Fish for the Nine Days
Fish Filets with Lemon and Olives (Ronnie Fein)
During the nine day period leading up to Tisha B’av, observant Jewish families mourn the destruction of the first and second Temples in ancient Jerusalem. Over the centuries, this period has come to mean much more; we also remember the pogroms, exiles, and other horrific insults that have periodically been imposed on our people. It isn’t a joyful time and our daily lives, including the foods we eat, reflect the somber mood.
Meat for example, which has always been considered festive and celebratory, is forbidden, except on Shabbat. Throughout the Nine Days, it is likely that meals will be vegetarian, parev, dairy, or fish.
From my standpoint, I have never understood why fish, or any of the other non-meat foods, is not considered festive or celebratory. But fish is a particular wonder, not merely because there are so many kosher varieties, all with different tastes and textures, but also because it is usually so easy – and quick – to prepare. Most of all, most fish is bountifully flavorful. Even the milder ones are so versatile that you can season them and complement them with so many other tasty ingredients that the “same” dish will never become boring.
Consider the recipe below for Fish with Lemon and Olives. I have prepared this dish too many different ways to count. Here are some of the changes you can make to suit your family, and even make this dish every day for nine days and never eat the same meal:
- Any firm white fish will work: grouper, porgy, halibut, cod, snapper, sea bass, sole, and branzino, for example. Frozen fish is fine! Defrost it first in the fridge for best results. The time for baking depends on the thickness of the fish, anywhere from about 10-18 minutes.
- Plum tomatoes are less watery than others, so they roast well, but any other variety will do including cut up cherry or grape tomatoes, and, in a pinch, some chopped up sun-dried tomato.
- Aleppo pepper has a smoky flavor, which I love with fish, but you needn’t buy some just for one recipe (although I would recommend it as handy for many other dishes). For some sparkle, use cayenne instead (a shake or two), or crushed red pepper. Black pepper. Perhaps a bit of finely chopped fresh chili pepper.
- Red onion adds good color but you can also use chopped scallion, chives, shallot, and even an ordinary yellow onion.
- Any kind of olives are fine; they add a piquancy that is lovely for fish. Capers and caperberries do the same thing. If you have tapenade in your fridge, you can use a bit (spread it on the filets). In a pinch: tiny pickled cocktail onions.
- No fresh parsley? Use chives, scallion tops, fresh oregano, cilantro or thyme. Even fresh mint. It’s just a sprinkle after all. Please don’t use dried herbs, which are meant for slow-long cooking foods.
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at RonnieVFein.