As many of you know, today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration. It is a joyous holiday, but it makes the beginning of a solemn period of reflection, known as the 10 Days of Repentance. This period culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during which adult Jews fast.
It is traditional to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and all other Jewish holidays, with friends and family, and enjoy a festive meal. Last night, which was the beginning of the holiday, my family was fortunate enough to be invited to the home of mom food blogger extraordinaire, and my new neighbor, Chef Druck. Chef Druck put out an amazing spread of corn pancakes, served with sour cream or applesauce — the traditional Jewish sweet-or-savory dilemma — matzo ball soup, brisket, a to-die-for carrot pudding that my husband and I are still talking about, and apple cake. And this was for 13 people. (Okay, in truth, all of the kids, except my carnivorous Zuzu ate mac n’cheese, but still, it was a lot of work.)
After being out late last night and at temple for much of the day, my husband and I decided that we would have a low-key family dinner tonight. But I still wanted to make a holiday meal. So, I put together a menu of traditional Rosh Hashanah foods that were easy to prepare and kid-friendly. One of the most traditional Rosh Hashanah foods are apples dipped in honey. This sweet treat is intended to symbolize our hope that the coming year will be a sweet one for our family. If you have never tried apples dipped in honey, give it a go. It’s quite delicious, especially if your apples are firm and a bit tart. I was delighted to find one of my favorite varieties of apples, Staymans, at the farmers’ market last Saturday, and I saved them for the prelude to our Rosh Hashanah meal.
Challah, the sweet, golden egg bread, is traditional at any Jewish holiday, including the weekly Sabbath, but on Rosh Hashanah, instead of the typical braided challah, we eat round challahs, to symbolize the circle of life — cue the warblings of Sir Elton John. That’s cheesy, I know, but it’s true. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday of circles, as the prayer book at my temple’s children’s service said. One year ends; another begins. This year is the first time Zuzu has ever been able to enjoy challah on a Jewish holiday, since she recently outgrew her allergies to wheat and egg. Just one of the many things we are thankful for this holiday. You can also dip your challah in honey and that is pretty awesome too.
So, we began our Rosh Hashanah meal with candles, wine, round challah, apples dipped in honey and all the accompanying blessings. For dinner, I prepared a roast chicken, cut into parts, rubbed with a paste made of crushed garlic, olive oil and paprika. That’s not a traditional Rosh Hashanah meal as much as it is a typical Jewish meal. Jewish cooks were using garlic long before it was fashionable to do so. Brisket would have been more traditional, but as I mentioned we had brisket last night, and you really can’t eat brisket two nights in a row unless you’re Zuzu.
With our roast chicken, I made Carrot Tzimmes, a sweet, honey-scented dish in which carrots are cut into rounds to resemble gold coins — eating these carrot “coins” on Rosh Hashanah is said to ensure a prosperous New Year. This dish is guaranteed to deliver Vitamin A to your children. Kids love the sweet taste and the not-too-crunchy, not-too-mushy texture of the carrots, plus if you tell them about the gold coin idea, they like it even more. When making this dish, buy the bunches of carrots with the green tops still on. I read in one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks that these carrots are the most flavorful, and I have to agree.
Two bunches of carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into round pieces
2-3 TB butter, olive oil or a combination of the two
2 TB honey
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Heat the butter or oil in a large shallow saute pan over medium heat. (Butter will give the richest taste, but if you observe Jewish dietary laws, or have a child allergic to dairy, olive oil works fine.) Toss the carrot “coins” in the fat to coat them. Add honey, cinnamon, orange juice and water, if needed, just to cover the carrots. Turn the heat down to a simmer, partially cover the saute pan and cook until the carrots are tender, 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle in a handful of raisins. Then remove the cover and turn the heat up until the sauce is boiling. Reduce the sauce until it is a syrupy glaze. Serve immediately.
For dessert, I made an apple cake, but it fell short of the apple cake Chef Druck served us last night. I followed a recipe from Claudia Roden’s magnificent book, The Book of Jewish Food. My cake looked beautiful, but it was not as light as it should have been. This recipe had no leavening agent other than egg whites, and I suspect that I folded the egg whites into the batter a little too well. I certainly do not blame Ms Roden, who has never failed me. Oh well. Did I mention it looked beautiful?
Whatever your faith, I wish you a year filled with sweetness and prosperity. L’shana tovah!