and onions with a potato masher until fairly smooth. Add the garlic puree and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water. Stir in the salt and pepper. Form about 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into patties about 1/4-inch thick and 3-inches in diameter.

Pour the matzo meal on a dinner plate and stir in the paprika. Coat both sides of each pancake well. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and cook the patties, a few at a time, about 10 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Add oil as needed to fry additional pancakes. The pancakes may be cooked ahead and reheated in a 400 [degrees] F oven until warmed through and crispy.

Variation

You can use even less fat by oven frying the pancakes. Line a heavy cookie sheet with parchment paper. Brush both sides of the pancakes lightly with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons for 10), and place them on the prepared sheet. Bake in a 450 [degrees] F oven, 10 minutes on each side, or until both sides are crispy and golden brown.

MAPLE MANDELBROT

Makes 8 Large Cookies

Mandelbrot is similar to biscotti, or sweet crisp biscuits. This recipe is eggless, but still crunchy and delicious. Serve with Mint Chocolate Glace.

  • 3/4 cup matzo meal
  • 1 cup matzo cake meal
  • 1/2 cup almonds, slivered
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 [degrees] F. Grease a baking pan. Separately combine dry and wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well. Form the mixture into an oval loaf (about 1-inch high and 2-1/2-inches across) on the pan. If it is too crumbly to work with, dampen your hands before shaping. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and slice into 1-inch pieces. Lay the pieces flat on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes on each side. Mandelbrot will keep for a week stored in a sealed container.

Variation

If you wish, you can make mandelbrot with whole wheat matzo meal. Whole wheat matzo meal is difficult to find, but you can make your own. Blend whole wheat matzos into a fine meal in a food processor. Follow recipe as above.

MINT CHOCOLATE GLACE

Serves 6

This creamy, fudge-like glace is the perfect complement for the crunchy mandelbrot. To dress this dessert even more, pour some Fresh Strawberry Sauce over the glace, and garnish with a sprig of mint just before serving.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons agar flakes
  • 2 cups vanilla soy beverage
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons kuzu, dissolved in
  • 1/4 cup cool water

Bring water and agar flakes to a boil in a 2-quart pot without stirring. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occassionally, until the agar is dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients (except kuzu), mix well, and bring to a boil. Add the kuzu mixture, stirring rapidly until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat.

If you have an ice cream maker follow the directions to complete. If you don’t have one, pour into a wide baking dish and place in the freezer. Remove from the freezer in 30 minutes and mix well. Repeat for 2 hours. Serve immediately with mandelbrot. If it freezes solid, remove for 20 minutes before serving, and blend in a food processor or blender immediately before eating.