The Nine Days: What To Eat
Light vegetarian dishes work well when the weather is hot and moods are heavy.
Most of us laugh at the old joke about the Jewish Holidays: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”
But even when there's not a war on in Israel, it seems disrespectful in the days leading up to Tisha B’av, a holiday barely mentioned by food writers and never spoken of in humorous terms.
Tisha B’av, which falls on the 9th day of the month of Av (beginning this year at sundown August 4, 2014), is a time for mourning, when we Jews lament the destruction of the First and Second Temples and a variety of catastrophes that have befallen our people.
Out of respect and in remembrance we observe a complete fast on the 9th of Av and there’s no meat at the pre-fast dinner. Meals during the Nine Days preceding Tisha B’av bear this mournful day in mind too and for observant families it’s likely that fish, dairy or vegetarian food will be on the menu.
That’s actually a fortunate circumstance at this time of year because these lighter, healthier foods are fitting not only for the season’s solemnity but also because unfussy meals and quick cooking are what’s needed during summer’s heat and humidity.
When summer comes, Tami Weiser thinks salad, as a balm for body and soul, but says meals during the Nine Days still have to pack a punch. One of her favorites is Fattoush Salad, which is light, but crammed with chick peas, which make it filling enough for dinner. Pomegranate molasses and sumac do wonders to round out the flavor of her version of this Middle Eastern specialty.
On the other hand, Chanie Apfelbaum’s family prefers something more substantial. She creates hearty foods that mimic meat so “that even meat-eaters can enjoy,” and suggests Tacos with Broccoli Slaw or hearty Portobello Burgers with Sun-dried Tomato Aioli. The same goes for Yosef Silver’s family, meat-eaters they, but who fill up with all sorts of interesting vegetarian and fish dishes such as Kedgeree, a dish Yosef was inspired to cook after watching an episode of Downton Abbey.
As for the actual fast, it’s important not to overeat at the pre-fast meal (too much food can make you thirsty after the fast has begun) nor after the fast is over (it overtaxes your digestive system). Dishes such as Sarah Klinkowitz’s Sprouted Beans and Rice are light, filling and also easy to prepare.
While there is no specific food associated with Tisha B’av, it is traditional to eat eggs and lentils, both considered foods for mourners, for the pre-and-post fast meals as well as during the Nine Days. Tamar Genger, editor at the website JoyofKosher.com breaks the fast with Lentil Soup, which she says warms her belly quickly and “stops me from overeating and getting sick.” Yosef serves an interesting Quinoa Majadra seasoned with cumin and cinnamon. Mujadarah is also one of our family favorites. Sarah Klinkowitz serves it too, along with Grilled Red Snapper with Lime and Cilantro.
In our family we also eat a pile of eggs during this season. Eggs are loaded with nutritional value, are relatively cheap and easy to cook and there are dozens of recipes that are perfect for hot weather, pre-fast and post-fast dinners and daily meals too – like this frittata, which can be made ahead and reheated or served at room temperature.
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author and cooking teacher in Stamford. Her latest book is Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, and follow on Twitter at @RonnieVFein.