What’s cooking for Rosh Hashanah this year? Will it be Bubby’s famous brisket, cooked for hours until it’s falling to pieces? Tsimmes, the traditional stew of sweet carrots and dried fruit? Or maybe you’ll venture into something completely different?
I asked my food writer pal Ronnie Fein what she’s serving this year. Her previous books include Hip Kosher (175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today’s Kosher Cooks) (DaCapo), and she’s a columnist for The Jewish Week. Fein’s new book, The Modern Kosher Kitchen: More than 125 Inspired Recipes for a New Generation of Kosher Cooks (Fair Winds Press, 2014) is full of innovative kosher recipes that reflect the way we want to eat today—plenty of veggies and grains and flavor profiles from all over the world.
The first thing to remember, she said, is that there’s a big difference between kosher food and Jewish food. “Kosher” and “kashruth” refer to biblical dietary rules that are followed by observant Jews.
“Kosher is kosher,” said Fein. “There’s nothing new about it. The rules have always been the same rules. Any food, other than those specifically prohibited, can theoretically be kosher.” So even though they’re not what we think of as kosher, she continued, coconut milk can be kosher, and so can freekeh, the toasted Mediterranean grain that’s trending lately. Likewise, ataulfo mangos and hot, spicy sriracha. And on and on. “Why not?” she asked.
Those who keep kosher want to keep up with the times, she said: “New Kosher is understanding the new American food culture and adapting it to the laws of kashruth.” And with food manufacturers aware of this niche market, it’s easier than ever for kosher cooks to go global and modern.
But Jewish food can be something else entirely.
“Most of the time kosher cooking is also Jewish cooking, whereas all Jewish cooking is not necessarily kosher,” said Fein.
“What we think of as Jewish food is what we typically associate with Ashkenazic cuisine,” she explained, referring to the food of Eastern European Jews, from whom most American Jews are descended. These are, she said, “the kinds of dishes most Americans are familiar with because most American Jewish culture comes from that background.”
“To honor Rosh Hashanah and still make changes, I add several new dishes every year, but I also serve traditional dishes,” she says. This year, her nod to tradition will be chopped liver, and of course, challah, the egg bread formed in a circular shape for the New Year to symbolize the ongoing cycle of the years.
Her main course will be roasted turkey or perhaps Chicken with Dates and Toasted Almonds from her previous book, Hip Kosher. (Dates are simanim.) And she’s also thinking of Roasted Salmon with Dukkah, a recipe from the new book that features the Egyptian seasoning of nuts, seeds and spices.
Carrots are traditional for Rosh Hashanah, but instead of tsimmes, she’ll make Carrot Soup with Harissa and Coconut from her new book. “My husband says it’s the best dish he ever ate,” she says with a chuckle, “and carrots symbolize hopes for the new year—increase and multiply.”
For the vegetarians, there will be plenty: an eggplant dish such as the Turkish favorite, Imam Bayeldi; spinach pie; or maybe cauliflower “steaks” (it’s sliced instead of being cut into florets). “This year I’m going to make a beet salad with dates,” she said. (Both are among the simanim.) “And I’m working with sorghum, so I will probably serve a warm salad with that, mushrooms and leeks (also simanim).
For dessert, there’ll be apple cake, recreated from memory after a trip to Germany. Apples typically symbolize the hope for a sweet year.
“I like to mix things up for holiday meals,” she said. “It’s just who I am.”
Carrot Soup with Harissa and Coconut
From The Modern Kosher Kitchen: More than 125 Inspired Recipes for a New Generation of Kosher Cooks (Fair Winds Press).
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
6 whole cloves
1½ teaspoons Harissa (See note)
1cup coconut milk
salt to taste
toasted coconut for garnish, optional
Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and carrots and cook briefly.
Add the stock and cloves, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan partially and cook for 25 minutes or until the carrots are soft.
Remove the cloves. Puree the soup in a food processor or blender (or use a hand blender). Return the soup to the pan. Whisk in the Harissa. Stir in the coconut milk. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. Serve garnished with toasted coconut if desired.
Note: Harissa is a North African condiment made of hot chili peppers. It can be purchased in ethnic markets, gourmet supermarkets and online.