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
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
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
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.
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.
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
• 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
• 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
• 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
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Jewish
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
Serve it with cooked chicken or mix two cups shredded cooked
chicken into the pesto before layering it with the couscous.
31⁄2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade and salt-free
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)
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
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
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
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.
1.6 kg (31⁄2 pounds) meaty chicken pieces (remove skin, if desired)
2 cups cold
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)
1⁄2 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
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
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
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.