who's in the kitchen

Nine Days with dairy dining

Fancy food ‘celebrates’ our saddest days


Each year, during the Nine Days, I marvel at the number of people waiting on line at the kosher dairy restaurants around town.

Many of these people don’t tend to eat out often during the year and most would never choose a dairy restaurant. Yet during the Nine Days, even with a reservation, you can count on standing on line — sometimes out the door and down the block. Those who weren’t smart enough to make a reservation go from restaurant to restaurant picking the one that has the shortest line. If that fails, the pizza store is the last resort.

And how many of you normally rush home from work during the week to eat out? It’s a given during the Nine Days. Owners of dairy restaurants wait all year for the onslaught. Not to be outdone, meat establishments dream up every pareve entrée they can think of. There is no way they’re going to miss out on the hordes of diners who forgot to make a reservation at the dairy restaurants.

I find it ironic that we are not supposed to wear freshly laundered clothes, take warm showers, listen to music and swim, but there seems to be no issue with going out in large groups of friends or family to enjoy a dairy dinner.

Of course, there are certain loopholes through which you can have meat. Remember those siyum days in sleep-away camp? To some younger campers, it seemed like a string of “Bar Papa, Bar Papa, Bar Papa” — and then meat was miraculously on the menu.

When Tisha B’Av came around and my husband Jerry realized there was a much better meal awaiting him if he were to fast, he did so even though he was only 12. Another of his favorite camp memories was Tisha B’Av night activity; the entire camp was led down to the lake by torchlight to view the burning of an edifice representing the Beit Hamikdash. It was assumed that the younger campers understood the symbolism. To Jerry, it was his favorite night at camp. Having totally missed the point, he simply enjoyed what he thought was a second celebration of the Fourth of July, Jewish style.

Years ago, while working during the Nine Days as a pastry chef at the Cedar Club in the Five Towns, I filled 12 pans with carrot cake batter and had a decent amount left over. As I was considering whether to try to fill another two pans and squeeze them into the oven, the chef, my good friend Lew Levine, was trying to figure out a fish special for the evening. We looked at each other and I said, “Carrot cake batter-encrusted salmon?”

He dipped a piece into the batter, sautéed it on each side, and placed it in the oven to finish cooking. I kid you not — it was excellent. Every person who ordered it loved it.

The last person to order was the owner of a nearby restaurant. I was walking by his table when his waiter asked how he had enjoyed his dinner. He replied, “It was delicious. I see your chef copied our salmon recipe.” It took every ounce of self-control for me not say, “Really, do you always have extra carrot cake batter sitting around?”

We all had a good laugh in the kitchen — almost as good a laugh as the staff got when I made myself an egg white omelet and accidentally sprayed the pan with oven cleaner. But that’s another story. Thank G-d for Poison Control.

For those of you who plan on dining in for at least one meal, try this one-of-a kind recipe.

Carrot Cake Batter Encrusted Salmon

6 fillets of salmon

Carrot cake batter

Canola oil, for sautéing

Carrot cake batter

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/3 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 cup corn oil

1-1/2 beaten eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup shelled walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/3 cup puréed cooked carrots

3/4 cup drained crushed pineapple

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in the walnuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple.

Add Canola oil to a large frying pan and place over a medium flame. Brush the top and bottom of each fillet with the batter. When the oil is hot, add half of the salmon fillets, and cook for three minutes to sear the fish and brown the topping. Carefully flip the fish over and cook on the other side for three minutes. Transfer the fish to a baking sheet, sprayed with Pam. Repeat with the remaining three fillets.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the salmon is just firm to the touch, about 2 to 4 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish (the fish is done when the thermometer registers 130 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of a fillet). Don’t over bake; the interior should be moist.

In sharp contrast to the way we commemorate the Nine Days today, my mother-in-law and her sisters, while in Auschwitz in 1944, insisted on fasting while real fires inexorably burned.

There was no special meal awaiting them at the end of the fast.

A version of this column appeared in 2012.