Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time for prayers and forgiveness. Many people take the time to reflect on the year that just passed.
It's also a holiday meant to be spent with family over a delicious meal.
The food usually turns into a major focal point, and while it is steeped in tradition some well-known chefs are putting their own spin on the New Year's spread.
Sol Kirschenbaum, owner of Levana, a kosher restaurant in New York City, says many people want to stick with comfort foods and aren't looking to do anything too adventurous.
"This year, the holiday is two days followed by the Sabbath; you can't get too fancy," says Kirschenbaum.
Most people don't have time for long, involved preparations, and they need to simplify things. For example, in many households, women no longer sit at home cooking while the men are at shul. "We had a family meeting. Everyone wants brisket. You come back and it's done," Kirschenbaum says.
If you have chefs doing the cooking, that's another story. At his restaurant, he prepares several menus for his clients. One menu includes arugula and Asian pear salad, including endive, radicchio, pistachios and a balsamic vinaigrette. The main course is roasted rack of veal served with shallot, fresh thyme, potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Dessert is tiramisu.
Another menu includes an appetizer of field greens with grape tomatoes, white mushrooms, daikon radish and a salmon goujon with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and Mediterranean chicken soup. Free-range duck is served with Asian sesame slaw and warm apricot chutney. And for dessert: a delicious double chocolate mousse torte.
Don't expect for these meals to come cheap. They both cost about $80 a person, plus tax and gratuity. There is a lot to be said, however, for someone else doing the work.
Chef Jeffrey Nathan, owner of
Abigael's on Broadway, agrees that most people are sticking to more-traditional foods. "We're not talking about trendy, new and exciting foods. The major holidays are when people go to comfort foods," says Nathan.
Brisket and apples dipped in honey are both Rosh Hashanah staples. "I don't mess around or play around. I may get a little exciting with a different type of apples, just to put a little twist on it but not really change anything," Nathan says.
To catch Nathan in action, view his show, "New Jewish Cuisine," on
Tradition Comes First
The foods of this holiday are not only delicious; they also have a symbolic meaning. For example, "Rosh Hashanah" means "head of year." A traditional treat of the holiday meal is the head of a fish, which also represents fertility.
Honey's popularity traces back to the Bible, in which Israel is described as the land of milk and honey. The Rosh Hashanah meal often begins with challah dipped in honey.
To add a twist on honey, Nathan is making rosemary honey from fresh sprigs of rosemary and honey. He slowly cooks the concoction for fifteen minutes, lets it steep for two hours and then removes the sprigs. "You don't need these fancy sauces. Sometimes something very simple accentuates the food that you're cooking," he explains.
He is also doing a variation of tzimees. The New Year's dish traditionally is cooked until almost a puree, ending up with the consistency of mashed potato. In Nathan's version, he coats carrots, parsnips, sweet potato and turnips with a little extra virgin olive oil, some salt and pepper, and nutmeg. He then roasts them in the oven until they turn a light brown, which means the natural sugars are coming out, and finishes it with a bit of rosemary honey. "Sometimes people add orange juice but I don't do that because I want the natural flavor of the vegetables to come through," he says.
Nathan likes to mix savory and sweet. "That adds the punch, like sweet and sour in Chinese restaurants," he says.
So what is Nathan cooking for his 26 family members? His menu includes brisket with molasses and apple cider, served with root vegetables with a rosemary honey glaze. The potato latke is served plain. "We don't need anymore sugar on the plate; we don't want anyone to go into a diabetic coma," says Nathan.
For dessert, he is serving fresh berries with honey ginger zabaglione; he'll use a torch to caramelize the top to a golden brown.
Now, don't get discouraged. Even an unexperienced cook can make some of these mouth watering recipes.
Several Web sites offer ideas, including
So get out there and prepare some of these traditional meals with a twist. But most importantly, make sure you spend the holiday with your family -- that's what it's all about.
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