'Understand," cried the distressed voice on the other end of the phone, "my daughter's a vegetarian, and I make her cauliflower all the time. What will I do now?"
Turns out she was referring to a haredi ruling, also promulgated over the Internet, that "cluster" vegetables, notably cauliflower and broccoli, are not kosher owing to the very tiny bugs that may have taken up abode among their tightly-packed florets - not even if you soak them in various substances beforehand.
Now there's no ceiling on piety, and there will be those who will henceforth shun broccoli as they would bacon. But, happily, my research leads me in a different direction.
Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, administrator of the authoritative American Star-K kashrut certification agency (described to me as "right-of-center"), opines that when insects cannot be seen with the naked eye and so are virtually impossible to detect, vegetable and insect are considered one combined entity. In such a case the 1/60 (batel beshishim) rule may be invoked and any insect regarded as nullified vis-a-vis the host vegetable.
Of course, visible insects must be removed, and this is how the Star-K Web site (www.star-k.org) recommends cleaning fresh cauliflower and broccoli:
"Wash florets thoroughly under a strong stream of water. Agitate them in a white bowl. Examine the water to see that it is insect-free. If it is, you may use the vegetable. If insects are found, you may redo this procedure up to three times in total. If there are still any insects, the whole batch must be discarded.
"It may be helpful to add some dishwashing liquid to the water, as it aids in removal of insects - be sure to use a food-grade detergent and rinse well - and to shine a flashlight on the surface of the water to make it easier to detect any insects and distinguish them from bits of debris or detached florets."
Years ago the late, beloved and very knowledgeable D'vora Ben-Shaul told me about a weak solution of dishwashing liquid and water being effective in removing pesticides and foreign bodies from fruits and vegetables. Commercial vegetable washes are also available here.
I MET a rare and beautiful soul recently, a woman who is smiling and serene and looks as if nothing could faze her - especially not Pessah cleaning.
"Once a year," she told me cheerfully, "I just love going through the house..."
I also love going through the house; for example, from the sofa to the fridge, or from the TV to my bed. Pessah cleaning? That's another matter.
HERE ARE two recipes from Mirj, via recipezaar.com, that should enliven the last few days of the festival. Says Mirj of the first: "I found this on a low-carb Web site, and it's become a lifesaver." In the second recipe, banana and applesauce substitute for egg yolks.
SPRINGTIME CHICKEN SALAD
450 gr. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1â„4 cup fresh lemon juice
450 gr. fresh asparagus
1 head iceberg lettuce
1â„2 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1â„4 tsp. pepper
Garnish: lemon slices
Topping: 1â„4 cup slivered toasted almonds
Cover the chicken breasts with 1/4 cup of lemon juice, plus water or broth, in a 23-cm. pan. Bring to a boil slowly over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for one minute. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken, pat dry and shred.
Snap off the asparagus stalks at the point of tenderness. Partially fill a large pan with water and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus, cover and heat until the water reboils. Uncover and boil slowly for four-five minutes until the spears bend a little when lifted. Drain and cool.
Shred the lettuce into a large salad bowl. Combine the dressing ingredients and shake until blended. Drizzle half of the dressing over the lettuce. Arrange the chicken gently on top. Slice the asparagus into six-cm. diagonal pieces. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and garnish with the lemon slices. Serve sprinkled with the almonds.
VERY FUDGY LOW-FAT PESSAH BROWNIES
2 egg whites, beaten
1 cup sugar
1â„4 cup cocoa
1 ripe banana, mashed
1â„4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1â„2 cup matza meal
Preheat the oven to 170 . Spray a 20 cm. X 20 cm. baking dish lightly with cooking spray, or oil lightly. Mix the first four ingredients in a bowl. Add the rest. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Cut when cool.