Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Restrain Yourself!

With Passover behind us, our pantries are once again brimming with pasta, bread, rice, corn, beans, tofu, and hopefully not too much high fructose corn syrup. We are hungry for the forbidden foods of the past week. Who knew that just one Shabbat without challah could be so painful? As matzah fades from our memories we will wander through grocery store aisles and fill our carts with leavened goodness in the form of happiness. Passover is about restraint; the days immediately following are often about gluttony.

For my first few Passover breakfasts of cottage cheese and jam on whole-wheat matzah I found myself dreading the inevitable blandness and cardboard texture. However, as the week continued, I almost began to look forward to my morning ritual of spreading one side of the matzah with cottage cheese, one side with raspberry jam, and then carefully breaking it down the middle to make a sandwich. Accompanied by a banana and a yogurt, I almost began to think of think of this as satisfying. Then, last night as I took that first greasy, doughy bite of pizza, I thought to myself, “Oh yes! This is what I’ve been missing!” And gluttony ensues…

I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to slip in and out of the matzah haze that settles over Passover (or in the bottom of our stomachs). The restraints we put on ourselves can easily become routine. Even high maintenance eaters like me are adaptable. But, as soon as our self-imposed (or religious-imposed) leash is cut, off we go, into the underbelly of the supermarket for copious amounts of bread and pasta.

Judaism is constantly trying to teach us restraint, especially when it comes to food. Likewise, in order to lead a healthy lifestyle, we must learn restraint. In both realms, Torah and nutrition, restraint does not mean a lack of enjoyment. For example, Jewish texts advise against gluttony, but also recommend that we “eat, drink, and be merry” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). Similarly, although we should fill our plates with vegetables and whole grains, there is nothing wrong with a small slice of chocolate cake at the end of a meal.

So, how do we temper the restraint imposed by Passover with the excess that we are driven to after the holiday and still remain merry? This is a question that has plagued nutritionists and rabbis alike for thousands of years (thousands for the rabbis, nutritionists have only been around for the past 100 years or so). The answer is relatively simple: mindful eating. Think before you eat. Plan your meals. Don’t cut out entire food groups, entire meals, or entire courses. Remind yourself that the first bite of chocolate cake tastes exactly the same as the 27th bite. Consider that you don’t need to eat potato chips and ice cream to know what they taste like. Most important, if you always think of food both as nourishment and as a source of pleasure the restraint will come naturally and your general health and well-being will ensue.
I’ve included a recipe below that is full of hametz but that also exhibits restraint in portion size and fat and calories compared to some of its counterparts. This pasta is high in folate and vitamins A, C and K and is perfect for springtime!

Whole Wheat Linguini with Mint Pesto and 3 types of peas

1 pound whole wheat linguini
1 cup snow peas, cut in half
1 cup sugar snap peas, cut in half
½ cup frozen peas
¾ cup packed fresh mint leaves
¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
¼ cup shredded parmesan

Serves 6

Fill a large pot ¾ of the way with heavily salted water and bring to a boil. Cook linguini according to package directions. 2 minutes before it is done add the snow peas, sugar snap peas, and frozen peas. Drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, chop the mint, basil, and garlic in a food processor or blender. Slowly stream in the olive oil. Remove from the food processor and mix in (by hand) the pistachios and parmesan. Combine the herb mixture with the cooked pasta and peas and the reserved pasta water. Serve immediately.


  1. Thanks for the reminder about portion size as I am about to embark on a trip to the supermarket to buy Ben & Jerry' and pasta. Is there anything else one really needs?

  2. I'm adding this recipe to my shabbat lunch repertoire.