JTA – Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, gives Jews a sense of change and new beginnings. One of the ways to signal this renewal and optimism is to engage our senses: We listen to the shofar, the clarion call of the season, and we eat symbolic foods, such as round challah (representing the cyclical nature of life), and enjoy the sweetness of apples dipped in honey.
Beyond those basics, what are the foods that make Rosh Hashanah special? JTA queried a number of high-profile Jewish chefs about which dishes and recipes are a must on their holiday tables.
Many of the dishes the chefs shared with us are family recipes, passed down from mothers and grandmothers, building bridges to future generations. Others offer a fresh twist on their mishpucha’s must-haves.
Whether you’re looking to add some sugar or some spice to your Rosh Hashanah meal, read on for some fresh twists on Jewish classics from some well-known chefs: Andrew Zimmern, Joan Nathan, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, Alon Shaya, Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, and Lior Lev Sercarz.
Andrew Zimmern is a chef, writer and creator/host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” franchise. The dish that defines the TV host’s Rosh Hashanah table is his grandmother’s chopped liver.
“Nothing signals the turn of the season more than our Rosh Hashanah family meals,” Zimmern told JTA. “I make my grandmother’s recipes at our seder and then I don’t cook any of them again until Rosh Hashanah. The demolition of my first batch of Henriette’s chopped liver is all of my own doing, usually alone in the kitchen, and then I have to make a second batch for everyone else. Food is culture. And we all live on through it.”
Henriette’s Chopped Liver
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons pareve margarine
1/2 cup rendered chicken fat (schmaltz)*
1 onion, finely chopped
2 pounds chicken livers, trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Matzah, for serving
In a small saucepan, cover the eggs with cold water and bring to a boil; cook over moderate heat for 10 minutes. Drain the eggs and immediately fill the pan with cold water. Add ice and let the eggs stand until chilled. Drain the eggs, peel and coarsely chop.
In a very large skillet, melt the margarine in 1/4 cup of the chicken fat. Add the onion and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Season the livers with salt and pepper and add them to the skillet. Cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until barely pink inside, about 8 minutes.
Scrape the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and let cool slightly. Add the chopped eggs and pulse until the livers are finely chopped but not completely smooth. Add the parsley and the remaining 1/4 cup of chicken fat and pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer the chopped liver to a bowl. Press plastic wrap onto the surface and refrigerate until chilled, about 45 minutes. (The chopped liver can also be refrigerated overnight.) Serve with the matzah.
* Rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) is available in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets.
Joan Nathan is the author of 10 cookbooks, including “Jewish Cooking in America.”
For Nathan, it’s all about the chicken soup. This recipe is courtesy of her 103-year-old mother, Pearl. Nathan explains the recipe is a bit of a mashup of various cultures: “She loves getting chicken specials, and [she] also loves dark meat, so she adapted the recipe to what she likes to eat,” Nathan said.
“Because she lives in Rhode Island and escarole is a very Italian vegetable [Rhode Island has a large Italian-American population],” escarole is in the recipe.
“Her matzo balls, coming from my father’s German tradition, are deliciously al dente,” Nathan added.
Pearl Nathan’s Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls
(From “The New American Cooking,” reprinted with permission from Knopf)
For the soup
6 whole chicken legs
20 cups water
2 celery stalks sliced into 2-inch chunks
2 whole carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large onion peeled and quartered
1 parsnip cut into 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces escarole
For the matzah balls
3 tablespoons chicken fat or vegetable oil
6 large eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 3/4 cups matzah meal
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
12 cups water
To make the soup
Put the water in a soup pot, add the chicken legs and bring the water to a boil. Simmer slowly for 2 hours, uncovered, skimming off the fat and foam as they rise to the top of the soup.
After 2 hours, add the celery, carrots, onion, parsnip, dill and parsley. Continue cooking slowly, uncovered, for another hour.
Set a strainer over a large bowl and strain the soup. Season it to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the soup, covered, overnight.
The next day, peel off the layer of fat that has formed on the soup’s surface. Bring the soup to a boil in a large pot (or freeze it for another day). Before serving, swirl in the escarole and add the matzah balls, cooking for a few minutes.
To make the matzah balls
In a medium bowl, mix the chicken fat or vegetable oil with the eggs, salt, nutmeg, matzah meal and parsley. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Take the matzah mix out of the refrigerator and, after dipping your hands into a bowl of cold water, gently form balls the size of large walnuts. Add salt to the water and drop in the balls. Simmer slowly, covered, for about 20 minutes, remove from water with a slotted spoon and add to the soup.
Jeffrey Yoskowitz is co-founder, with Liz Alpern, of the Gefilteria, and co-author of the forthcoming cookbook “The Gefilte Manifesto.”
“Homemade gefilte fish became such a staple for me at the Rosh Hashanah table that when my grandmother stopped cooking and the local deli closed, I began preparing the holiday delicacy for my family,” Yoskowitz said. “It wasn’t a holiday without the good stuff, as far as I was concerned, plus making it myself was very empowering.
“Since my family’s roots are Polish, mine is a [lightly] sweetened gefilte fish, which is fitting for the New Year celebrations, when we’re so fixated on sweetness.”
