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Healthier Fare for the High Holidays

September 14, 2006
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Jewish food is not traditionally known for its healthy qualities. In fact, it is often perceived as heavy and fat-laden -- a "heart attack on a plate."

This reputation is based largely on our limited knowledge of the food of northern and eastern Europe. But if you delve farther afield, you'll find an exciting, eclectic and above all, healthy, range of recipes from all around the world.

Try these recipes for a vegetarian High Holiday dinner, courtesy of The Healthy Jewish Cookbook by Michael van Straten.

White Beans With Pasta and Swiss Chard

This is a kosher adaptation of the Italian peasant soup pasta e fagioli, and it's closer to the Naples version, which is made with olive oil instead of the butter and pancetta used in other parts of Italy. You can always omit the Parmesan if you're serving this as part of a meat meal.

5 Tbsps. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely sliced
8 oz. Swiss chard or rainbow chard, leaves separated from the stalks but both reserved
8 cups vegetable broth
12 oz. canned cannellini or other white bean, rinsed and drained (about 21/4 cups)
9 oz. (about 4 cups) small pasta such as rotini or bow ties
6 Tbsps. grated Parmesan cheese

Put the oil into a large pot and gently sauté the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and chard stalks for about 10 minutes.

Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the beans to the soup and return to a boil. After 2 minutes, add the torn green chard leaves, and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the beans are tender. Keep warm.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and add to the bean mixture.

Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6 to 8.

Eggplant Rice

This dish is a Sicilian version of risotto. As well as being a super-healthy side dish, it also makes a good appetizer or light meal -- and you can serve it hot or cold.

1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsps. sea salt or kosher salt
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
14 oz. (about 2 cups) long-grain white rice
4 cups vegetable broth

Put the cubed eggplant into a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and wipe dry.

Warm the oil in a large, wide pan, and sauté the onion and garlic until soft, but not browned.

Add the rice and stir until all the grains are covered with the oil. Add the eggplant cubes and stir until covered with the oil.

Start adding the broth -- one ladleful at a time -- and keep stirring until each ladleful becomes absorbed.

Continue until you've used up all the broth, and the rice is tender and nearly dry.

Serve hot or cold.

If serving cold, you may have to stir in an extra tablespoon or so of olive oil.

Serves 4.

Trout in Papaya Sauce
8 fresh trout fillets
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. tabasco sauce
1/4 cup flour, seasoned with black pepper
scant cup of olive oil
2 papayas
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry kosher white wine

Put the fish in a large shallow dish.

Mix together the lemon juice and tabasco sauce.

Pour it over the fish, cover and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Take the fish out of the marinade and dust with the seasoned flour.

Fry the fillets in the oil for about 3 minutes on each side. Put onto a large plate and keep warm.

Mash the papaya flesh.

Melt the butter gently in a clean pan. Add the wine and papaya flesh and warm gently, stirring continuously.

Serve the fish with the papaya sauce on top.

Serves 4.

Pears in Black Currant Sauce

In some Eastern European Jewish communities, particularly in Poland and Hungary, mixing fruit and wine made some of the most popular desserts. Here, the last of the season's fresh currants combine with the first of the autumn pears. The contrast of the sharp and sweet flavors makes a delicious end to a healthy meal.

tiny amount of unsalted butter (or canola or sunflower oil if you're keeping kosher and want to eat this after a meat meal)
4 Bosc pears, cut in half
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsps. brown sugar
1 lb. black currants, fresh or defrosted from frozen
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 cup sweet kosher white wine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using as little butter as possible, grease an ovenproof dish large enough to take the pears in one layer

Place the pears in the dish, cut-side down.

Pour the lemon juice over them and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the fruit.

Sprinkle with the sugar.

Cover and bake until pears are just tender, about 30 minutes, until the fruit is soft and crinkly.

Drain and return the pears to the dish.

While the pears cook, put the black currants, honey and wine into a blender and whisk until smooth. (For an extra-smooth sauce, you may want to strain it through a fine mesh strainer.)

Pour the mixture evenly over the drained pears, cover, and bake for another 20 minutes.

Chill before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.

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