Rosh Hashanah is like Thanksgiving for Jews. From juicy apples and honey to fall-off the bone brisket, it is impossible to leave the dinner table anything but stuffed. This year, the meal was sinfully delicious.
Similar to turkey day, the first in the series of Jewish holidays this Fall is an open invitation for lots of family, stories and of course, eating. It is a similar sort of familial gathering – but one where the cooking is dealt out evenly amongst guests. One person brings the protein while another brings dessert. It is a method that avoids placing all of the preparation on one person and instead allows everyone the chance to contribute.
Jewish holidays in our family involve a lot of home-cooking and dedication. Lena prepared the traditional hors d’ourves – hand-chopped liver and white crackers, and sliced apples with honey. She makes the challah and horseradish. As we continue to greet each other, we nibble to curb the hunger for what we know is about to come.
Soon we’re told to take our seat at the table. We pour the wine, say the prayers and share a few laughs. The brave few raise their hands for gefilte fish (poached carp) and horseradish (which is definitely an acquired taste) and the rest make toasts in preparation for their first course: matzoh ball soup.
Matzoh ball soup is a serious matter. It is a carefully guarded secret that only the eldest woman in every Jewish family knows. It is her choice who learns the recipe and who doesn’t – and for this reason, it is all but ordinary. Large matzoh balls most evidently grace a clear broth of carrots and celery, but we all know there is much more that meets the eye. It is a fast and a lovely preview of what is to come.
This year, my mom was delegated to the role of vegetable and dessert. Consulting me for advice, she came up with a recipe in an old Jewish cookbook that was given to her as a gift several years ago. She chose two dishes that would maximize three particular ingredients – chickpeas (the Jewish symbol for plenty – due to their round shape – and thus, the blessing for a well-rounded New Year), spinach (newness), and pomegranate seeds (for righteousness). A stew of onions, chickpeas, spinach and cherry tomatoes, the plate gave a unique nod to common ingredients by addressing the religious heritage we were gathering to celebrate. I made an angel food cake (thanks to the practice I’m getting at ATK) and made a pomegranate syrup with sugar, strawberries and blueberries. I had learned in Israel that fresh pomegranate juice is hard to compare with anything else and knew it to be the perfect, personal touch to the classic white cake.
Along with the brisket and chickpea medley, we also enjoyed skillet green beans with toasted walnuts and golden raisins, roast turkey breast infused with rosemary, zucchini au gratin (a tribute to Julia Child), kashi varnishkes (made with the kashi grain, onions, and bow tie pasta), tzimmes (a stew of acorn squash, prunes, carrots, parsnip and sweet potatoes), and kugel (a noodle casserole with eggs, cream cheese, sour cream, and cornflakes).
It is important, like at Thanksgiving, to pace yourself with this meal making sure to portion out small amounts of each dish to ensure that you get it all. Given my milk allergy, I passed on the kugel and zucchini with more room for the perfectly cooked brisket and crunchy green beans. How on earth was I going to make it through dessert?
Lucky for me, everyone was stuffed and needed a bit to wind down. We took turns clearing the plates and dirty dishes from the table, brewed some coffee (for the old timers – no offense, Steve) and wiped the kitchen clean. We told more stories and played with the dog (shout out to you, Sammy).
Dessert is a bit less extravagant, but only by a hair. The angel food cake meets its competitor – home-made ice cream from Kimball Farm in Carlisle. The flavors are decadent enough on their own – Red Raspberry Chip, Pumpkin, Ginger, Coffee Oreo, Cookies and Cream, Black Raspberry, Chocolate Chip and Mocha Almond Assault.
There’s nothing better than a meal like this. Good thing Yom Kippur is right around the corner.