Many American Jewish traditions revolve around food. Like other traditional dishes, ours can be loaded with fat and calories, too. So what's a good Jewish dietitian to do?
By Leia Kedem/University of Illinois Extension
Many people associate Hanukkah with December, but last week Hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving for the first time since 1888.
(The next time will be in 2070, so for many, this was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.)
I was born and raised Jewish, and I often get questions about the culture and traditions. What most people want to know is, why do the holidays fall on different days each year? The answer is simple: The Jewish calendar is lunar, and the Gregorian calendar follows the sun. That's why Hanukkah can fall as early as Thanksgiving or as late as Christmas.
So what does all of this have to do with nutrition and health? Well, many American Jewish traditions revolve around — you guessed it — food. Like other traditional dishes, ours can be loaded with fat and calories, too. So what's a good Jewish dietitian to do?
I recently had a conversation with a friend about why braised brisket is such a popular dish on Jewish tables. There are probably lots of reasons. Brisket is relatively low in cost compared with more expensive steaks — although I'm pretty sure you don't have to follow a certain religion to appreciate that fact.
It also doesn't take a lot of baby-sitting. That is, you set it in the oven and forget it, at least for a few hours. Another thing I like is that it can be used for several meals if you get a larger brisket. Freeze the extras and thaw during the week for a quick meal. To help retain moisture when reheating, I like to simmer in beef broth on the stove until it reaches 165 degrees.
Those are all great reasons, but when my friend asked me that question, only one thing really stood out in my mind. It just tastes good. Unfortunately, that can be attributed to brisket's high fat content. But I insist on having my brisket, and you can, too. Just trim off the excess fat before serving and enjoy a reasonable portion of 3-4 ounces (about the size of an iPhone or a deck of cards).
Another perennial favorite is a noodle casserole called kugel. Kugels can be sweet or savory and usually have a base of egg noodles and a mixture of eggs, cream cheese, sour cream or cottage cheese with fruit like apples or raisins. There are also variations that use potatoes — shredded or pureed — mixed with onions, eggs and spices and then baked.
Kugel can be a meal in and of itself but is usually served as a side dish. It works great for brunch, too. To boost the nutrition, I like to double the fruit and use higher fiber noodles in the sweet kugels. I also use lower-fat versions of dairy to cut down on fat and calories while keeping the protein and calcium.
Here are two of my favorite Jewish cuisine-inspired recipes that I'd love for you to try. Hanukkah is now drawing to a close, but you can enjoy these dishes any time of year. Who knows? They just might become traditions for you, too.
The first is a Texas Beef Council recipe:
Baked Beef Brisket
4 pounds boneless beef brisket
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large onions, thickly sliced
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Place brisket, fat side up, in a 13-by-10-inch shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle brisket evenly with salt, pepper and garlic. Top with onion.
Bake in 350-degree oven 1 hour, or until onions turn brown.
Add 1 cup hot water and cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Reduce oven temperature to 300 and continue cooking 2 hours or until brisket is tender.
Remove brisket and onions to warm platter. Skim fat from juices or use a gravy separator.
To make gravy, combine 1 cup water and cornstarch. Add to juices in pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until gravy boils and thickens.
Carve brisket across the grain into thin slices.
Here's a recipe from the University of Illinois Extension osteoporosis website (urbanext.illinois.edu/osteoporosis/index.cfm):
Cottage Cheese Noodle Kugel
1-pound package of medium egg noodles, cooked and drained
1 pound low-fat cottage cheese
1 pint low-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
1/8 to 1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup light or dark raisins (soft)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup corn flake crumbs
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Beat eggs in a large bowl with wire whisk until light and frothy. Add cottage cheese, sour cream, salt, sugar, raisins and nuts. Add lemon juice, starting with smaller amount and adding more as taste dictates. Stir in noodles and mix all ingredients very well.
Pour about half of melted butter into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, coating sides and bottom completely. Pour in batter. Sprinkle with corn flake crumbs (cover entire top). Drizzle remaining melted butter over the top. Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees. Serves 12.
Leia Kedem is a nutrition and wellness educator with the UI Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 333-7672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.