Celebrating Queen Esther: A vegan Purim

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer

The Jewish calendar is replete with Holy Days as well as fun festival-type holiday celebrations. This March, Purim offers us an opportunity to experience one of our more upbeat holidays. While observance runs the gamut from reading the Scroll of Esther — Megillah — to dressing in costumes and attending carnivals, there is another lesser-known tradition associated with Purim. 

Even all those years ago in the little city of Shushan in Persia, individuals were attuned to the importance of healthy eating. As it turns out, Queen Esther, one of the key players in the history of Purim, was a vegetarian. She adopted this practice in order to avoid the consumption of non-kosher foods. Thus, her diet was rich in beans and other legumes. To this day, Purim is celebrated in many households around the world with a delicious vegetarian feast.

The practice of adopting a vegetarian/vegan way of life has become increasingly popular in American households, as the advantages of plant-based protein and such meal plans have proven themselves as healthy alternatives to those based around animal sources. Many grains and lentils can provide more than ample protein to satisfy the needs of most Americans, including athletes. 

As research continues to focus on this lifestyle, we have learned that athletes no longer need to rely upon beef, poultry and dairy sources in order to complement their strength-training goals. Although whey and casein have long dominated the protein-shake industry, an increasing number of sports supplementation companies now offer alternative sources such as pea and pumpkin protein in their powdered shake mixes. 

Endurance athletes rely heavily on an array of both complex and simple carbohydrates as long-lasting energy sources. However, even Ironman competitors also need a good dose of protein to heal muscles and keep them moving. Vegan protein sources are easily absorbed by the gastrointestinal system, making them ideal for bodies in constant motion such as distance athletes. Peanut butter is a favorite among runners and cyclists, especially when paired with a complex carb source such a graham crackers.

Crafting a meal around beans, while not the first choice for many individuals, can at least replace animal protein for one or two dinners a week. There is a huge array of beans in various forms offered in mainstream grocery stores. Red and black beans combine beautifully with onions, garlic and cumin to make a hearty, protein-rich vegetarian chili. Corn,beans and rice create a healthy main dish to accompany a dark green leafy salad, perhaps with some added vitamin C-rich citrus fruit.

Believe me, I know from personal experience that tofu and edamame can be a tough sell to a lot of culinary-selective individuals (read: picky eaters). Offering vegetarian dishes prepared with interesting spices can not only introduce some international flavors to the dinner table; you can also be assured that every member of the family is having complete nutritional needs deliciously met!