While Rosh Hashanah is one of Judaism's most joyous holidays, it's also the start of a series of celebrations and sumptuous meals, and a challenge for people trying to maintain their weight.
This is especially true for observant Jews who, by the end of Sukkot's eight days, might consume about 20 holiday meals, if you include Shabbat dinners and lunches, which often don't overlap with this string of fall holidays. Because Jewish mothers love to feed their families, these joyous meals come with several courses, including dishes that rekindle our best memories of home.
"This is prime eating season," says Azriela Jaffe, author of After the Diet: Delicious Kosher Recipes With Less Fat, Calories and Carbohydrates (Hakoras Hatov Publishing, 2005). "By the time the holidays are over, you can gain 10 pounds without even thinking."
She knows this from experience — every Rosh Hashanah, it used to happen to her and her husband, Stephen.
"So much of Jewish celebrations centers on food," says Jaffe, who came from a secular background, and has become increasingly more observant over the past 13 years. She and her husband have moved several times so that their children could attend schools offering Jewish education. "Each new community was more observant, but also more expensive. Our houses have become smaller while our waistlines have expanded."
A mother of three, Jaffe hosts Rosh Hashanah and other autumn holidays, inviting friends and extended family. "When you start celebrating every holiday, there's multiple excuses for eating and overeating."
Disturbed by their accumulating pounds, she and Stephen tried several trendy weight-loss programs. On weekdays, they'd virtuously adhere to whatever diet they were following. But starting on Shabbat eve, they took a break, not watching their weight until Monday morning. Every weekend, they seemed to undermine whatever progress they had achieved during the week.
When Jaffe learned that Stephen had high blood pressure and dangerous cholesterol levels, she started rethinking their approach to food and holiday entertaining. She was a competent cook who'd already published 13 books, including, What Do You Mean, You Can't Eat in My Home? — a guide to how newly observant Jews and their less observant relatives can still get along.
Then and there, she decided: "I don't believe in diets."
For the most part, they're effective only in the short run. Soon people feel denied, go overboard, and regain whatever weight they lost — and then some.
She then spent 18 months creating After the Diet, which features 165 tasty kosher recipes lower in everything that's bad for your health. Her recipes are lighter than their counterparts, but not so dietetic that they've lost all flavor.
While Jaffe worked on her cookbook, her family was in heaven: "I would give my husband nine variations of chocolate mousse to sample."
And she spent a small fortune on groceries experimenting, testing and retesting recipes. "I didn't want any of my recipes to bomb," she admits.
Her concept is to eat reasonable amounts of great-tasting foods. Visit her Web site (www.azriela.com) to see the wide range of recipes her cookbook offers.
The end result: She and Stephen each lost 10 pounds, and his cholesterol and blood pressure are now within normal range. She also feels their new approach to food is setting a good example for their kids.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, people who watch their weight often feel helpless against the onslaught of meals they'll soon be facing. Jaffe's recipes provide healthier ways to prepare the strudels and kugels associated with the upcoming holidays — without sacrificing their allure.
If you've ever tasted a classic Beef Stroganoff with its creamy sauce, one bite of Jaffe's rendition will make you swear you're eating it again. Her secret ingredient is pareve sour cream, which infuses flavor rich enough for a Romanov.
Sweet Red Cabbage comes from Jaffe's German Jewish family, who ate this traditional dish every Rosh Hashanah. Because the original recipe was swimming in sugar, Jaffe achieved its sweet-and-sour punch with lemon juice and Splenda.
The problem with most kugels is that they are high in sugar and refined flour, and low on nutrients. Jaffe's recipe — which calls for whole-wheat noodles, cauliflower and onions — is so delicious that your guests will beg for the recipe.
And believe it or not, Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cake is a nondairy recipe. "This dessert is an excellent example of my cookbook's theme," explains Jaffe. "This is not a low-calorie cake. My book is not about deprivation, but transforming recipes into something healthier and less fattening."
She achieves this by using canola oil instead of butter, as well as Egg Beaters and Splenda. Best of all, the cake's easy to make!
"At Rosh Hashanah, you don't want to feel like you're on a diet," insists the cook and author. "Who wants to eat raw carrots and low-fat cottage cheese?"
Instead, she intends to partake in apples and honey, challah, and Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cake. Her new goal is for her bathroom scale. It should not budge until the end of Sukkot, when life and eating patterns return to normal.
"You're not supposed to be deprived on Yom Tov," or the holiday, says Jaffe, who feels that Jewish holidays are not a time to count calories. "That's not my cookbook's philosophy."
1/3 cup flour (white, or 50/50 white and wheat)
1 tsp. salt
2 lbs. kosher pepper steak, cut into 2-inch strips
1 Tbsp. pareve margarine
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups canned kosher beef broth
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2/3 package of wheat egg noodles
6 oz. nondairy sour cream
Combine flour, salt, and beef in a large, zippered plastic bag.
Shake to coat beef with flour mixture.
Start boiling water for the noodles.
Melt margarine in a skillet.
Add onion to skillet. Sauté for 2 minutes, or until tender.
Add beef-and-flour mixture to the skillet. Sauté until beef is browned, turning every once in awhile. This step will go more quickly in a cast-iron skillet.
Gradually add broth, scraping skillet to loosen browned bits. Add mushrooms.
Cover and cook on low-medium heat, simmering for 10 to 30 minutes, until meat and mushrooms are tender. (Why the wide range in time? Because depending on the cut of meat, times can vary to achieve the ends you want — tender meat!)
Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package directions.
Remove skillet from heat.
Gradually stir in sour cream.
Cook, uncovered, with residual heat for 1 minute, or until heated through. Do not boil!
Serve over top the cooked egg noodles.
Sweet Red Cabbage
1 small red cabbage (about 2 cups when shredded)
1 firm apple
1/2 cup Splenda
Slice cabbage. Dice apple.
Place the cabbage and apple in a Dutch oven.
Squeeze entire lemon over them, straining out the pits. Add Splenda and stir ingredients.
Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Serves 4 to 6.
Savory Noodle Kugel With Caramelized Onions and Cauliflower
2-3 large onions, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
pepper to taste
12 oz. whole-wheat noodles
1 medium-sized head of cauliflower, cored and cut into florets, and washed well
1/2 cup Egg Beaters
1/2 cup kosher chicken consommé
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook onions and one-half teaspoon of salt in one to two tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat, until onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until they are golden-brown and sweet, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, follow package directions and cook noodles in a large pot until al dente.
In a second pot, steam cauliflower until mostly tender, but still slightly crunchy inside. Drain noodles and cauliflower.
In a greased 8×8-inch baking dish, combine the onions with remaining olive oil, noodles, cauliflower, Egg Beaters and consommé. Add salt and pepper.
Cover dish tightly with a layer of parchment and foil.
Bake for about 20 minutes in the center of the oven. Remove the parchment and foil.
Continue baking until surface noodles are golden and center is hot, about 20 minutes longer.
Serve warm, 5 to 10 minutes out of the oven. Freezes well.
Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cake
11/2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup Splenda
1 tsp. instant coffee, microwaved in 3/4 cup water for one minute
1/4 cup Egg Beaters
3/4 cup pareve chocolate chips
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup pareve cocoa
1/2 cup applesauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix until thoroughly blended.
Spray a Bundt pan with oil. Pour batter into pan.
Bake about 40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Makes 16 servings.