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Pre-fast pasta

The dishes in the meal before Yom Kippur, although not highly seasoned, do not have to be bland.

Pasta
Photo by: Courtesy
Even good cooks sometimes dismiss the meal before Yom Kippur as simply food for sustaining the body. But the dishes in this essential meal, although not highly seasoned, do not have to be bland.

The reason for avoiding salt and keeping other seasonings light is to prevent thirst during the fast. According to Dr. Michael M. Segal, author of The Segal Guide to Fasting For Yom Kippur (from a Medical Perspective), “one important way to remain well hydrated is to avoid drinks or foods that cause your body to get rid of water. Such foods and drinks include alcohol, tea, caffeinated coffee and chocolate. Another important rule is to avoid consuming much salt. Salt causes a person to feel thirsty despite having a ‘normal’ amount of water, because extra water is needed for the extra salt.”

Salt is present in many processed foods, such as pickles, smoked fish, smoked meats and prepared sauces, and even in some spice blends. Soup powder, a popular ingredient in the Israeli kitchen, is often high in salt as well.

Segal recommends coming to the prefast meal hungry, and eating and drinking plenty during the meal. Another piece of advice he gives: “Make the meal tasty enough so people will eat.” This is the challenge for cooks. Segal suggests using herbs and lemon juice to add flavor.

AROUND THE world, Jewish cooks have come up with all sorts of delicious dishes for this important meal, and in addition to the customary boiled chicken, they often include pasta. Polish Jews, wrote Eugeniusz Wirkowski in La Cuisine Des Juifs Polonais, served an appetizer of sauteed square, ravioli-like kreplach filled with broiled calf’s liver ground with sauted onions and hard-boiled eggs. Kreplach filled with garlic-seasoned beef were sauteed in goose fat just before serving.

Homemade noodle farfel or egg barley is traditional among hassidic Jews, wrote Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of The Jewish Holiday Cookbook. They can be served in soup or as an accompaniment for stew. Her beef kreplach are fried until golden in rendered chicken fat.

A flavorful accompaniment for boiled chicken is toasted fidellos. This dish of thin pasta is “a very old Spanish-Jewish dish that survived in the Jewish kitchens of Latin America,” wrote Rabbi Robert Sternberg in The Sephardic Kitchen. The pasta gains a nutty flavor from being sauteed in olive oil, and then cooks in a sauce made of sauteed onions, tomatoes and water.

The seuda mafseket, or feast before the fast, is not a meal to be eaten quickly, wrote Martine Chiche-Yana, author of La Table Juive (the Jewish table). The spread should be copious and should consist of several dishes fit for a holiday, including a diversity of vegetables. Instead of serving spicy dishes that provoke thirst, slightly sweet flavors are desirable “to sweeten the judgment” on Yom Kippur.

Among Jews from Algeria, the pre-fast repast is anything but boring. According to Melanie Bacri, author of 100 Recettes de Cuisine Familiale Juive d’Algerie, the Yom Kippur eve meal traditionally has seven different dishes. Chicken, beef or mutton soup is served in her family with couscous, which is in fact tiny pasta. She makes the flavorful soup by sauteing the meat, as well as onions and tomatoes, before cooking them in water, and adds chickpeas, carrots, turnips and zucchini. The rich soup is served from a tureen and guests use the broth to moisten the couscous.

This is just the beginning of the Bacri family’s pre-fast couscous feast. It also includes a stew of tiny beef cubes with garlic and red pepper; meatballs flavored with onion, garlic and parsley, poached in chicken broth; and white bean stew cooked with beef, olive oil, garlic, paprika and dried hot pepper.

HERE ARE a few tips for enhancing the pre-fast meal:

• Protein and fat help keep a person satiated for longer. To make a pasta recipe more substantial, add cooked beans, lentils or chickpeas. Be more generous than usual with the olive oil; use extra virgin for more flavor.

• Cook pasta in homemade, unsalted chicken soup instead of using salted water, or moisten the cooked pasta with a little of the soup at serving time.

