By CLAIRE HOPLEY
Published on March 23, 2007
PHOTO COURTESY OF FELDHEIM PUBLISHERS
Nechama Cohen, author of "En'LITE'ned Kosher Cooking," writes that she serves this beet salad on the afternoon of the day preceding the Passover Seder.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the incidence of adult diabetes has increased by 50 percent in the last 10 years. At this rate it will increase another 165 percent by 2050.
The leading controllable risk factor for diabetes is obesity, so by reducing weight many people can avoid diabetes, while those already diagnosed with the illness can improve their blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. Diabetics not only have to limit the amount of sugar they consume, but also carbohydrates, which are converted to sugar in the body.
Since all grains and quite a few vegetables and fruits as well as wine and other alcoholic drinks are rich in carbohydrates, this means that those with diabetes have to fine-tune their eating. For many this means eating in a completely different way. Imagine how much more difficult this is to do if you follow a dietary regimen that already puts some foods off limits.
That was the case for Israeli writer Nechama Cohen. She was living a traditional Jewish life, which included keeping kosher, when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Trained in both social work and nutrition, her response was to develop recipes that followed the Jewish dietary laws in addition to meeting her needs as a diabetic.
She also began a support group so people in her situation could share problems and ideas. The group eventually became The Jewish Diabetes Association, a non-profit, non-sectarian organization that educates people about the multiple causes of diabetes, and stresses the need for prevention and care as well as for education.
Now, in line with the educational mission of the organization, Cohen has written an informative and inspiring cookbook called "Enlitened Kosher Cooking" (Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem and New York, $39.95).
In the book, the word "enlitened" is always printed with the letters "lite" in a different color, and underlined with a little Nike-like swoosh. The odd spelling is helpful because it is a reminder that the diabetic diet that Cohen explores is actually a light diet that can help any overweight person shed pounds and thereby avoid the potential for developing diabetes.
But you don't need to be diabetic or Jewish to benefit from the recipes in this book. They are inventive, tempting, and in many cases, illustrated with the sort of color photographs that make you want to get up and make them right this minute. Equally, everyone can benefit by reading Cohen's introductory nutritional information, which guides the reader through the basic food groups, and explains carbohydrates in particular detail.
Over the last couple of decades it's been hard to miss the ever-changing pronouncements about the role of carbohydrates in our diet. In the early '90s many were seduced by the idea that food low in fats but high in carbohydrates would be so satisfying that we would consume fewer calories. No such thing happened, largely because nutritionists' ideas of portion size were radically different from those held in the real world of yumming up pasta, pizza and baked goodies.
Later, high-protein diets came into vogue, including Atkins, which, in its early phases, virtually cuts out all carbohydrates. Other diet schemes similarly tinker with carbohydrate recommendations. Thus, no one can be blamed for either being mystified or throwing in the towel and deciding to pay no attention whatsoever.
Cohen does not make specific recommendations about any of these diets, maintaining instead, "It is quite clear that people with diabetes, elevated blood sugars, and/or insulin resistance need to be more aware of the types and amounts of carbs they are eating."
She notes that people on low-carb diets lose more weight than people on low-fat diets, but points out, "One tends to take off the pounds fast. However, once off the regimen, the person can gain them back equally fast. "It is very important to learn how to start re-introducing carbs slowly and correctly."
Cohen is good about suggesting substitutions for traditional ingredients such as sugar, explaining where alternatives work, and where they don't. Likewise, she gives good advice on oils and soy products.
Her recipes are also a big help in suggesting how adaptations can be made. Since her book features kosher cooking, many of them are for classic Jewish dishes such as knaidlach (matzoh balls), gefilte fish, borscht, challah and latkes of many kinds. She also has dishes and menus for Jewish holidays.
Since Cohen is Israeli, there are lots of Eastern Mediterranean favorites such as Greek salad, babaganoush, halva and herbed chicken. But there are lots of American specialties too - like shake-and-bake chicken, hamburgers and peanut-butter balls - as well as Asian-influenced recipes. All these dishes come in lighter forms than the standard fare.
