Classic Rosh Hashanah comfort cooking

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By Linda Morel

This year has been like no other. COVID-19 has changed the way we work and play, who we see and how we see them. At Passover, it brought us Zoom seders. Likewise, High Holiday services will be held on Zoom, too.


At Rosh Hashanah, I usually introduce one or two sensational new recipes to dazzle the friends and family at my table. But this September, people don’t want to be wowed. They want to be comforted. Now is the time to cleave to tradition, to prepare the foods your family has been eating for generations.

While traditional Rosh Hashanah foods abound — such as apples and honey, brisket and roasted potatoes, kugels, plus apple and honey cakes — many families have their own food customs.

The famed Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan once told me she bakes a plum tart every Rosh Hashanah. I was surprised she didn’t use apples. But her family is enamored with plums and clamors for this tart bursting with this juicy seasonal fruit.

If your family has been serving favorite foods to celebrate the Jewish New Year or if you’re lucky enough to have your grandmother’s Rosh Hashanah recipes, this is the time to make them. It’s crucial to hold on to what is meaningful from the past as we start an uncertain new year. COVID-19 has taken so much away from us; we should cherish our culinary heritage.

My Mother’s Brisket

Serves 6-8

From the recipe file of Carol Kolton, dating to the mid-20th century.

Nonstick vegetable spray
2 Spanish onions
2 bunches of carrots, peeled and cut into circles about ¼-inch thick
1 5-pound brisket
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon garlic powder, or more if desired
2 cups ketchup
½ cup water
Optional accompaniment: noodles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large Dutch oven or equivalent large pot with nonstick vegetable spray. Slice the onions about ⅛-inch thick and arrange them in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Cover the onions with half of the carrots.

Sprinkle the brisket with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place it on top of the carrots. Arrange the remaining carrots around the sides of the Dutch oven. Pour the ketchup over the brisket. Drizzle the water around the brisket — not on it.

Bake uncovered for 1½ hours. Cover it with aluminum foil and continue baking for another 1 to 1½ hours (2½ to 3 hours in all). The brisket should be fork tender. Cool to warm or refrigerate before slicing.

Brisket tastes best when slices sit in the sauce for a day before serving. If not serving it immediately, cover and refrigerate until serving. This recipe freezes well. Heat up before serving. If desired, serve with noodles, following the package directions.

Make Ahead Potatoes and Onions

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

An updated version of my grandmother’s recipe from the early 20th century.

4 medium-sized potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold
⅛ cup olive oil, plus ⅛ cup, or more if needed
Kosher salt to taste
1 large onion

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Scrub the potatoes and pat them dry with paper towels. Slice them into disks ½-inch wide. Coat 1 or 2 rimmed ovenproof pans generously with some of the first ⅛ cup of oil. Arrange the potato disks in the pan(s). Drizzle with the remaining first ⅛ cup of oil and turn them gently with a wooden spoon until the disks are well coated. Sprinkle the top and bottom sides with salt. Place them in the oven and roast.

Turn the potatoes after 10 minutes. Add more oil, if needed. Roast for about 30 minutes, turning every few minutes, until the potatoes are soft on the outside but firm on the inside. Remove the potatoes from the oven.

While the potatoes roast, slice the onion into thin disks. Pull apart each disk with your fingers, creating raw rings of onion. Pour some of the second ⅛ cup oil into a large, deep pot and place it on a medium flame to warm. Add the raw onion rings and sprinkle with a little salt. Sauté the onions until they turn golden. If they are ready before the potatoes, remove the pot from the flame.

Spoon the partially roasted potato disks into the pot with the onions and stir to combine.

Sauté on a medium flame, turning every few minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through and browning, about 20 minutes. Add more oil, if necessary.

The recipe can be made to this point and left at room temperature for a couple of hours and reheated before serving or it can be refrigerated for up to three days, brought to room temperature and reheated.

Apple, Raisin and Romaine Salad

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer or side dish

Full of symbols for a sweet New Year, my family has enjoyed this recipe since the 1990s.
½ cup chopped pecans
1 large head of romaine lettuce
2 large apples, such as Gala, Cortland or Honeycrisp
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into circles
⅓ cup raisins
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt to taste
¼ teaspoon honey

Preheat a toaster oven to 350 degrees. Line the toaster oven tray with aluminum foil. Arrange the pecan pieces on the foil. Bake for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Watch the pecans almost constantly, as they burn easily. Bring to room temperature and reserve. This can be made a day ahead if kept in a container with a lid.
Rinse the lettuce leaves under water. With a sharp knife, chop the lettuce leaves. Put them in a salad spinner or drain them on paper towels. Move the lettuce to a large salad bowl. Core the apples and dice them with the skin on. Add them to the salad bowl along with the carrots, raisins and pecans.
Place the olive oil, vinegar, salt and honey in a jar. Close the jar and shake it until the honey has dissolved. Drizzle it over the salad. Toss the salad and serve immediately.

Apple Spice Cake

Yield: 18 pieces if you cut the cake into lines six down and three across

This delightful cake has been a part of our family’s Rosh Hashanah celebrations since the 1980s. Bursting with apples, it’s moist and best consumed the day it’s baked.

Nonstick vegetable spray
2½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
5 baking apples, such as Cortland, Gala or Honeycrisp
¼ cup granulated white sugar, plus 1 cup
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon each: ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom
1 teaspoon orange juice, plus 3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon
3 eggs
½ cup dark brown sugar, sifted
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons brandy
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Coat a 9-inch-by-13-inch ovenproof baking pan, such as Pyrex, with nonstick spray. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Reserve.

Peel, core and slice the apples very thin. Put them in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle ¼ cup sugar, plus the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom over them. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of orange juice over the top. With a wooden or silicone spoon, gently mix the spices and juice until the apples are well coated. Reserve.

In another large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs until frothy. Add 1 cup of granulated sugar and sifted brown sugar, beating until well combined and satiny. Add 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon orange juice, vegetable oil and brandy, mixing until well incorporated.

Alternate adding the reserved dry ingredients with the egg mixture, beating until well combined. Do not over beat. The dough will be thick and stiff.

Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. With a slotted spoon, transfer the apples, leaving as much of the excess liquid that has accumulated in the bowl. Spread the apples evenly over the dough.

With a spatula, spread the remaining dough as evenly as possible over the apples. If some apples aren’t topped by dough, they will get covered when the dough swells during baking.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake turns golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool to warm before serving.

If made hours before serving, cool the cake to room temperature and place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top but do not seal it around the baking pan.

When ready to serve, cut the cake into squares and move it to an attractive platter. Using a flour sift sifter or sieve, sprinkle the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar.

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