What do you think is the most important cooking ingredient, and you will rarely see it in the ingredient list of any recipe? It is water. Water is the basis for soup, the builder of sauces, the braise of beef. It deglazes a pan, fluffs up a cake and adds crunch to a cookie. We boil it to cook rice, pasta, potatoes and I’m sure you can think of a dozen more ways water is essential in your kitchen.
Almost every food contains water, as it is essential to all of life. Every system in our bodies depends on water, from sight to hearing, to our heartbeat and our lung capacity. Our bodies are approximately three-fourths water and most of the foods we prepare hold about the same amount. The water we consume transports and transforms our food into materials our body can use, and expedites the removal of wastes it cannot use.
Water is a lubricant, a solvent and our thermostat. As a lubricant it provides a medium for the transport of materials throughout our bodies. It cushions our joints, surrounds vital organs and moisturizes our skin. Water dissolves nutrients so our bodies can absorb them and dilutes toxins to reduce their harmful effects. In hot weather water in the form of perspiration cools us, and when the air chills us, water acts as insulation to help warm us up.
The temperature of the water we drink makes a difference too. Tissues can best absorb and make use of water when it is sipped rather than gulped, and cool rather than iced. Drunk in this way, water can replace your afternoon caffeine fix, as the cause of tiredness is often traced to dehydration. Heated liquids can also be reviving. A bowl of hot soup or herbal tea delivers nourishment and healing properties quickly to the body. Even a mug of steaming water has a calming, as well as a warming effect.
The specific health benefits of water are debated, but most medical professional agree that we do not consume enough water through our food to keep our bodies at optimum performance. One study involving more than 20,000 men and women determined that adults drinking just 5 or more glass of water each day were about 50% less likely to die from a heart attack. Other research has shown that drinking water helps maintain proper blood pressure, provides essential minerals, improves mental performance, increases athletic performance, and helps regulate digestion. All this, with zero calories!
Water is so important to life that it is a metaphor for Torah:The Talmud (Baba Kama 82a) says this is spiritual thirst; we will be satisfied and refreshed from drinking in the words of Torah.
" EVERYONE... THIRSTS FOR WATER” (Isaiah 55:1)
Just as water has no taste unless one is thirsty; so too, Torah has no taste unless the person desires it. Then it is delicious and refreshing.
Just as water leaves a high place and flows to a low one; so too, the Torah. If one is haughty, the words fall away and when one learns in humility, the words of Torah flow toward him.
Just as everyone needs water, whether they are rich or poor, wise or simple; so too, a great person can become wiser by learning with someone less endowed.
Just as water is cleansing; so too, when we immerse ourselves in words of Torah we are purified.
Just as water makes all life grow; so too, the words of the Torah are essential to the Jew, and a source of life for the world.
Just as rain water falls in drops and becomes streams, then rivers, so too with the Torah; one studies a bit today and adds some more tomorrow, then in time he will become like a flowing stream, and a mighty river.
In a busy household, the kitchen is always open. As the days grow cooler, it’s nice to have a pot of soup ready, warming on the stove, standing by to quell the stomachs of a hungry family. Two delicious and economical water based soups are below.
-George Mateljan, The World's Healthiest Foods, An Essential Guide to Your Healthier Way of Eating, 2006
Renee Chernin lives with her husband, David, in Jerusalem’s Old City where she writes and cooks while working on her forthcoming cookbook, “Cooking for The King,” the book of Torah insights, recipes and cooking tips designed to bring majesty to the mundane. Get a glimpse of more essays and recipes on http://www.thekosherchannel.com
DIET VEGETABLE SOUP
That kids just love!
The best diet is a good plan for a positive overall approach to physical health. This includes what we eat as well as getting our bodies moving. Drinking 5-8 glasses of water a day and eating lots of fresh vegetables energizes and keeps us in an overall frame of health, making exercise a habit that is easier to maintain. Eating low fat, high fiber foods before you are actually hungry helps us keep our portions small and eliminate cravings. This soup is great to have around as a mid afternoon snack instead of munching on high calorie alternatives. Eat as a first course for dinner and you will be satisfied with smaller portions. For a more filling meal add carbs such as -a can of corn, cubed potato, cooked rice or orzo pasta.
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
7 cups water
1 tablespoon pareve chicken soup mix
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion and saute’ until limp, about 5 minutes. If onion sticks, add water, a tablespoon at a time and stir quickly. The onion will release.
2. Add carrots, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, bay leaf and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and add soup mix, garlic powder, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for one hour. Remove bay leaf before serving.
Makes: 10-12 servings
Can make ahead, Can freeze
Active time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
ELEGANT OR EVERYDAY RED BEAN AND BARLEY SOUP
I knew this soup was a winner when I came into the kitchen one Friday night and found a guest literally licking the pot with his finger!
1 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight , see note*, or 4 (15 ounce) cans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
5 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 cup barley
1/2 cup dry red wine for optional finish, see note below**
3/4 cup (pareve) sour cream for optional finish, see note below**
1. Heat oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes or until vegetables are wilted and tender. Lower heat to medium low and add garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until garlic is fragrant. Do not allow garlic to brown.
2. Rinse and drain beans. Add beans, water and bay leaf to vegetables in soup pot. Bring to a boil, stir and lower heat. Simmer soup, uncovered, for one hour. If using canned beans, simmer 20 minutes.
3. Remove bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Alternatively, puree soup in batches in the work bowl of a food processor. (Use caution when processing hot liquids, it is best to wait until the soup cools for this variation of step 3.)
4. Add barley and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes. (you may need to add water before serving, as the barley will continue to absorb and thicken soup)
*To soak beans, rinse well, then place in a bowl with water to cover by about 2”. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least four hours, preferably overnight.
**Wine adds depth and character to plain fare and elevates these humble ingredients to a refined place on the Shabbos Table. To serve, ladle into soup bowls. Top with a dollop of (pareve) sour cream and/or dtizzle with 1-2 teaspoons dry red wine.
Makes: 10-12 servings
Can make ahead
Active time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes