Food With Layers Of Meaning | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Food With Layers Of Meaning

Food With Layers Of Meaning

Light, meatless meals for the Nine Days.

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Tisha b’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, seems especially sad this year as we witness worldwide violence and political upheaval. It also falls on July 31, which coincides with the official expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. 

This somber mood reaches all the way into the kitchen. Although we Jews usually celebrate our holidays with festive foods and big meals, Tisha b’Av is a fast day. Dinner the evening before is meat-free and simple, and beyond that, out of respect, for Nine Days before the fast, we eat fish or vegetarian meals. 

As a gastronomic matter it makes sense, too. In the northern hemisphere the holiday comes during the height of sweltering summer, when light, meatless meals are more appreciated. Elsewhere, well, vegetarian and fish dinners fit into a healthy, lower-calorie eating style. That’s always good. 

At my house we welcome the meat-free days with whole-grain veggie salads, rice-and-lentil combos, frittatas and grilled fish, especially salmon. Salmon is like a blank canvas; you can season it so many ways and it all comes out delicious. One of my easiest recipes uses a slathering of orange marmalade mixed with mustard, dill and a bit of lemon juice. No marmalade? Fine. I switch to apricot or peach jam. No dill? Use thyme. That’s how it goes.

Kid-friendly/grown-up-friendly is what works for Roberta Scher, co-founder and manager of Koshereye, a website dedicated to featuring the newest and best kosher products. Among her go-to Nine Days dishes is Muy Bueno Loaded Nachos. This layered dish starts with tortilla chips and it’s topped with Morningstar Farms vegetarian “meat” crumbles (or veggie burgers), corn, olives, cheese, tomatoes and, for good measure, dairy sour cream. Very good, indeed.

Miri Rotkovitz, a food writer for the website The Spruce and author of the cookbook “Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen” (Sonoma Press), says that during the Nine Days, when it is usually too hot to use the oven, she makes meals on the stovetop and turns to eggplant because “it’s in season and even though it is light, it is filling and satisfying.” One of her favorite recipes is a Persian-inspired savory melange of eggplant and tomatoes stewed with fragrant spices — cumin, turmeric and cinnamon — and infused with a hint of tang via pomegranate molasses. She serves it hot, over cooked rice, couscous or quinoa, topped with an herb-and-garlic- seasoned yogurt sauce.

Chard is another summer vegetable that “fits perfectly into a Nine Days menu,” according to Elise Meyer, whose blog, Much Ado About Stuffing, focuses on in-season ingredients. It may not be as familiar as, say, kale or spinach, but well worth a try. Treat the leaves as you would spinach; discard the thickest part of the stem, but include the tender parts. A strata makes good use of chard. “It’s like a crustless quiche,” says Meyer. “So easy. This dish is a cinch to prepare, but if you prefer a crust you can use the same recipe as a filling and bake it in any crust you like.”

The Nine Days is a perfect time “to reflect on the Jewish diaspora experience, and food is a good touchpoint for that,” says Rotkovitz.

Roasted Salmon with Orange Marmalade, Mustard and Dill by Ronnie Fein

Persian Eggplant and Tomato Stew (Khoresh Bademjan) by Miri Rotkovitz

Rainbow Chard Strata from Much Ado About Stuffing by Elise Meyer

Muy Bueno Loaded Veggie Nachos by Roberta Scher

Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford, Conn. She is the author of “The Modern Kosher Kitchen” and “Hip Kosher.” Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at @RonnieVFein.

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