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Eating Jewish: Get ready to fast with Sephardic fish in tomato sauce

Sephardic fish with tomato sauce.
Photo by Katherine Romanow

Even before Rosh Hashanah was over this year, my mind turned to what I should make for Yom Kippur. The lack of food is usually the first thing people think about when this holiday is mentioned, but of course as a food writer, I like to think about the possible dishes to serve at the pre-fast and break fast meals. The meal preceding the fast, known as the Seudat Mafseket (meal of cessation), is an important meal because it not only helps to sustain you through the twenty-five hour fast, but it also has been ascribed a special status in the Talmud, which states: “Everyone who eats and drinks on the ninth of Tishri is considered as having fasted on the ninth and tenth.”

In order for the pre-fast meal to be sustaining it generally is heavy on proteins and carbohydrates with light seasoning so as not to bring about thirst during the fast. Chicken dishes traditionally grace the table of the pre-fast meal because of their link with the practice of kaparot performed the day before Yom Kippur. However, fish is another great protein to serve.

Looking through cookbooks to find fish recipes associated with the pre-fast meal was more difficult than I initially anticipated. Yet, while flipping through Gil Marks’ The World of Jewish Cooking, this recipe for fish in tomato sauce caught my eye. Having an Italian background, the simple combination of onions, tomatoes and parsley in this dish are flavors that were at the heart of the food I ate growing up and appeal to me because of their familiarity.

Although the sauce in this dish reminds me of my Italian roots, the recipe actually originates in Turkey. Distinguished by the addition of tart lemon juice, this sauce is known as ahilado and is traditionally served over fish by Greek and Turkish Jews on Friday nights as well as preceding the fast of Tisha b’Av. Despite not being traditional to Yom Kippur, I thought it would be an ideal dish to prepare for this holiday because of its link with this other fast day.

This is a lightly seasoned dish that won’t induce thirst during the fast, yet the ingredients still come together to create a sauce that is extremely flavorful with the acidity of the lemon juice working to brighten all the flavors. I chose to use trout when making this dish, although any firm-fleshed white fish can be used and you’ll find other suggestions in the body of the recipe. I suggest serving it with whole-wheat couscous, a complex carbohydrate that will help to keep you full during the fast and some vegetables.

Absolutely delicious and simple to make, this perfect dish will provide you with a nourishing and sustaining pre-fast meal. I wish all of you who are fasting, a tsom kal.

Sephardic Fish in Tomato Sauce (Pescado Helado)
Adapted from Gil Marks’ The World of Jewish Cooking

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes, liquid reserved
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
½-1 cup reserved tomato liquid
Juice of 1 lemon
About ½ -1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 fish fillets (enough to feed two people) of any firm fleshed such as trout, cod, haddock, halibut, snapper, sole or sea bass

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onions until they are soft and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the parsley and the chopped tomatoes without the liquid to the skillet, simmer until the tomatoes become soft and begin to break down, about 15 to 20 minutes.

  2. Add the lemon juice and ½ cup tomato liquid to the skillet, simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

  3. Add the fish to the skillet and spoon some of the sauce over the fillets. Place aluminum foil over the skillet, and cook the fish until it loses its translucency and is tender, about 8-12 minutes. If necessary, add more of the reserved tomato liquid to the skillet if the sauce is beginning to dry out.

  4. Serve warm or at room temperature with the tomato sauce spooned over the fish.

Topics: Food, Recipes, Yom Kippur
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How to cite this page

Romanow, Katherine. "Eating Jewish: Get ready to fast with Sephardic fish in tomato sauce." 4 October 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 20, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/eating-jewish-prepare-to-fast-with-sephardic-fish-in-tomato-sauce>.

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