For a Rosh Hashanah meal of your dreams, new cookbooks offer recipes from near and far
To define Jewish food is to understand the diaspora through centuries of migration. For millennia, as Jews were a people without a country, many of the dishes evolved from where their communities had lived, vastly varying depending on geography and cultural influences.
At Rosh Hashanah, no Ashkenazi Jews, whose ancestors settled along the Rhine river in France and Germany, go without apples and honey, for instance. But for Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities (with ties to the Iberian peninsula and to the Middle East and North Africa, respectively), pomegranates and dates are among the mandatory symbolic foods. So rich and vast is the expanse of Jewish cuisine that we are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in choosing dishes for our new year's meal. While you can play it safe and cook only the familiar-to-you foods, you can also go beyond the figurative pale and introduce something new to the table.
This fall, three dynamic new books on Jewish cuisine in its many forms - chef Einat Admony's "Shuk," Adeena Sussman's "Sababa" and Leah Koenig's "The Jewish Cookbook" - are here to help us cook the Rosh Hashanah meal of our dreams, whether these dishes are from close to home or far afield. Admony, who was born in Israel and has made New York her home for more than a decade, serves food influenced by her Iranian, Iraqi and Yemenite backgrounds. Israeli food is, as the kids say, hot right now, and some credit should go to Admony, who at her New York restaurants has refused to Americanize what she grew up eating and instead (rightly) assumed that if she serves it, people will take to it.
Israeli cuisine, Admony said in a phone interview, is harder to define than Jewish, as it pulls significant influences from Palestinian and other Arab cultures, as well as Northern African, Mediterranean, Eastern European, Iranian and others - a bona fide melting pot of flavors and techniques.
Sussman, who co-authored model Chrissy Teigen's cookbooks (among others), melds Israeli food and ingredients found at the shuks (markets) in Tel Aviv, where she lives, with her American sensibilities.
And Koenig, a Brooklyn native who has been writing about Jewish cuisine for about 10 years, has produced a tome spanning the Jewish culinary canon from achik chuchuk (tomato and onion salad popular in Bukharian Jewish cuisine) to zeeuwse bolussen (Dutch coiled cinnamon buns). All three books are vibrant, exciting and hunger-inducing.
I decided to build a Rosh Hashanah seder around dishes from these three books, bridging the gap between geographies to showcase something of a pan-Jewish approach to the holidays. If you're hosting a large crowd, round it out with honeyed carrots and savory noodle kugel. At just about every dinner, casual or festive, I also serve punchy, peppery arugula dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and flaky sea salt - a simple side salad that complements whatever I have cooked.
For this year's dinner, I propose (and hear me out) that instead of a brisket, you cook a pot roast, specifically one braised in wine. Koenig first encountered the dish while on her honeymoon in Rome: She was a vegetarian at the time, but the Shabbat dinner she and her husband attended had a lot of meat courses. Taking the phrase "when in Rome" to its most literal level, Koenig tried the pot roast and was struck by how clean and familiar, but more streamlined and elegant, the flavors were than those of the briskets of her childhood, which had ingredients such as onion soup mixes. "This is what your holiday main should be," she told me, "something that is comforting and doesn't have a lot of heavy lifting, the embodiment of the relaxation of the holiday."
Separately, while I love me some brisket, you never know how chewy or tender it will be until you tuck into it. The same cut, made exactly the same way, is at times tender and other times stringy and chewy - so you're rolling the dice. With a pot roast, there's nary a doubt. Give the meat a quick, aggressive sear to get a good crust, and then, as Ron Popeil would say, "set it and forget it." A few hours later, the meat is tender, succulent, yielding. If you can manage it, be patient and give it an overnight rest - so the flavors age and meld - and it transforms from delicious to astounding. And, yes, you can make this pot roast in a slow cooker, thanks for asking!
One cannot live on pot roast alone (though some have tried, I'm sure), so to balance out the meal, and to complement the hearty beef, a sturdy grain such as farro does the trick. Admony's farro salad, drawing on her Iranian roots, works beautifully with the pot roast, cutting through the fattiness with crunchy, tart bites of apple, juicy, puckery pomegranate and sweet, caramelized bits of roasted persimmon. If you can't find persimmon this time of year, add some chopped dates - another symbolic Rosh Hashanah ingredient. A sweet-tart dressing with lemon juice and silan (date syrup), a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking, lends bright, sunny notes to the chewy grains.
