New take on the new year: Young Jewish cooks revamp Rosh Hashanah menus

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Jodie Honigman and her husband, Dan Fleischman, pause while preparing food with their children, Ruthie, who turns 2 this month, and 3-month-old Dahlia. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

New take on the new year: Young Jewish cooks revamp Rosh Hashanah menus

 

Brisket with roasted potatoes and carrots, freshly baked challah, matzo ball soup…

If you celebrated Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) growing up, these were probably mainstays on your holiday table. Move over, Bubbe (Grandma) and step aside, Mom. A new generation of Jewish cooks is revamping holiday menus and making Rosh Hashanah foods that are fresh, flavorful and fun.

Growing up in Bayside, Jodie Honigman has fond memories of holiday meals hosted by her mother, aunt or grandmother. But Honigman’s religious observances mean that she now hosts the 10 members of her extended family, including her 96-year-old Zayde (Grandpa).

“My husband Dan and I are Shomer Shabbos, so we don’t drive on the Sabbath or on the Jewish holidays,” she explained. “We invite people to our house…we can’t always go to other people’s houses because it’s too far to walk. My mom comes over and cooks at our house. She still contributes to the meal.”

No meat? No problem

Honigman and husband, Dan Fleischman, are both vegetarian, so traditional matzo ball soup is replaced with squash soup, and brisket is replaced with bourekas, Israeli savory pastries stuffed with potatoes, cheese or vegetables.

“I became vegetarian at 22,” Honigman said. “It forced me to cook differently than my mom had. Most of what she cooked was chicken or meat or fish, (so) being vegetarian forced me to think outside the box.”

Thinking outside the box is an enjoyable task for Honigman and Fleischman, who love to incorporate international Jewish food traditions into their cooking.

 “We both had the opportunity to travel, which has broadened our culinary palate and exposed us to different Jewish communities,” Fleischman said. “I spent Sukkot (another Jewish fall holiday) 13 years ago in India, and Jodie spent a Shabbat in Tunisia.”

“There’s the harissa and cumin, and we have a Tunisian eggplant filling for one of the bourekas, so that’s Middle Eastern and North African, and these incorporate spices and flavors from places we’ve been,” he said.

Foods with meaning

On Rosh Hashanah, it’s customary to eat foods that symbolize elements of the New Year. In Hebrew these symbolic foods are called simanim.

According to Miri Rotkovitz, author of “Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen: A Kosher Cookbook of Beloved Recipes and Modern Twists,” “There are certain foods that, over the years were imbued with meaning and a feeling that if you included these, it would be a totem for a good year.

“Many foods have this special place at the table for Rosh Hashanah.”

The traditional apples and honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year are the most common simanim. Honigman, the Jewish life coordinator and Jewish studies teacher at Milwaukee Jewish Day School, incorporates symbolic Jewish foods from other cultures.

“I had learned all these traditions of Rosh Hashanah, and certain foods are supposed to symbolize abundance,” she said. “We were looking at the cookbook ‘Olive Trees and Honey’ by Gil Marks, it’s vegetarian Jewish recipes from around the world. We use squash and leeks to symbolize the abundance of the New Year, so we make pumpkin squash soup.”

“Squash and pumpkin are symbolic of Rosh Hashanah because of the many seeds,” added Fleischman, vice president of Jewish Family Services. “Seeds represent mitzvot (good deeds), abundance and good things.”

Full-circle foods

Author Rotkovitz grew up cooking with her grandmother.

“Even though she passed away when I was 10, I have vivid memories of her in the kitchen,” she said in a phone interview. “When I was in graduate school, I revisited her recipe collection in its original green tin recipe file.”

There, Rotkovitz discovered that many of the foods her grandmother encouraged her to try were becoming popular again and Rotkovitz used her training as a dietitian to create new versions based on her grandmother’s traditional recipes. “There are several recipes I created that were inspired by memories of my grandmother and foods that I had at her table,” Rotkovitz said. The roasted beet salad is one example.

“My grandmother tried get me to taste beets, she would tell us how they were so rich in iron and so healthy, but I hated them. Then when I was older and tasted roasted beets, I said, ‘I get it.’

 “I’m a clinical dietitian by training and I love seasonal fresh produce. We feel like this is a new concept, but it’s really going back to our roots.”

Hosting Rosh Hashanah often means feeding a big group, and for that Rotkovitz’s marmalade roasted chicken is a perfect choice.

“The chicken recipe is adaptable, and you can make more for a lot of people,” she said. “If you’re afraid to make chicken on the bone and it’s daunting, a lot of stuff gets thrown into a roasting pan and it comes out nicely. It’s a good one for entertaining and it reheats well.”