• For a quick, tasty noodle dish, mix the cooked noodles with cooked chicken strips and French pistou – a cheese-free pesto made of garlic blended with fresh basil and olive oil.

• The natural flavors of many vegetables can make up for the lack of salt and spice. Cooked vegetables are useful in creating tasty, satisfying dishes that are perfect for the meal before the fast. For example, I cook broccoli florets with carrot slices and mix them with pasta shells, olive oil, fresh thyme or basil, grated lemon zest and a touch of fresh lemon juice. This simple dish is good alongside cooked chicken, or with chicken strips mixed into the dish.

Of course, you can save some of each dish that you make for the pre-fast dinner to serve the following day at the break-thefast meal, and at that time you can season it generously. The food is guaranteed to taste better. After all, hunger is the best of spices.

Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.

COUSCOUS WITH CILANTRO, PESTO AND ALMONDS

The pesto that flavors this easy-to-make casserole of couscous and vegetables is similar to a classic pesto but replaces the basil with cilantro (fresh coriander) and has no cheese.

Serve it with cooked chicken or mix two cups shredded cooked chicken into the pesto before layering it with the couscous.

Makes 4 servings.

31⁄2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade and salt-free

2 large carrots, sliced 1 cm. (about 1⁄2 inch) thick

2 medium zucchini, sliced 1 cm. (about 1⁄2 inch) thick

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

280 gr. (10 ounces) couscous (12⁄3 cups)

salt and freshly ground pepper (optional)

2 large garlic cloves

1 cup small cilantro (fresh coriander) sprigs

1⁄2 teaspoon paprika pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

1⁄4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 175ºC (350ºF). Bring broth and carrots to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat for 7 minutes. Add zucchini, return to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to broth in saucepan and return to a boil. Stir in couscous. Cover pan. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pesto: Finely chop garlic in food processor. Add cilantro and chop fine. Transfer to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper to taste; mix well. Mix lightly with chicken. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Oil an 8- to 10-cup baking dish. Spoon half the couscous into the dish. Top with the pesto mixture, then with the cooked vegetables. Add the remaining couscous and mound it in a smooth layer. Sprinkle with the almonds. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until almonds brown and casserole is hot.

SYRIAN-STYLE CHICKEN AND SPAGHETTI

This recipe is from The Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene. The cooked chicken is baked with spaghetti in a tomato sauce enriched with the aromatic chicken broth. All the seasonings can be adjusted to taste.

Makes about 6 servings.

About 1.6 kg (31⁄2 pounds) meaty chicken pieces (remove skin, if desired)

2 cups cold water

1 large onion, diced

2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced

1⁄2 tsp. ground paprika

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice

1⁄2 tsp. salt (optional)

1⁄4 to 1⁄2 tsp. white or black pepper, preferably freshly ground

450 gr. (1 pound) thin spaghetti, broken into 7.5- to 10-cm (3- to 4-inch) lengths

1 Tbsp. olive oil

170 gr. (6 ounces) tomato paste

1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano leaves

Put chicken pieces in an ovenproof 6-liter (6-quart) or similar soup pot or stew pan. Mix the water with the onion, garlic, paprika, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper and pour mixture over chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat; then cover the pot and lower the heat. Simmer the chicken for about 1 hour, or until it is quite tender.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes less than indicated on the package directions, so it is still quite firm. Drain spaghetti well and rinse it briefly under cold water; then drain again.

Toss the spaghetti with the oil so the strands do not stick together. Set aside.

Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the cooked chicken from the broth in the pot. Set the chicken aside momentarily. (If desired, it may be cooled slightly and boned.) Add the tomato paste and oregano to the broth and stir until they are completely mixed in.

Bring the sauce to a simmer for 5 minutes, stirring; then remove it from the heat. Stir the spaghetti into the sauce; then bury the chicken pieces in the spaghetti.

Cover the pot loosely with foil and put it in a preheated 175ºC (350ºF) oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce is absorbed.


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