To an Easy Fast

Each year at the High Holidays, we wish each other "L'Shanah Tovah" (to a good year) and a light fast. But, for many, fasting is difficult and exhausting.

Michael M. Segal, M.D., Ph.D., notes that most people think the difficulty of fasting is feeling "hungry." Not so, he says. Avoiding thirst is much more important for how you feel, so it's important to remain well-hydrated. "To do so, drink plenty of water and decaffeinated fluids, and avoid drinks or foods that cause your body to get rid of water."

Those food and drinks include alcohol, tea, caffeinated coffee, chocolate and salt (forget the pickled-herring appetizers). Processed foods such as pickles, cold cuts, cheese, canned and smoked fishes should never be included in the pre-fast meal.

Kosher meat has a high salt content. So, instead of a meat meal, consider fresh fish and desalted meats such as the traditional boiled chicken.

Here are some of Segal's tips for an easy fast:

· Wear light clothing so that you don't perspire.

· Don't start the pre-fast meal on a full stomach. A heavy lunch could prevent you from eating enough immediately before the fast. Best to have a light lunch or miss lunch completely.

· A large breakfast based on cereal, bread and fruits can provide the energy you need during the day.

· Drink lots of water and decaffeinated fluids during the day so that you are well-hydrated.

And the same goes at the pre-fast meal — drink a glass or two of water, because many foods need extra water to be digested properly.

· Include some foods that are high in oils and fats. These foods effectively prolong the feeling of fullness.

· Salads? Go easy. These and other high-fiber foods that are so important in our normal healthy diet travel quickly through the digestive system. However, fruit is worthwhile since it carries a lot of water in a "time-release" form.

· Caffeine withdrawal produces headaches in people who drink several cups of coffee each day. Prepare for fasting by reducing or eliminating caffeine from your diet in the days or week before Yom Kippur. Coffee also causes you to lose a lot of water.

· And when we come to the break-fast meal, don't eat too quickly. Begin with several glasses of juice or milk so that sugar goes quickly into the bloodstream and gives you a full feeling. Also, high-salt foods such as lox, need a lot of fluids to go with, so that you don't wake up thirsty in the middle of the night.

Most important, don't fast if you have medical problems. People with medical conditions, such as diabetes, should consult with their doctors before fasting. Certain medications need to be taken during Yom Kippur, and it's important to swallow with enough water to avoid pills getting stuck on the way to the stomach and damaging the esophagus. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should also check with their doctor.

The pre-fast dinner is almost always chicken soup and boiled chicken. Not too inspiring, but certainly fills the bill for being light, low in salt and no caffeine. If you're making chicken soup, eliminate the salt and instead use fresh herbs, such as dill and parsley, for flavoring.

However, consider one or more dishes from the menu below — and have an easy fast!

Recipes, with the exception of the Gesundheit Kuchen, may be doubled.

Lemon-Glazed Salmon


8 pieces (4-5 oz. each) salmon fillet
2 scallions (green onions) snipped
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
2 tsps. grated lemon rind
2 Tbsps. snipped fresh herbs, such as parsley or basil

Heat oven to 400°. Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Scatter the snipped scallions over the bottom of dish. Set aside.

Rinse salmon in cold water. Pat dry and arrange in one layer on top of the scallions.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, grated rind and fresh herbs.

Spread a thin layer over the salmon pieces. Loosely tent with foil.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer or until flakes are opaque when separated with a knife. Serve hot.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 255; protein, 26 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 14 g; cholesterol, 87 mg; sodium, 156 mg.

Oven-Roasted Rosemary Potatoes


These cook quickly if started off in the microwave and finished to brown in the oven.

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 tsps. balsamic vinegar
freshly ground pepper
2-3 Tbsps. dried rosemary, crushed

Preheat oven to 375°.

Cut the potatoes in half, then in thick wedges. Arrange, skin side down, on a microwave-safe dish.

In a cup, whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Brush over the potato wedges. Sprinkle with pepper and rosemary. Cover loosely with wax paper.

Microwave at medium for 6 minutes or until potatoes are beginning to soften. Transfer to a baking dish. Brush with remaining oil mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown. Serve hot.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 193; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 31 g; fat, 7 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 10 mg.

Sauteed Zucchini, Spinach and Black Beans


2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 tsps. honey
3 medium zucchini, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup finely shredded spinach, packed
pinch red pepper flakes
pinch salt (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion. Saute 1 to 2 minutes until the onion has lost its raw look. Add the honey and zucchini.

Reduce heat and saute 5 minutes or until the zucchini is crisp-tender — not completely softened. Add the beans, spinach, red pepper flakes and salt (optional). Heat through and serve.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 98; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 12 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 154 mg.

Gesundheit Kuchen


Gesundheit or "blessing" cake is a Hofman family favorite, the recipe brought over by German Jews in the early 20th century. Freezes well.

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
9 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
11/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 cups cake flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 tsps. finely grated lime rind
powdered sugar to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray with flour.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, cream cheese and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the cake flour (to prevent curdling), beating well after each additional egg.

Add the baking powder, the extracts, lime rind and all remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each of the additions. Spoon batter into prepared bundt pan.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Serves 15 to 18.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 231; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 29 g; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 77 mg; sodium, 111 mg.

Italian Plum Compote


Any other soft fruit, such as peaches or nectarines, may be substituted for plums. But the little black Italian plums, in season, make a sweet, pleasingly tart compote. Orange marmalade may be substituted for ginger preserves.

1/4 cup ginger preserves
2 Tbsps. orange juice
2 Tbsps. sugar
2 tsps. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
2 cups Italian plums, stones removed and halved

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the preserves, orange juice, sugar, lemon juice and powdered ginger. Stir until the preserves are melted. Add the plums, spooning the sauce over. Turn heat to medium-high and bring to boil.

Cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature to spoon over Gesundheit Kuchen.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 116; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 29 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 8 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman, author of Mackerel at Midnight, is also a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.


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