At the back of the book there are a number of charts and tables that will be especially useful to readers with special needs, especially diabetics and observant Jews. For example, Cohen has a page of nutritional information specifying the calorie, fat and carbohydrate counts of Passover specialties such as matzoh. Another long section gives similar information about fruits and vegetables. This is particularly helpful to diabetics or anyone wanting to reduce carbohydrate intake, because while we generally know that grain-based foods are high in carbohydrates, some fruits and vegetables can also contain problematic amounts.
Other charts and tables feature appropriate portion sizes for snacks, sugar-substitute conversions, and food equivalents. One chart is headlined "Eyeballing Food for Portion Size." It includes handy information such as "a medium size fruit is about the size of a tennis ball, an ounce of cheese is about as big as a lipstick and a medium potato should be about equal to a computer mouse."
Passover begins on Tuesday, April 3, and continues until April 10. Nechama Cohen's book has a whole section devoted to Passover, which has its own stringent dietary laws. Below are some Passover recipes from her book. They would all taste equally good at any other time. Look to this book also for recipes for any time of year. It is definitely a book to get if you are cooking for a diabetic, or if you just want to eat a more healthful diet.
Nechama Cohen notes that in her home this is served on the afternoon of the day preceding the Passover Seder.
6 large beets, cooked
1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced
2/3 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 packets sugar substitute
1 hard-boiled egg, plus 2 hard boiled egg whites, sliced (optional)
Mix the sliced beets with the sliced leeks and onions. Season with vinegar, oil and sugar substitute. Add sliced eggs and toss.
MOCK KNAIDLACH (matzoh balls)
These are served in soup. Cohen writes, "If you would like to reduce the carbs, you can omit the potatoes; however the knaidlach may come out a bit heavy."
1/2 pound ground chicken, turkey or lean beef
1 egg plus one 1 egg white
2/3 tablespoons enlitened onions (see below)
3 ounces cooked potato, peeled and well mashed
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4-6 cups boiling water or chicken soup
Using a food processor or knife blade, mix all the ingredients until sticky. With wet hands, form small balls and drop into either boiling water or chicken soup. Cook for 10 minutes.
Charoses symbolizes the mortar and bricks that the Jews enslaved by the Egyptians used when they were forced to build for the Pharoah. There are many recipes for this specialty, but this one is a low-carb, reduced-fat version.
3/4 cup ground walnuts
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup dry red wine
3 packets sugar substitute
Grate the apple into a medium-size bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until the consistency is thick. If you prefer it less thick, add a bit more wine. Store in the refrigerator.
FRESH AND NATURAL APPLESAUCE
Here is an applesauce recipe that you can adapt to your taste by using your favorite tea. For variations, you can add cinnamon or up to 11/2 cups frozen blueberries.
10 medium Granny Smith apples
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 flavored tea bags of your choice
sugar substitute (optional)
Place the apples in a 5-quart pot. Add lemon juice, salt, vanilla, tea bags and water to come halfway up the apples, so the end result will not be too watery. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer until the apples are soft. Hand mix to desired consistency. For additional sweetness add sugar substitute.
This recipe creates a mix of onion varieties that, used together, is lower in fat and carbohydrates than regular onions. In addition, scallions and leeks have more fiber. Nechama Cohen notes that you can reduce the carbohydrates even more by increasing the proportion of scallions. She advises making big batches of this recipe and refrigerating the result so you can have a supply on hand to speed up regular mealtimes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
10-second spritz of non-stick cooking spray
2 cups leeks and scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
1 cup onions peeled and diced small
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
few drops water as needed
Heat the oil and cooking spray in a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a few seconds. Add the leeks and onions. Cook until they start to brown, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and water; the mixture will brown. Cook another few minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan so nothing sticks.