Eat your veggies!

Healthful dishes from Jewish-American mothers.

squash 88 (photo credit:)
squash 88
(photo credit: )
Making New Year's resolutions is a tradition that is said to have begun in the Mideast among the ancient Babylonians. While contemporary Westerners usually resolve to eat more nutritious food and lose weight, the Babylonians didn't have such concerns; their usual resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. For my friend Judy Bart Kancigor and me, exchanging ideas on planning healthful, tasty meals is a popular topic of our conversations at any time of the year. We're always trying to find tricks for slipping more vegetables into our menus. "When I think back to my grandmother's cooking," Judy reveals in her just-published Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family, "nothing green comes to mind... When I asked my mother if she could remember eating any vegetables when she was growing up, she said, 'Sure. We had potatoes.'" Still, Judy did manage to gather some vegetable recipes from her relatives for this delightful book, an expanded edition of her Melting Pot Memories, a collection of her family's favorites which she calls "my self-published love letter to my family." Her lively volume is a great reminder of what a valuable gift every parent can give to his or her children teaching them how to make the family's favorite dishes. Judy presents several versions of vegetable tzimmes and a recipe for her Aunt Estelle's 21-ingredient vegetable soup, which includes barley, legumes (dried lima beans and split peas) and vegetables in several forms (fresh, frozen and in dehydrated soup mix), and even some like eggplant and peppers that rarely enter the classic Ashkenazi soup pot. As in my family, Judy notes the important contribution of the Sephardim who married into her family to the vegetable portion of the menu. Judy's mother, like mine, cared about nutrition. "Ahead of her time," wrote Judy, "my mother actually steamed a veggie or two." As proof of how health-conscious her mother was, Judy presents her recipe for fat-free, sugar-free butternut squash casserole made of baked squash pureed with sugar-free pancake syrup, zero-calorie sweetener, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and ginger, then baked with crushed pineapple until slightly crusty. My mother used to make a somewhat similar casserole from sweet potatoes, flavored with a little sugar instead of artificial sweetener. Making a casserole from winter squash is a fine way to get started on the path to good nutrition. You can let the squash stand on its own or combine it with other vegetables for a vegetarian entree. Whether you make the casserole sweet, or prefer savory versions like those in the recipe on the right and its main-course variation, you'll find that sweet squash can be a useful aid in persuading your family members that vegetables can indeed be delicious. LOW-FAT BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH FRESH GINGER For this easy dish, I streamline the usual squash-braising technique by using the microwave to get ahead. It not only shortens the cooking time; it saves me the tedious task of cutting the skin off the raw squash. I simply scoop out the cooked pulp and simmer it briefly with the flavorings. For a sweet, quick variation, omit the onion and add cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla to taste, then stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or honey or the equivalent in sweetener, and 1⁄3 cup raisins or a small can of diced or crushed pineapple; then simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. For a hearty main-course casserole, stir in a can of white beans (plain or in tomato sauce), 1 to 2 cups canned or cooked frozen corn kernels and, if you like, 1 small can of tomatoes (drained and chopped); simmer for 5 minutes. 1 to 1.25 kg. butternut squash (Hebrew dalorit) 1 to 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil 1 onion, minced 1 Tbsp. minced peeled gingerroot 1⁄4 cup vegetable or chicken broth or water, or more if necessary 1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger pinch of sugar (optional) salt and freshly ground pepper Halve squash and remove seeds and strings. Put squash halves cut side down in a microwave-safe baking dish, add 2 tablespoons water and cover with wax paper. Microwave on high power about 15 minutes or until tender; check by piercing squash in its thickest part with a fork. Remove squash pulp from peel. Roughly dice pulp. Heat oil in a large skillet or saute pan. Add onion and saute over medium heat, stirring often, for 7 minutes. Add minced ginger and saute over low heat for 30 seconds. Add squash pieces, 1⁄4 cup broth, ground ginger, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes, adding more broth by tablespoons if needed, or until squash is coated with flavorings and is heated through. Don't worry if squash pieces fall apart. Serve hot. Makes about 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.