Monday, April 12, 2010

I want MORE!

Jews seem to have a thing for abundance.  Pesach is about renewal and the abundance of life and freedom, Shavuot is about the abundance of Torah, and Sukkot is about the abundance of the harvest. Tu B’shvat has become about dried fruit and nuts and Channukah is about the abundance of both gifts and oil.  One of the prominent biblical features of Shabbat was that the Israelites received a double portion of manna, which is a sure sign of abundance.  Even the biblical image of Israel is of "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 33:3).  Jewish life cycle events like weddings, bar mitzvahs, britot mila and baby namings include a seudah, a festive and plentiful meal.  The stereotypical Jewish grandmother is soft around the middle and is always offering more food or pushing leftovers on her grateful grandchildren.  Anyone who has been to a Jewish holiday meal knows what this modern form of abundance looks like.  As a nutritionist and concerned Jew, I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with all of this abundance.

A sociologist or psychologist would say that the tumultuous history of the Jewish people has helped to form the collective Jewish psyche.  Centuries of tyranny and exclusion from society, coupled with the textual basis for abundance, may have created a modern Jew who craves plenty.  While abundance can be a good thing, it can also be wildly unhealthy.  

There is a line in the shema that has always spoken to me: "You shall eat, you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless" (Deuteronomy 8:10).  Nowhere does it say that you shall fill your plate with brisket, chicken, chopped liver, potato kugel and a piece of overcooked broccoli and follow it with a trans-fat filled tasteless apple cake.  This line of the shema teaches that we should eat to satisfy ourselves and our hunger, but that we should not overindulge.  However, we are often not satisfied until we overindulge.  So how do we stop this?

If we pay attention to both quantity and quality we can have large and festive meals and can be satisfied without overindulging.  Quantity is something I have written about before and will continue to write about because it is vastly important.  You should only eat as much as you need and should keep in mind that every bite after the first bite of cake tastes the same as the one before it.  We have to train ourselves to be satisfied with the taste of food and not the amount of food.  This brings me to quality.  Eat good food.  It sounds simple, but its not.  If you're eating mediocre, bland food you will tend to eat more of it - you're not being satisfied by quality, so you will turn to quantity.  Try to fill your meals with strong flavors, fresh ingredients, and things that you truly want to eat.  If you eat slowly you will appreciate your food more and will be able to pause to understand your hunger cues better.  We should continue to fill our lives with abundance of family, community, celebrations and tikun olam, (repairing the world) but must abandon the need for unhealthy abundance of food.  As modern Jews we need to counteract our past oppressions not with abundance, but with satisfaction with our food and our life.

I’ve included a recipe for tilapia with strong flavors like sun-dried tomatoes, olives and currants that is definitely satisfying.  Also, A serving of tilapia is a lot larger than a serving of salmon or tuna and will look abundant on your dinner table!

Mediterranean Tilapia

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced in half moons
½ cup chopped sun-dried tomato (not packed in oil)
½ cup chopped pitted green olives
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons currants
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of red chili flakes
1 cup dry white wine
4 6-8 oz. tilapia fillets

Serves 4

Heat 2 tsp. of the olive oil over low heat in a sauté pan.  Add onions and cover and cook about 5 minutes, until onions begin to soften.  Take the lid off and turn the heat up just a little and continue cooking the onions, stirring often and allowing them to slowly brown and caramelize.  If they begin to stick add a splash of water to the pan and stir to pick up the brown bits. 
Once the onions have reached a dark brown color (this will take about 20 minutes) turn the heat to high add the sundried tomato, olives, and garlic and sauté about 2 minutes, until garlic begins to brown.  Add the pine nuts, currants, salt, pepper, and chili pepper and cook 30 seconds more.  Add ¾ cut of the wine and stir, allowing alcohol to reduce and thicken.  Cook 2-3 minutes, or until most of the liquid had evaporated. 
Remove the olive mixture from the pan and heat the remaining 2 tsp. of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the fish well with salt and pepper, and place in pan.  Cook the fish 3-5 minutes per side.  Just before the fish is done, add the remaining ¼ cup of wine and the olive mixture and let cook 30 seconds.  Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Tilapia is high in protein and very low in fat.  It is also very high in vitamin B12, which is extremely important for your brain and nervous system, and selenium, which is important to the immune system.    


  1. Yummmm... That sounds delicious! Now I just have to find currants. Does it matter if they are red or black?

  2. Since I don't love olives ( I know I should!) can I use capers?