If sweetness is the theme of Jewish new year foods, dessert seems mandatory. This year, in addition to my beloved apple cake, I'm serving Sussman's stunning and decadent salted caramel tahini tart (which might be a no-go for strict kosher households, due to dairy restrictions). Described in the book as "the Gal Gadot of tarts," it immediately seduced me, and I'm so glad to have succumbed. Sussman said she figured the caramel could benefit from tahini's earthy notes and give the otherwise familiar tart a more nuanced taste. I mostly followed the recipe, but decided to dock the dough and line it with weights during an initial bake, as tart doughs like to puff up and shrink. And because I like a bit of contrast in my sweets, I upped the salt in the caramel a touch to get it just to that "salted" territory.
Paired with a tangy labneh-whipped cream (labneh being another indispensable ingredient in Israel and the rest of the Middle East), the tart manages to be light and luxurious. A small sliver will satisfy the sweetest tooth, making it a great dessert to serve a crowd. Oohs and aahs are guaranteed, and whatever your guests' geography and religious adherence, should their year take on the same sweetness and luxury, you can take full credit for their good fortunes.
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WINE-BRAISED POT ROAST
Active: 30 minutes | Total: 4 hours 30 minutes
6 to 8 servings
Food writer Leah Keonig writes that Rome's Jews prefer a pot roast braised with "richly flavored red wine," and this comforting, saucy main course, called "stracotto di manzo," with slow-cooked carrots and potatoes, makes for a satisfying and flavorful one-pot dish. Even better, the active cooking time is mere minutes, but the reward is tender meat and saucy vegetables, perfect for your holiday table. Ask your butcher to tie the roast for you. To make the pot roast in a slow cooker, see NOTE.
Storage: The pot roast can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen, tightly wrapped for up to 2 months.
Make ahead: The pot roast is best if made at least a day before you plan to serve it. To serve, reheat in a 300 degree oven until desired temperature is reached.
3- to 4-pound boneless beef chuck roast, preferably tied
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, halved through the root and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons onion powder
One (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup beef stock
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 pound new potatoes, halved if large
2 large carrots, halved lengthwise if thick, and cut into [1/2]-inch chunks
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees; position the rack in the middle.
Thoroughly pat the roast dry and season generously all over with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or other large ovenproof pot with a lid, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the roast and sear, turning until browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Transfer the seared roast to a cutting board. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, followed by the onions, garlic and bay leaves and cook, stirring often, until the onions soften and start to caramelize, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the onion powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, stock, wine and [1/2] teaspoon salt. Gently break up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon and bring the mixture to a boil. Nestle the seared meat into the sauce, spooning sauce on top.
Cover the pot with a piece of parchment paper, followed by the lid, and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2 hours; then remove from the oven, uncover and carefully flip the meat over. Add the potatoes and carrots, tucking them into the sauce. Re-cover with parchment and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours.
Transfer the meat to a carving board, drape loosely with foil, and let rest 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Arrange the sliced meat on a serving platter and surround it with the potatoes, carrots and any large pieces of tomato. Discard the bay leaves. Set the pan over medium-high heat and boil, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by one-third, about 10 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the meat and vegetables and serve warm.
NOTE: To make the meat in a slow cooker, follow the searing instructions for the meat and vegetables, then transfer them to a slow cooker, add the remaining ingredients, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
(Adapted from "The Jewish Cookbook" by Leah Koenig. Phaidon, 2019.)
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AUTUMN SALAD WITH FARRO, APPLE AND ROASTED PERSIMMON
Active: 20 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
4 to 6 servings
Here is a delicious side to go with your brisket or pot roast. With roasted persimmon (or the stone fruit of your choosing), apples, pomegranate and walnuts, it's a salad that's loaded with flavor and makes for a filling vegetarian course. Apples and pomegranate are ingredients that are typically present at the Rosh Hashanah table, with the latter symbolizing good deeds.
Where to buy: Silan can be found at Middle Eastern markets or online; farro can be purchased at Whole Foods, specialty shops or online.
