Jewish celebration features health-conscious fare

sour cream, cottage cheese and sour cream kugel — as delicious as they are — go against everything we’ve come to know about health and nutrition.

Because these recipes were developed in Eastern Europe, where there wasn’t a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs, our ancestors created a cuisine which was made primarily of starch. Then, according to rabbi and cookbook author Gil Marks, they “added cheap cuts of meat, copious amounts of schmaltz, (chicken fat) sugar and salt to impart flavor.”

Lately, creative Jewish cooks have been adapting traditional Jewish fare into our health-conscious lifestyle.

“Healthy Jewish cooking is no longer an oxymoron,” Marks says.

Marks modifies many traditional holiday recipes in his “The World of Jewish Entertaining” (Simon & Schuster). Instead of emphasizing “big chunks of meat” as the Ashkenazi did, he uses meat sparingly, as a flavoring instead of the main event.

He uses many recipes from the Sephardim — Jews who migrated from Spain to areas as diverse as North and South Africa, the Middle East, India and, later, to the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey where, according to Marks, they use the three main products mentioned in the Bible — grains, wine and olive oil.

As for our traditional Ashkenazi foods, Marks suggests substituting yogurt for sour cream to top blintzes and borsht, using olive oil instead of schmaltz for chopped liver — even eliminating the liver and substituting vegetables such as mushrooms, onions and string beans. Instead of stuffing chicken with oil-laden bread cubes, he suggests apples and spinach, both traditional for the New Year.

His piece d’resistance for the High Holidays is his Whole Wheat Challah, which leaves out the eggs and extra fat, using whole wheat, wheat germ and honey to provide moisture. He also suggests sweetening dishes with fruits such as bananas and apples instead of sugar. But, he cautions, “You’ve got to be smart with substitutions. Don’t serve a dish just because it’s low fat. Experiment until you find the flavor you like. It’s actually a creative process.”

Judy Zeidler, author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (William Morrow) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook, (William Morrow) emphasizes eating light on Yom Kippur because it’s easier on your system after fasting all day. She serves a plethora of salads, many of which combine fish with fruits and vegetables. One of her favorite combinations is smoked fish with cucumber; it’s refreshing, and it replenishes salts lost by fasting.

Other favorites are beet salads, and combining chopped herring or sardines with apples and onions. She serves cold fruit soups with orange juice at their base, or vegetable soups such as fresh tomato and basil, which are at their peak flavor right now, just waiting for you at the farmers market, Zeidler says.

Honey Whole-Wheat Challah
From “The World of Jewish Entertaining” by Gil Marks, (Simon & Schuster)

If you use dry yeast, the water should be slightly warmer than for fresh yeast.

• 2 1⁄4-ounce packages active dry yeast or

• 1-ounce cake of fresh yeast

• 2 1⁄4 cups warm water for dry yeast, divided use

• 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup honey, divided use

• 1⁄4 cup vegetable shortening or oil

• 1 tablespoon salt or 4 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt

• 3 1⁄4 cups whole-wheat flour

• About 3 1⁄4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

• 1 cup raisins or dried currants (or 1⁄2 cup raisins and

• 1⁄2 cup chopped dried apricots or dates (optional)

• 1⁄2 cup or more, if needed, sesame seeds

Dissolve the yeast in 1⁄2 cup of water. Stir in 1 teaspoon of honey; let stand until foamy, for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water, remaining honey, shortening, salt and whole-wheat flour. Beat in enough all-purpose flour, 1⁄2 cup at a time, to make a workable dough.

Place on a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, for 10 to 15 minutes. (Lightly oiling your hands before kneading makes whole-wheat dough more manageable) Knead in the dried fruits, if desired.

Place in a greased large bowl, turning to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel; let rise in a warm, draft-free place until almost double in bulk, for about 1 1⁄2 hours. Mold it into a round shape.

Punch down the dough and divide in half or thirds. Shape into rounds, spirals or crowns and place on greased baking sheets. Cover loosely and let rise until double in bulk, for about I hour.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, for 35 to 45 minutes. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the challah. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

Makes 2 large or 3 medium-size loaves.

Cold Tomato Soup
Adapted from Judy Zeidler’s author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (William Morrow) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook, (William Morrow).

• 6 medium-size ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and pureed (about 3 cups)

• 1 teaspoon dark-brown sugar

• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

• 1 teaspoon sea salt

• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped

• 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

• 1⁄2 cup peeled, diced cucumbers

• 1⁄2 cup fresh corn kernels

• Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish

• Parsley or basil leaves, for garnish

Strain the pureed tomatoes into a glass bowl. Add the sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Spoon in the basil and parsley; mix thoroughly. Spoon the cucumbers and corn kernels into the center of 6 shallow bowls; ladle some tomato mixture over each. Drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with basil or parsley.

Makes 6 servings.

Flaked Sardines with Apples and Honey
It is important to use good-quality sardines for this dish.

• 2 tins (4 ounces) of sardine fillets, preferably wild, flaked

• 2 tablespoons sweet red onions, chopped

• 1⁄2 cup Red Delicious apples, coarsely chopped

• 2 hard-cooked eggs, grated

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• 1 tablespoon fresh minced dill

• 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives

• A pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1 teaspoon dark honey

Carefully combine the sardines with the onion, apples, eggs, Dijon, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Drizzle with the lemon juice and honey.

Serve with whole-wheat challah and fresh vegetables such as celery, carrots or jicama.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Holiday Vegetarian Pate
• 1⁄2 cup shallots, chopped

• 2 plump cloves garlic, minced

• Olive oil for frying

• 1 cup cremini mushrooms

• 1 cup green beans, halved

• 1⁄4 cup celery, sliced

• 1⁄4 cup Italian parsley

• 1 tablespoon thyme, removed from stem

• 1 cup toasted whole-wheat bread crumbs

• 2 hard-cooked eggs, grated

• 1 tablespoon melted butter

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

• 1 tablespoon brandy

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a heavy frying pan over low heat, saute the shallots and garlic in the olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, green beans, celery and parsley, and saute for 5 minutes more, or until the vegetables are crisp tender. Add the remaining ingredients; mix thoroughly.

Turn the mixture into a food processor; pulse a little at a time until you like the consistency.

Serve with round challah or pumpernickel.

Makes 6 servings.

Tuna Spread with Dried Cranberries and Pistachios
• 1 6-ounce can good-quality wild tuna, packed in water

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 teaspoons mayonnaise

• 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1⁄4 cup red onion, finely chopped

• 1⁄4 cup celery hearts, finely chopped

• 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh Italian parsley

• 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh chives

• 2 teaspoons finely chopped, fresh dill

• 2 tablespoons dried cranberries

• 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios, skins removed

• Parsley leaves for garnish

Flake the tuna into a bowl. Fold in the olive oil, mayonnaise and lemon juice and mix together. Combine with the onion, celery hearts, parsley, chives, dill, cranberries and pistachio nuts. Garnish with parsley.

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