NEW YORK (Oct. 2)
Breaking the Yom Kippur fast wreaks havoc with your best intentions. You’ve only missed two meals, but your stomach is screaming for relief. So when you catch wafts of sweet vanilla noodle pudding and the yeasty aroma of warm bagels, you inhale these floury foods in a frenzy.
The next scene: You are so full that it’s painful to walk. Rocking and rolling, your stomach keeps you awake all night.
Isn’t there a healthier, more reflective way to bring closure to the holiest day of the year?
“You don’t have to pile your plate to the ceiling,” says registered dietician Leslie Bonci, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “While it sounds like a simple thing — you don’t have to eat everything in sight.”
A Jewish woman who often invites a crowd to break the fast, she is aware of how tempting it is to go overboard when a sumptuous spread lures you on an empty stomach. Like many Americans, she serves a buffet of delicacies, foods usually associated with brunch. To stop the pattern of overeating, groaning and regret, she’s a hostess with practical advice on how to approach this tricky meal.
“Place salad-sized plates on the buffet,” says Bonci. “If there’s less room on the plate, there will be less food on it.” If people are still hungry, they can always return for seconds. She suggests presenting prepared foods in small groups at various stations around the room so guests aren’t confronted with everything at once.
“Encourage guests to start with sliced fruit and different kinds of salads,” she says, explaining that they are not only nourishing but sit lighter in the stomach than the bulky carbohydrates that most people grab first. For eye appeal, she serves a platter of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese along with her colorful spinach salad, containing mandarin oranges and dried cherries tossed in a citrus vinaigrette.
“Try serving and eating less carbohydrates,” says Bonci, explaining that because they are comfort foods, people tend to mindlessly down large quantities of them. She suggests placing the bagels, challah, noodle pudding and pastry at the far end of the buffet table, away from the plates and silverware. Let people see the salads first.
Another one of her tricks is to buy mini-bagels, or if they’re unavailable, to cut the jumbo ones into quarters. She discourages family and friends from eating whole bagels, because there are healthier foods on her menu.
“I always do a zesty egg bake,” says Bonci, describing a piping hot casserole of salsa, chile peppers, and beaten eggs. She cuts this casserole into small squares, suggesting the appropriate amount to eat.
While dishes containing fruit, vegetables and protein are the most nutritious, Bonci is not suggesting people forgo the kugels and coffee cakes that people crave. Indulge in traditional favorites in moderation, but consider alternatives that favor produce, such as the corn and carrot Kugel recipe, below, which calls for vegetables and grain. Instead of ending the meal solely with cookies and cake, offer a dessert bursting with seasonal fruit.
Aware that dairy products, which are often high in fat, grace the break-fast table in abundance, Bonci feels this is not a bad thing because cheese offers needed protein. Knowing its fat content is seductive, she suggests presenting cheese in one-ounce cubes or slices to encourage people to slow down. Serve cream cheese on a small plate and replenish it, if necessary.
“As the hostess, I’m in charge,” she says, laughing because she’s not sure that everyone appreciates the trimmed down portion sizes she presents. Yet her buffet can’t be too meager, because her family and friends return year after year.
Of course smoked fish is the quintessential highlight of break-fast menus. Because lox and its kin — sable, whitefish, and sturgeon — are oily and rich, Bonci recommends partaking in limited amounts of them. Even though these delicacies are luscious, remember they are available any time and you don’t have to gobble a year’s supply at once.
While some nutrition experts advise against partaking in salt after fasting, Bonci claims that a sudden jolt of salt from smoked fish does not wreak havoc with bodily functions after a short fast of only one day. “Salt may actually be advisable because it encourages people to drink more liquids, which will help replace fluids lost during the hours they abstained from food and drink.”
Discussing what beverages to drink, Bonci shares some surprising revelations. Suffering pounding headaches from caffeine withdrawal, many people break the fast with coffee, but coffee on an empty stomach is not advisable because it lowers blood sugar and increases hunger pangs.
“You eat more than you want to after drinking coffee,” says Bonci, admitting that her family’s habit of sipping bloody marys and screwdrivers is not any better. “Alcohol stimulates the appetite and causes people to lose their resolve, resulting in overindulgence.”
Orange juice is another popular way to break the fast, but it is high in calories, quite sweet and not especially filling. Water and tea are the healthiest beverages to consume after fasting. If juice is a must, Bonci recommends cutting it with seltzer. Better still, place seltzer in attractive glasses with slices of lemon or lime.
The array of beverages and succulent dishes with their tantalizing aromas are incredibly compelling when you’re hungry enough to gorge on everything in the refrigerator. No wonder it is challenging to make wise choices.
“Pacing yourself is key,” says Bonci, suggesting that you decide in advance how much you plan to consume — and to remember how uncomfortable you’ve felt in the past after stuffing yourself to the gills. No matter how tempting, food doesn’t taste any better in super sized portions, nor are they beneficial for either body or soul.
Yom Kippur is a solemn holiday that addresses serious themes. It demands looking inside and assessing your flaws. Your response to fasting, an act of contrition to cleanse your sins, should not be to pander to impulses the second the sun sets and the Gates of Repentance close. After all, gluttony is one of the sins for which you’ve asked God’s forgiveness several times during the 25 hours of atonement.
No doubt, breaking the fast is a conflicting experience. It’s a communal meal that celebrates life and the pleasure of eating, but also a time to share warm feelings with loved ones without bloating yourself with food.
COLORFUL SPINACH SALAD
1 bag of baby spinach leaves, rinsed and dried in paper towels
1 15-ounce can of mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup cashew pieces
Yield: 8 servings
Juice of 11/2 lemons
1/4 cup orange juice
Salt to taste
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Place ingredients in a small bowl and whisk.
ZESTY EGG BAKE
No-stick vegetable spray
3/4 cup salsa
Salt & pepper to taste
Dash of Tabasco
1/2 cup light Cheddar
1. Coat 13 X 9 inch oven-proof casserole with no-stick spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread salsa evenly on bottom of casserole.
3. Beat eggs with 1/4 cup water, salt & pepper, Tabasco and chilies. Pour over salsa. Grate cheese over egg mixture.
4. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until top turns golden brown and knife inserted into center comes out clean.
Yield: 12 servings
CORN AND CARROT KUGEL
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and diced
Salt to taste
10 carrots, peeled and diced
4 jumbo eggs, beaten
2 14 3/4-ounce cans cream-style corn
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup breadcrumbs
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium flame. Sprinkle onions with salt and saute in oil until light brown. Reserve.
2. Meanwhile, steam carrots for about 8 minutes, until softened, but not mushy.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 13 X 9 inch ovenproof casserole with no-stick spray.
4. In a large bowl, gently mix together onions, carrots, eggs, corn, flour and nutmeg. Pour into casserole.
5. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over carrot-corn mixture. Drizzle butter over breadcrumbs.
Yield: 28 squares
FALL FRUIT CRISP
4 Tbsp. butter
1 16-ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 green apples
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. white sugar
11/4 cups blanched slivered almonds
1. In a small saucepan, heat first three ingredients on a low flame, stirring occasionally until butter melts. Reserve.
2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Coat a 13 X 9 inch ovenproof pan with no-stick spray.
3. Core or pit pears, apples and plums. Skin, slice and place in a large bowl. Gently mix in lemon juice, flour and white sugar. Pour into ovenproof pan. Cover evenly with cranberry mixture.
Yield: 16 servings