Why eating cold is the cool thing to do

The Rambam's rules for summer eating still make sense centuries later

By Bernard Josephs, June 10, 2010
Couscous salad with summer vegetables makes an ideal June supper

Couscous salad with summer vegetables makes an ideal June supper

If ice cold beer and Coke had been available during Medieval days there is a strong possibility that Maimonides would have advised his followers to indulge themselves.

Centuries before the appearance of freezers and at a time when ice was available only in the depths of winter, the eminent Torah scholar offered some sage advice about eating healthily and staying cool during the summer.

The Rambam, as he is known, suggested in his writings what appears to be obvious; consumption of plenty of "cold" food without excessive amounts of spices will prevent overheating.

However Maimonides, who must have endured some pretty hot summers in Morocco and Egypt where he was a rabbi, physician and philosopher, was not referring just to the temperature of food.

To keep cool, he recommended small meals that are quickly digested and taken with a sip of vinegar mixed with water, which perks up the appetite and is an ancient remedy for food poisoning. The basic idea was to slow down the metabolism, thus lowering body heat.

Maimonides suggested small meals that are quickly digested

Among his less popular culinary tips was also the consumption of the odorous asafoetida, a plant related to carrots and celery but which unfortunately, in its uncooked form, smells rather like sweaty feet. Despite his support for this pungent plant, many of the Rambam's summer suggestions continue to be followed. After all, who wants to spend the sunny season in the kitchen producing heavy meals that owe more to winter in Eastern Europe than summer in London?

Israelis have come up with a huge range of light recipes guaranteed to tempt even the most jaded of taste buds.

Take for instance cucumber salad, a recipe in which the main ingredient has been grown in Israel since biblical times. Some historians even suggest that the original pickled cucumber dates back to the Second Temple.

Ingredients are large cucumbers, half a medium onion, garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons of sugar, freshly squeezed lemon juice and two tablespoons of vinegar.

Peel the cucumbers and slice them thinly, mix with the other ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for three hours while you treat yourself to a refreshing glass of sangria. The result is a fresh accompaniment to light summery dishes.

Another quick Israeli summer speciality is couscous, cooked in a vegetable broth and served with summer vegetables. To counteract its blandness, top it with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, a little salt and mix in vegetables such as peas and asparagus, or whatever you fancy. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with Parmesan cheese.

Israeli fruit soup is a perfect summer dessert. It is also economical as it requires only seasonal fruit.

Ingredients are three cups of diced fruit, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and grapes, six cups of water, about half a cup of sugar or honey, a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon and two tablespoons of cornstarch.

Combine the fruit, water, sugar or honey and cinnamon in a large pot, bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat for one hour. Mix the cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water and add to the soup. Chill and, for a luxurious touch, add sour cream.

Cooking a Shabbat meal in August, says one food critic, is like swimming in January. Who wants chicken soup and the rest of the heavy, traditional Friday night food when the mercury is touching the high 20s?

The Rambam favoured light, easily digested food and no doubt he would have appreciated marinated grilled salmon served with a mixed salad.

Ingredients are half a cup of olive oil, two teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, two teaspoons of dried oregano, two teaspoons of dried basil, half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of ground pepper, six minced garlic cloves and skinless salmon fillets (the number depends on the number of diners, but this recipe is for four).

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl except the salmon. Place the fish in a container and pour on the mixture allowing half an hour for it to be absorbed. Grill the salmon on a medium high heat for about five minutes on each side and serve. Maimonides would approve.

Last updated: 11:35am, June 10 2010