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Nine Days

Three weeks* out of the year, law or custom (or a combination of the two) makes cooking more of a challenge than simply keeping kosher.

The easiest is Sukkot, when law says all meals must be taken outside to be consumed in a little shack called a “sukkah”.  Since this is autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, and can occur late in October, one has to be careful to make meals that will stand up to the cold, and well as easily transportable outside.  For those who can attach their sukkot to a kitchen door, this is not a problem.  To those of us who have to walk down a flight of stairs and then through an alley to the back yard, it is one.  I have found that thermal containers make a tremendous difference.  But by and large, it’s just a matter of common sense and logistics.

The hardest is Pesach, because of all the extra food restrictions – the legal one that forbids chometz – all products made from wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye, other than matzo, plus the ones that arise from custom.  As an Ashkenazi Jew, I also do not eat “kitniyot” – rice, corn and legumes.  Others adopt even stricter customs – no “wet matzo”, no unpeeled fruits or vegetables, no food products grandma didn’t use.  Many, just to avoid having *two* extra sets of everything, avoid dairy.  It’s a challenge to make delicious and interesting meals with these restrictions – especially desserts. Most Pesach cookbooks seem to be desserts.  I’m not a dessert eater,and main dishes are often easily convertable, so while it’s still a challenge, it’s not as hard for me.  Also, I use matzo meal.

In between is the Nine Days.  These are the days between the first of the month of Av and the ninth, which is Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), which is a major fast day.  And custom decrees that we do not eat meat or drink wine during these days.  (We also do not listen to live music, wear clean clothes or bathe for pleasure.  We also do not swim and try to avoid many other activities, such as travel.  Men who normally shave do not.)  We can drink other forms of alcohol, and we can eat fish.  We can also use wine based vinegar.  And, of course, as these are mourning rules and there is no mourning on Shabbat, we do eat meat and drink wine on Shabbat.

For those who do not eat meat normally (or who eat it only once in a while), this is not a problem.  Life is as it is.  For people like me, it is a challenge, since dinner often equals meat or poultry.  Some choose to cook fish every night instead, and this is a valid thing.  It might get a tad boring, but it is valid.  I don’t like being boring.  I do like dairy foods, but a steady diet of those is both boring and bad for the arteries.  (I do like fish – very much – but not every night.)

I have been building a repetoire of pareve foods for other reasons, though, so I had that to call upon.

It’s a good idea to have a repetoire of dishes. It means you can plan an emergency meal with just a quick trip to the supermarket or even a parousal of your pantry and freezer.  By this, I mean having a variety of dishes you know you can make well.  I’ll write more about that in another post.

Right now, I can do several types of stir fries and curries, and I’m truly excellent with fish.  I also have several fish or dairy pasta dishes, one of which I can literally toss together in minutes.  About the only thing I did not cook was fresh fish,and that was because we went to a meat restaurant one day, and we had fish then.  So.  I made curry of chickpeas and spinach over rice. I made a tofu stirfry with green beans.  I made two different kinds of pasta – one tossed with ricotta cheese, raw garlic, scallions, sundried tomatoes and sunflower seeds, plus a bit of olive oil. 

The other was our standard pre-fast meal – pasta tossed with canned salmon cooked with olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar  and peas – normally I drain the pasta over the frozen peas, but this time I’d cooked the pasta ahead of time, so I heated the peas with the salmon.  This is “Sarah’s Pasta”, which is a dish I invented for a friend.  It’s one of my favorites, because it makes a great appetizer as well as a first course and it’s good for potlucks as well.  Pretty much everyone likes it, and even my brother-in-law, who is a vegetarian for ecological reasons, approves.  This is because canned salmon is always line caught, not farmed.  It’s good freshly cooked, it’s good cold and it’s good room temp.  I wouldn’t reheat it.

Note that these are all good hot weather foods – none are oven cooked, for example.  I use a rice cooker and I’ll make a double batch of pasta, and the kitchen doesn’t get as hot as it would otherwise.  We had a tremendous heat wave this year, and NYC reduced the energy flow so our AC wasn’t working well, so that was important.

But more so was the ability to make several different dishes in a cooking style I don’t normally use, and creating meals that worked with custom and our dietary needs without being boring.

*I’m using a very flexible definition of “week”

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