Speeding up pre-Pessah suppers

It's well known that people gain weight during Pessah, so factoring this into our planning can be a good idea.

seder plate 88 (photo credit: )
seder plate 88
(photo credit: )
With Pessah approaching, we are looking forward to family get-togethers and plenty of good eating. Even with the extra Pessah kashrut restrictions, we all seem to eat a bit too much. It's well known that people gain weight during holidays, so factoring this into our planning can be a good idea. I like to keep pre-Pessah meals light and healthy to make up for the holiday overindulgence. Of course, Pessah preparations make this a busy period. With a few tricks using ready-to-eat foods, you can put meals on the table quickly while keeping menus wholesome. Smoked meats and other cold cuts are one of the most useful time-savers; they replace the meat that you didn't have time to cook. Andrew Schloss, author of Almost from Scratch (Simon and Schuster, 2003), says small amounts of smoked meat are an easy way "to get a smoky nuance into a sauce, soup or stew." Smoked meats can be quite fatty, however. The best choice for healthy, lean protein is turkey breast, either smoked or baked. Deli meats do wonders to dress up salads. I like to make turkey tabbouleh by adding strips of baked or smoked turkey to the usual lemony bulgur and parsley mixture. A sandwich is an obvious choice for turning turkey into supper. One of my favorites, which I used to enjoy at a Tel Aviv sandwich shop on my way home from work, was eggplant-mayonnaise salad and smoked turkey in a roll. You can also make it with eggplant-tahina. The sandwich is easy to make at home, especially if you buy the salad. Even better, buy plain roasted eggplant at your market's prepared foods counter and add just a little mayonnaise or tahina so it won't be high in fat. For the healthiest version, use a whole wheat roll. Smoked turkey and avocado make another delicious duo for sandwiches. Steve Petusevsky, author of The Whole Foods Market Cookbook (Potter, 2002), spreads mashed avocado on tortillas (thin flat breads) and tops it with lettuce leaves, sliced deli turkey breast and thick, peppery tomato sauce, then rolls them up. You can assemble the same combination in a pita. If you want a hot meal in a jiffy, deli turkey and other smoked meats are good time-savers. Just combine them with one or two kitchen staples. In my kitchen that means canned beans, canned corn, tomato sauce and vegetables - either frozen or fast-cooking fresh ones. Heat the meat with any of these, finish with a drizzle of olive oil and you have a satisfying supper in minutes. You don't need many seasonings; the meat itself adds plenty of flavor. Adding deli meats to soups is also a quick route to a filling meal. A tasty recipe from Empire Chicken, the major kosher poultry company in the US, calls for adding smoked turkey to a black bean soup made from canned beans, sauteed onions, garlic, hot sauce and fresh coriander. To make lighter, faster bean soups, I skip the sauteing and add extra vegetables, like frozen chopped broccoli or spinach. You can also start with a soup from a mix and enhance it with deli turkey or chicken and vegetables. Pasta is a popular pick for fast meals and is a good choice if you are trying to rid your pantry of extra hametz. For a healthful entree, combine turkey breast, olive oil and plenty of vegetables with any pasta, from large macaroni to tiny couscous. To make a meaty spaghetti sauce, warm chopped smoked turkey in tomato sauce; throw in some sliced mushrooms or grated carrot to get a vegetable bonus that cooks as the sauce heats. Another colorful combination is turkey strips, green peas and roasted red peppers from a jar tossed with linguine. If you have cooked rice on hand, use it to create similar dishes. Schloss makes a fast paella by heating rice with smoked turkey breast, chicken sausage, garlic, tomato sauce and frozen peas. Even if you don't have cooked rice, you can whip up some majadra (rice with lentils) from a mix and then stir in some strips of smoked turkey. Make an Israeli salad while the majadra is heating and you have a fast, healthful, satisfying supper. SPEEDY SPIRAL PASTA WITH SMOKED TURKEY Tomatoes, oregano, garlic and olive oil flavor this pasta dish. The sauce needs no cooking; you can warm it briefly in the microwave if you want to serve this entree hot. Use smoked turkey slices, baked deli turkey or home-cooked chicken or turkey. For a healthier choice, use whole wheat pasta. If you like, cook 1 cup frozen green beans or mixed vegetables with the pasta. To complete the meal, serve a green salad topped with toasted almonds. 2 to 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 1 Tbsp. wine vinegar (optional) 1 small garlic clove, minced Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 tsp. dried leaf oregano, crumbled 225 to 250 gr. ripe tomatoes, diced 11/2 cups thin strips of thin-sliced smoked turkey 225 to 250 gr. pasta spirals or shells 1 Tbsp. chopped green onion or parsley In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and oregano. Add tomatoes and turkey and mix well. Cook pasta uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Meanwhile, cover tomato mixture and microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute or until just warm. Drain pasta and add to tomato mixture. Mix well. Taste, adjust seasoning and add more oil if needed. Sprinkle with green onion and serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast (HarperCollins).