The 2021 High Holidays are early this year. Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on Monday, September 6, and the Yom Kippur Break Fast brings the Days of Awe to a close at sundown on Thursday, September 16. This is a time to break bread with family and friends, whether inside or out, and if there’s one thing my people can all agree on, it’s that food brings us together. Here are some of my favorite recipes to share with the ones you love, filled with the symbolic foods of the Jewish holidays — apples and honey, challah, pomegranates, carrots — and all my best wishes for a sweet new year.
Apples dipped in honey are a classic start to the Rosh Hashanah meal, symbolizing a sweet beginning, while the round challah bread represents the circular nature of the year. The genius of Deb Perelman (you know I’m obsessed with her) is how she combines the two. She swaps out the traditional sugar in the loaf with honey, and adds in a judicious amount of chopped fresh apple after the first big rise, then braids the dough into a crown shape. Your family will thank you for this one — just make sure you’ve got some soft salted butter ready to go.
The first time I hosted the holidays, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s East Side. I decided that I was going to make REAL gefilte fish for the first time, rather than buy the ubiquitous glass jar at the store. I ground the whitefish myself, combined it with carrots, herbs, onions, and a little matzo meal, and poached them in boiling stock, the aromatic steam perfuming the kitchen. Were they delicious? Yes, very. Did my small apartment smell of gefilte fish until I moved a year later? Why, yes. Yes, it did. The next time I made gefilte fish — once I got over the PTSD — I opted for a baked terrine version like this one. Still delicious, just a whole lot less smelly.
One of my two most requested recipes (the brisket below is the other), and perfect for any occasion, although it is always present for our Yom Kippur Break Fast (traditionally a dairy-driven meal) and our Hanukkah Latkefest, along with said brisket. What makes it great? It’s sweet enough, but not too sweet, and the kugel texture is on point. Add the raisins if you must (shudder!), but the nuts mixed with cinnamon sugar are highly recommended. Don’t forget to let the dairy products come to room temp — it will make your life much easier. Bonus: It freezes beautifully. I cut it in quarters and wrap and freeze individually, however leftovers are unlikely.
One of my favorite Jewish chefs is Michael Solomonov, who has a small restaurant empire in Philly (Zahav, Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, Laser Wolf, Goldie’s), and is the author of Zahav and Israeli Soul. His Moroccan carrot dish is a spirited blend of sweet, salty, spicy, and tangy, and is best served cold or at at room temperature.
Of course, to my mind, the all-time master of Israeli cooking Is Yotam Ottolenghi, who has a London restaurant empire and a plethora of award-winning, best-selling cookbooks. This recipe from his Jerusalem cookbook has played on repeat in our house since it first appeared in print. It’s like an update of the classic Chicken Marbella, with clementines and fennel taking the place of olives and prunes. Marinate the chicken, then roast it on a large sheet pan with quartered fennel bulbs and clementine slices, peel and all. Reduce the cooking liquid to serve as a sauce. It’s also excellent cold the next day.
Anther dish on permanent holiday rotation at our house when I often make five or six briskets at a time. But one is all you need to serve your hungry family, and though it takes a little babysitting, it’s an easy recipe and is always a crowd pleaser. We jokingly call it our “Jewish BBQ” because of the sweet-and-sour flavor profile which includes chili sauce (think Sloppy Joes), cider vinegar, brown sugar, and plenty of garlic. Veggies and tomato juice complete the picture, and by the time the brisket is done cooking, everything else is perfection as well.
This is the right recipe for gluten-free families. The base is a light as air meringue that bakes into a sturdy base for the silky pomegranate curd and fresh fruit. The presentation is beautiful — a real show-stopping dessert for your holiday table.
This recipe is from Jewish food blogger Jake Cohen, whose debut cookbook Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch was one of my faves last year. This recipe is from his great-grandmother and was passed down through the family. He describes it as “somewhere in between a cake and a pie,” and it’s got lemon juice, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg to keep the apples and walnuts good company. It comes quickly together in a food processor, then the batter is scraped into a greased pie pan and topped with crumble and baked until bubbling. Nanny’s Apple Cake will be served at my house this year!
The Contessa delivers with her rugelach recipe, a cream cheese-based dough rolled out into a circle, spread with melted apricot preserves, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, raisins and walnuts, then cut and rolled. Feel free to change up the preserves to raspberry or strawberry, sub in mini chocolate chips or dried cranberries for the raisins and add a little ground cardamom or ginger to the sugar sprinkle. Chilling the filled dough for 30 minutes will help retain the iconic rugelach shape.
Have neither the time nor the inclination to cook the holiday meal? You’ve got options.
Goldbelly has a wealth of options for the Jewish holidays. They’ll happily hook you up with Kenny and Ziggy’s Delicatessen in Houston for nationwide delivery of a full dinner for 4 – 6 ($200) including matzo ball soup, chopped liver, tzimmes, noodle kugel (or carrot soufflé), brisket (or stuffed cabbage), chocolate babka, and rugelach. Bring dinner in from Philly’s Zahav, Michael Solomonov’s James Beard Award-winning restaurant, directly to your door with the Pomegranate Lamb Shoulder Meal Kit for 6 ($249), and you’ll be awestruck by the whole brined, smoked, and confited lamb shoulder, along with a dozen housemade pitas, yellow rice, a full component of salatim (hummus, Moroccan carrots, twice-cooked eggplant, etc.), and an Olive Oil Basboosa with strawberry compote for dessert. The Sweet New Year package from NYC’s Russ and Daughters ($125) offers a big raisin challah, honey cake, cinnamon babka, rugelach, and a jar of Champlain Valley honey and makes a terrific gift to send to friends or family.
More from Better:
- Back-to-School Dinners You’ll Have Time to Make — and Enjoy
- Perfect Summer Wingmen: 8 Great Dishes to Bring to the Next Backyard BBQ
- The Best Virtual Cooking Classes Taught by Top Chefs and Cookbook Authors
Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.