For dessert, whole-grain sunken peach and raspberry cake is a variation on a traditional loaf-shaped apple cake.

“The base of this cake is very similar to the cake batter in apple cake, but it’s going into a 9-by-9 pan with the fruit on top,” Rotkovitz said. “And I do a version of the cake with whole grain — that’s not that far from how our great grandmothers were cooking.”

A vegetarian Rosh Hashanah menu is fine for the under-40 set, but how does the rest of Honigman’s family feel about it?

“Some of them like it better than others,” Honigman said. “My Zayde (grandfather) likes the soup, and my parents have gotten used to it; they don’t like all of our recipes, but they like these.

“We’ve had good results. We have homemade challah and lots of things for everyone to eat. My mom sometimes brings salmon so the older people could have a protein and my parents are eating a lot more diverse ethnic food than when I was growing up.”

RECIPES

These first two recipes for Rosh Hashanah are adapted from Jodie Honigman’s favorite cookbook: “Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World” by Gil Marks (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004).

This hearty vegetarian soup is a delicious start to a holiday meal and would be a delicious first course for any meal.

Squash, Leek, and Chickpea Rosh Hashanah Soup

Recipe tested by Joan Kazan

Makes 10 servings

  • Olive oil
  • 2 large leeks (white and light green parts only), roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (see note)
  • 4 carrots, cut into chunks
  • 3 cans (15 ounces each) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of ground turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  • Water (or vegetable stock)
  • Cilantro to garnish
  • Harissa as garnish

Coat bottom of a large pot with a light coating of olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks, garlic, squash and carrots and sauté until vegetables are soft. Add chickpeas and seasonings and continue cooking, stirring. Add water (or stock) and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about an hour. Add salt. Garnish with cilantro and/or harissa.

Notes: Tested used four (12-ounce) packages of precut butternut squash, which worked fine.

This makes a chunky, hearty soup. If you prefer a smoother soup, use an immersion blender or pour into a blender.     

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Savory turnovers (bourekas) are popular in Israel for their versatility. You can stuff the dough with any combination of your favorite vegetables or cheese. These are vegetarian, but bourekas also could be stuffed with ground meat or chicken.

Turkish Bourekas (Turnovers)

Makes about 30

Pastry dough:

  • ½ cup lukewarm water
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt or 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 ½ cups flour

Fillings (see recipes below):

  • Mashed potatoes 
  • Eggplant-tomato
  • Pumpkin-cheese 

Eggwash: 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water

  • Sesame seeds for garnish

Make pastry: Combine water, oil and salt in a bowl. Stir in 1 cup flour. Gradually stir in enough of the remaining 1 ½ cups flour to make a soft and pliable dough. When stirred, dough should come away from the sides of the bowl. Wrap dough completely in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. It won’t rise much, but after 30 minutes should be soft, easy to use, and not too sticky.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Divide dough into 1-inch balls. Place on a baking sheet and press flat.

Make the filling of your choice. Fill each pastry circle with a spoonful of filling in the center. Fold in half to create turnover and seal edges with tines of a fork. For a shiny top, brush with eggwash. Garnish with sesame seeds.

Bake in preheated oven 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: If desired, you can also roll out the dough with a rolling pin and cut out circles with a cookie cutter.

Turkish eggplant and tomato filling:  

  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt plus salt to taste (divided)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 ½ cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 to 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • Ground black pepper

Cut eggplant into ½-inch cubes. Place in a colander and add the 1 tablespoon salt. Wait a half hour, then wash off the salt and squeeze out the liquid.

Sauté garlic in olive oil until light brown. Add eggplant and tomato, season with salt, and cook until liquid evaporates. Add cilantro and pepper.

Potato filling:

  • ½ pound potatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • Olive oil
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Peel and cut potatoes into large chunks and place in pot with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté onions in olive oil until golden.

When potatoes are ready, drain and mash with butter and add onions. Allow to cool. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in eggs.

Pumpkin-cheese filling:

  • 1 can (15 ounces) pureed pumpkin
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten

Mix all ingredients together. Season to taste. Add eggs.

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A traditional honey cake is a centerpiece for Rosh Hashanah dessert tables. This recipe is adapted from “Can’t Believe It’s Kosher, Jewish Tradition’s for Today’s Lifestyle,” a cookbook created by Congregation Beth Israel Sisterhood.

Honey Cake with Cherries

Makes 3 loaves

  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 jar (10 ounces) maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup honey
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dates and cherries in a saucepan with baking soda and water. Cook until hot, then remove from heat and let cool.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, oil and honey. Add baking powder, spices and flour. Mix well. Stir in date and cherry mixture.

Divide batter among three (9-by-5-inch) greased loaf pans.

Bake in preheated oven about an hour, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out dry.

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