Make ahead: The dressing, farro and roasted fruit can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until needed.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 cup farro, barley or wheat berries
3 large or 4 small Fuyu persimmons, peeled, quartered and pitted, or not too-ripe peaches or other stone fruit
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
2 teaspoons silan (date syrup) or honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1/4 small red onion, finely diced
1 Granny Smith apple or other tart apple, cored and cut into tiny dice (leave the skin on)
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill sprigs
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, season generously with salt and add the farro. Boil the farro until fully tender but not mushy, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly, spread onto a large plate or tray and let cool. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees; position the rack in the middle.
Toss the persimmons with 1 tablespoon oil and a light sprinkling of salt. Spread the persimmons on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, about 20 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. (If using stone fruit, roast for about 10 minutes, until slightly caramelized but not mushy.)
Roughly chop half the walnuts and then very finely chop the other half.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, silan or honey, [1/2] teaspoon salt, the black pepper and the remaining 3 tablespoons oil.
In a large bowl, toss the farro with the finely chopped walnuts, the onion, apple, pomegranate and the dressing. Taste and season with more lemon juice, salt and/or pepper, if desired.
Arrange a bed of the farro mixture on a large platter, top with the roasted persimmons, and finish with the roughly chopped walnuts and dill. Serve at room temperature.
NOTE: Toast the walnuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.
(Adapted from "Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking" by Einat Admony and Janna Gur. Artisan, 2019.)
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TAHINI SALTED CARAMEL TART
Active: 45 minutes | Total: 1 hour 20 minutes, plus chilling time
8 to 10 servings
If you want a dessert that looks complicated but comes together fairly easily and will have your family and friends raving, this is it. Buttery, chocolate crust is punctuated by sesame seeds and gets filled with salted caramel mixed with tahini. Don't skip on the labneh whipped cream - it provides a tangy, fresh counterpoint to the rich caramel and crust. There's no better way to end a festive meal.
For the chocolate shortbread crust
8 tablespoons (113 grams/1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (65 grams) confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup (94 grams) flour
1/3 cup (50 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, plus more for serving
For the tahini salted caramel
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup (180 milliliters) heavy cream
1/2 cup (82 grams) lightly packed light brown sugar
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 tablespoons silan (date syrup) or light honey
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup (60 milliliters) tahini
For the labneh whipped cream
2/3 cup (180 milliliters) heavy cream
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) labneh or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees; position the rack in the middle.
In a large bowl, combine the butter and confectioners' sugar. Using a handheld mixer on medium-high speed, beat the two together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour, cocoa powder, salt and sesame seeds and beat until just incorporated, about 40 seconds. If the dough seems crumbly, press it with a silicone spatula while still in the bowl until it becomes a cohesive, somewhat sticky dough. Gather the dough and press it into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Using a fork, prick the dough all over, and place a piece of aluminum foil over. Freeze for 10 minutes.
Remove from the freezer and top with baking weights (or a pile of pennies); bake for about 25 minutes, until the crust is flaky but still soft. Transfer to a wire rack, remove the weights and the foil, and let cool completely.
Make the caramel: While the crust is cooling, place the granulated sugar in a clean medium saucepan with tall sides and sprinkle with the water. Turn the heat to medium, bring to a boil, then increase the heat to medium-high and boil until the sugar turns syrupy and the color of light caramel, and smells like burnt sugar, about 7 minutes. (Be careful: the caramel can easily burn, so take it off the heat a few seconds early if you're in doubt, and swirl gently - do not stir - if one area begins to darken more than others.) Remove the caramel from the heat, then immediately add the cream, brown sugar, butter and silan (or honey) and stir until the butter is melted. The mixture will sputter, then may harden in parts, but don't worry.
Place the saucepan back on the stove over low heat and bring the caramel to a low simmer until the caramel is a deep mahogany color, 11 to 12 minutes.
Remove from the heat, whisk in the salt and then the tahini until smooth, and pour into the baked tart crust. Cool slightly, then chill until the tart is set, at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.
Make the whipped cream: Just before serving, in a large bowl, using either a handheld mixer or a whisk, whip the cream until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes if using the mixer. Add the labneh and confectioners' sugar and whip until soft peaks return, about 1 minute if using the mixer.
Remove the tart from the refrigerator and top with the whipped cream, and more cocoa powder and sesame seeds before serving.
(Adapted from "Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen" by Adeena Sussman. Avery, 2019.)
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