Excerpted from Food for the Soul: Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem 2008

It's hard to believe that Rosh Hashana is just around the corner. A whole month of holidays – and oh so many festive meals!

You're going to be shopping. You're going to be cooking. There will be food everywhere! And lots of it!

Let's take this short nutrition quiz to learn how to start the New Year off right with healthy food choices.

1. How many servings of vegetables and fruits do you eat each day?

  1. 0 – 1
  2. 2 – 4
  3. 5 or more

If you chose C, you're doing well. Eat 5 to 9 (or more!) servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day and you'll get plenty of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants. Plan your Rosh Hashanah meals around fresh seasonal vegetables. Squash, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens – they're all in season now. And serve fresh fruit for dessert all through the holidays.

2. What type of fat do you use most often (for cooking, spreading, eating)?

  1. Butter
  2. Margarine
  3. Extra-virgin olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is your best choice. Use butter sparingly, just for flavor. Margarine, a source of harmful trans fat, is mainly soybean oil processed with an array of food additives. There's nothing healthy about it. So this Rosh Hashana, dress your salads with olive oil. Use it to sauté vegetables, including all of those onions. And try my mother's honey cake for dessert (recipe follows). It uses just three eggs and no oil at all.

3. What beverage do you drink most often?

  1. Water
  2. Soft drinks
  3. Coffee

Did you choose water? With no calories and no additives, it's the healthiest and least expensive beverage around. Most tap water is completely safe, though in some areas a filter is recommended. Soft drinks are the major source of added sugar in our diets – and they certainly add inches to our waistlines. If you enjoy coffee and have no medical reasons to avoid it, up to three cups a day are probably fine. For a refreshing beverage, thinly slice a lemon and put it into a large glass pitcher. Add several sprigs of fresh mint, fill the pitcher with water and chill. What a beautiful addition to your holiday table!

BRAISED BEET GREENS OR SWISS CHARD (PARVE)

Beet greens are one of the Simanim – traditional foods eaten on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Each of the Simanim symbolizes a specific request for the coming year, and each request is based on the Hebrew or Aramaic word for that food. While eating beet greens (selek), we request that our enemies be removed – yistalek. Leafy green vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Here's an easy way to add them to your holiday menu.

  • 2 pounds (1 kilo) Swiss chard or beet greens, washed and checked well
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or 1 cube frozen minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Slice the greens, including the stems, into ribbons, about 1 inch (2 to 3 cm.) wide. Put them into a pan with the remaining ingredients. Cover tightly and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the greens are very soft and silky. Stir occasionally and add more water if necessary to prevent sticking. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6

BAKED KASHA AND BOW TIE PASTA (PARVE)

Although kasha (toasted buckwheat) looks and cooks like a grain, it really is a seed. It's high in protein and calcium and doesn't contain gluten. In fact, if you substitute gluten-free pasta in this recipe, your gluten-intolerant guests will be very happy. You can serve this dish as a vegetarian entrée as well.

This version of the traditional Ashkenazi kasha varnishkes (noodles) goes into the oven, making it especially convenient to prepare in advance of holiday meals.

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, halved and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, washed and sliced, optional
  • 8 ounces bow-tie (or other shape) pasta
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup kasha
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan with a cover and sauté the onions, stirring frequently, until nicely browned. Place the onions in a large mixing bowl.

Add the mushrooms to the same pan and sauté just until they begin to brown. Add the paprika and cook for another minute. Add the mushrooms to the onions.

Set the pan aside without washing it.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water for 3-4 minutes, until tender but not thoroughly cooked. Drain, rinse and add to the onions.

Beat 1 egg in a bowl and add the kasha to it. Mix thoroughly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan. Add the kasha and stir constantly until the grains are toasted. Add salt, pepper and broth or water and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes, until liquid is absorbed.

Add the cooked kasha to the noodle and onion mixture and gently mix together. Taste for salt and pepper.

Beat the remaining two eggs and add them to the kasha and noodles. Place in the sprayed baking dish and sprinkle with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes, until thoroughly cooked.

Serves 6-8

MOM'S HONEY CAKE (PARVE)

This is the honey cake my mother has baked since I was a little girl. My only update is to substitute half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour. The preparation is unusual – baking soda is added to hot honey, which bubbles up in a chemical reaction of acid and base. Serve small slices of this sweet cake with herbal tea and fresh fruit for a luscious Rosh Hashanah dessert.

  • 2 cups honey
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup strong hot coffee (brewed or instant)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar

Generously spray a large bundt pan or two 9 x 5 inch (23 x 13 cm.) loaf pans with baking spray.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 Celsius).

Heat the honey in a very large pan until it begins to bubble slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda. The mixture will bubble and foam. Stir in the coffee and set the mixture aside to cool.

Whisk together the flour and spices and set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until creamy. Add the sugar, a little at a time, until the mixture is thick and pale.

Add the cooled honey and the flour mixture alternately to the eggs, a little at a time, mixing on low speed to combine. Pour the mixture into the baking pan(s) and bake for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the pan. The cake should start to come away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out dry.

Cool the cake(s) on a wire rack.

Serves 12 to 16

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