Jeffrey Yoskowitz’s Herbed Gefilte Fish
(From “The Gefilte Manifesto,” reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books)
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
12 ounces whitefish fillet, skin removed, flesh coarsely chopped
1 1/4 tablespoons vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 large egg
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh watercress (or spinach)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
Horseradish relish, store bought or homemade, for serving
If there are any bones in your fillets, remove the larger ones by hand, but don’t fret about the smaller ones since they’ll be pulverized in the food processor. You can buy your fish pre-ground from a fishmonger (usually a Jewish fishmonger) to ensure all the bones are removed, but try to cook your fish that day since ground fish loses its freshness faster.
Place the onion in the bowl of a large food processor and process until finely ground and mostly liquefied. Add the fish to the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients, except the horseradish. Pulse in the food processor until the mixture is light-colored and evenly textured throughout.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-3-inch loaf pan with parchment paper and fill the pan with the fish mixture. Smooth out with a spatula.
Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. The terrine is finished when the corners and ends begin to brown. The loaf will give off some liquid. Cool to room temperature before removing from the pan and slicing. Serve with horseradish relish.
Alon Shaya is executive chef and partner at the New Orleans restaurants Domenica, Pizza Domenica and Shaya, and was named best chef in the South by the James Beard Foundation.
For Shaya, challah is central to the Rosh Hashanah festivities.
“I love keeping our traditions alive,” he said. “Challah is such a key part of the celebration – both as a symbol of the year’s cycle, and because it›s just so delicious.”
Alon Shaya’s Challah
Yield: 12 seven-ounce rolls
1/8 cup instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups warm water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
9 cups bread flour
Sea salt or sesame seeds to garnish
Egg wash (2 eggs, 1 yolk,3 tablespoons water)
In mixing bowl, whisk together yeast, a teaspoon sugar and warm water. Let rest or “bloom” until the mixture appears foamy (about 5 minutes).
Once foamy, add 1 cup sugar, salt, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, and flour to the bowl.
With an electric mixer’s dough hook attachment, mix on low for 4 minutes. Scrape the bowl, increase the speed to medium and continue to mix until the dough comes together, is smooth and pulls away from the bowl (approximately another 4 minutes).
Place the dough in a large greased bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and proof until doubled (about 2 hours).
Once the dough is proofed, divide into 12 pieces. Set pieces aside; cover with plastic wrap to avoid the dough drying and cracking.
To shape the dough, take one 7-ounce piece, roll into a rectangle about 6 inches by 4 inches, fold in the left and right sides by a half-inch and roll up the dough from top to bottom. Seal the dough by pressing the seams with the base of your palm. From here, begin to roll the dough back and forth with your hands, creating an even rope that is 14 inches long. Spiral the dough tightly, forming a coil. Tuck the end of the coil underneath the roll to ensure the roll does not unravel.
Place the shaped rolls on a sheet tray. Cover with plastic wrap and let double in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325 F.
*Egg wash each roll and sprinkle with sea salt or sesame seeds. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate pan and continue to bake until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes.
*For the egg wash, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth and well combined. Store in fridge until ready to use.
Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, a competitor on “Chopped,” is a Chabad rabbi in Rhinebeck, New York. Hecht chose to share his tzimmes, a traditional sweet stew made with carrots, explaining that carrots are called “merren” in Yiddish, which also means “increase.”
“The very fact that its name connotes ‘increase’ makes it auspicious to eat carrots during the New Year, as it represents an increase in good things for the coming year,” he said.
Rabbi Hanoch Hecht’s
1 bunch rainbow carrots
Peel carrots and boil in simple syrup until tender. Slice figs in half and caramelize in a pan 4 minutes on medium heat. Once tender, add the carrots to the figs. Add butter and sprinkle a teaspoon of brown sugar. Candy the carrots for about 4 minutes and you are ready to serve.
Lior Lev Sercarz is the owner of La Boite, an upscale spice shop in New York, and the author of “The Art of Blending” and the forthcoming “The Spice Companion.”
“Rosh Hashanah has always been about family for me, and this honey cake is my take on a favorite food from my childhood from around this time [of year],” said Sercarz, who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. “I add spices, like I do in all of my cooking, use silan [date honey or syrup] to modernize the recipe and reflect the season, and olive oil to connect my family here in New York City to my father’s groves back home in the Galilee.”
Lior Lev Sercarz’s
Spiced Honey Cake
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Reims N.39 or 1 1/2 teaspoons each ground ginger and nutmeg
1 tablespoon whole anise seed
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup silan [date honey], divided (3/4 cup and 1/4 cup)
Juice of 1 orange plus zest
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Cream the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl or in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Beat for 3 to 4 minutes or until noticeably lighter in color and texture.
Mix together all dry ingredients (except sesame seed) in a bowl and preheat oven to 350 F.
Add the pomegranate juice, olive oil, 3/4 cup silan, orange juice and zest to the eggs and sugar; stir well to combine.
Gently incorporate the dry ingredients, mixing until it just comes together - a few lumps are OK.
Pour into 2 greased or lined 8-inch loaf pans and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Remove to a rack to cool and brush the tops with the reserved silan; sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
BETH KISSILEFF is the editor of the anthology “Reading Genesis” and the author of the new novel “Questioning Return.”