Eat Like the Chosen People
Rosh Hashanah recipes
The Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, lacks the cheap Champagne and confetti of the secular Dec. 31 celebration. But there are actually some similarities. Rosh Hashanah is a time to look back on the past year, reflect on mistakes, and make resolutions for the new year. Then we celebrate with a big meal and lots of wine. Sound familiar?
Since the holiday revolves around the lunar calendar, the dates are slightly different each year. This year, Rosh Hashanah began at sundown on Sept. 4, ushering in the year 5774, and will be celebrated through Sept. 6. Instead of just one day, Rosh Hashanah is the start of the 10-day period known as the High Holy Days, which ends with Yom Kippur, the day of repentance – sort of like Catholic confession, but condensed into one day per year. Jews fast on Yom Kippur as a way to repent for their sins, and then end the day with a traditional feast, which in my East Coast Ashkenazi family included bagels, lox, and kugel, a sweet noodle casserole. You are also required to right the offenses you have committed in the past 12 months by apologizing to and reconciling with the people affected by any wrongdoings. Rosh Hashanah allows everyone to have a second chance – or 10th – and start the year with a clean slate.
Like most Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah centers around plenty of food (and wine). The only thing Jews love more than food (and, yep, wine) is symbolism, and Rosh Hashanah has them both. Jews eat apples dipped in honey to signify a sweet new year. There is challah, a rich, braided egg bread, but on Rosh Hashanah the bread is baked in a circle instead of the traditional braid to symbolize the circle of life. The round loaves are also usually sweetened with honey, raisins, or fruit for the holiday. Besides these commonly known symbols, there are other popular foods Jews are encouraged to eat which signify success and health. These items are chosen based on puns for the Aramaic words for the food:
Pomegranates: This tart fruit is traditionally thought to have 613 seeds, the same number of good deeds (mitzvoth) mentioned in the Torah. They are also considered a "new fruit" for the season, so even the food you are eating is "new."
Dates and beets: Besides being sweet, they also represent spiritual roadblocks that should be removed.
Leeks: They signify the hope that enemies will not follow us into the new year.
Gourds: This relative to the squash denotes hearing the good deeds and destroying the bad deeds of the past year. They can be used in cooking or decorative.
Fenugreek: These bittersweet seeds signify an increase in luck.
Fish: Fish symbolize fertility in the new year. Some families serve a fish head to show that each person at the meal is at the "head" of their goals for next year. Gefilte fish is also popular, and slightly more appealing.
The fun comes in creating recipes using these ingredients. From traditional fried leek patties to modern pomegranate braised brisket, Jews incorporate symbolism all over the Rosh Hashanah meal. One of the most traditional items is honey cake, which is sort of the Jewish equivalent to fruitcake. Unless made well, the cake can be dry and unappealing – but it's a Rosh Hashanah essential. Brisket, kugel, sweet side dishes, and apple cake are also very popular.
Rosh Hashanah is about forgiveness, new beginnings, and connecting with your community. Many Jews donate time or money to charity and perform good deeds as a positive start to the year. It is a time to reflect on the past and strengthen relationships for the future. Whether or not you celebrate, these are positive encouragements anyone can follow. L'shanah tovah!
Cinnamon Apple Stuffed Challah
Prep time: 4 hours, 30 min. Includes fermenting (rising) time.
Cook time: 35 min.
Total time: 5 hours, 5 min.
1 envelope instant yeast
2½ cups bread flour
½ cup warm water (100 degrees)
2 eggs for the dough and 1 egg for an egg wash
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt
2 apples, washed, peeled, and diced into ½ inch pieces (I used Golden Delicious)
1) Whisk yeast and ½ cup of flour with warm water (100 degrees) into a slurry. Let it sit for 10 minutes until puffy.
2) Mix in two eggs, oil, vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ cup sugar, and salt into the yeast until all mixed.
3) Then add the rest of the flour, and mix with your hands into a shaggy ball.
4) Knead dough for about 10 minutes until smooth; add more water if it is tough or flour if it is sticky.
5) Put the dough in a clean and warm bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it ferment (rise) in a warm place for one hour until puffy.
6) Peel and dice your apples into ½ inch pieces and mix with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar.
7) Once dough is ready, divide into three sections and roll each one out into a flat piece on parchment paper. Sprinkle some apples at one end and roll up the long way making sure to avoid air bubbles.
8) Repeat with other dough balls.
9) Braid up the strands starting in the middle, and put your challah on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
10) Cover with plastic wrap and ferment (rise) another hour and a half until it has tripled in size.
11) Preheat oven to 350°F.
12) Make an egg wash with the last egg, use pastry brush to brush it on the loaf, and bake for 35 minutes until golden brown.
13) Serve with honey!
Individual Sweet Potato Kugels
Prep time: 20 min.
Cook time: 60 min.
Total time: 1 hour, 20 min.
2 pounds sweet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 large onion, peeled
¼ cup butter, melted and cooled, or margarine
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or matzo meal for Passover)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup scallions, minced, plus more for topping
Greek yogurt or sour cream (optional)
1) Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prep a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.
2) Using a hand grater or food processor, grate the sweet potatoes and onion. Squeeze out excess water from onions and sweet potatoes using a paper towel and transfer to a bowl.
3) In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, flour, salt, pepper, and scallions until mixed well.
4) Add in potato mixture and combine. The mixture should be moist but not soggy.
5) Fill the cupcake liners evenly with the potato mixture.
6) Bake in preheated oven for 45-60 minutes until lightly browned on top and cooked through.
7. Top with Greek yogurt and more scallions!
Amy Kritzer is an Austin-based food writer and recipe developer whose recipes have been featured on Bon Appétit, Daily Candy, The Today Show blog, and more. She challenges herself to put a spin on her Bubbe's traditional Jewish recipes and blogs about her endeavors at What Jew Wanna Eat.