Five Celebrated Jewish Chefs Share What They Serve on Rosh Hashanah
A table filled with delicious foods is an important part of many Jewish holidays, and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is no different. There are certain ingredients that are traditionally enjoyed on the holiday, such as apples and honey, pomegranate, and challah (but for Rosh Hashanah, it's usually round instead of a long braid that' often studded with raisins or other sweet fruit). Most of these foods are eaten on Rosh Hashanah because they are sweet, and they symbolize our wish for a sweet new year. While these foods can certainly be eaten raw, a la apples dipped in honey, they often appear in other dishes like cakes. Sephardic Jews have a Rosh Hashanah Seder with various ingredients from beans to fish head. And, of course, some dishes have become traditions in more recent years, like brisket and tzimmes.
Here, we spoke to five Jewish chefs about what they like to serve on Rosh Hashanah and why. Let their favorite dishes inspire you to create a delicious feast for this year's holiday.
Mike Solomonov, the chef and owner of Zahav, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, and other restaurants in Philadelphia, has a number of go-to recipes for Rosh Hashanah that were inspired by the family celebrations he remembers from his youth. "Growing up in the close-knit Jewish community of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, I was attached to a few good things, and my mom's brisket was one of them. Every Rosh Hashanah, I prepare my take on my Mom's coffee-braised brisket, which was her take on her mom's (naturally). My grandmother made her brisket with Heinz Chili Sauce, which gave it a traditional sweet-and-sour flavor. My mother added coffee, and though she doesn't remember why, it was actually pretty brilliant because coffee is a braising liquid that is ready in minutes, and the roasted flavors of coffee work really well with beef. In my take on her recipe I like to add cardamom to evoke Turkish coffee and for some sweetness (like the chili sauce) I use dried apricots."
And he doesn't just stop at savory. "Honey cake is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, so it is a go-to recipe for me each year," Solomonov adds. "I always return to my mom's recipe for the sweet loaf. When she was alive, she would make honey cake in Israel, freeze it, and send it to me. In the mail. Never mind the fact that I am a professional chef. The addition of apple confit makes the honey cake dessert-ready. It's a perfect ending to the New Year meal—and perhaps a more interesting spin on the traditional combination of apple slices dipped in honey for a sweet and fruitful year ahead. This is also an all-time favorite recipe because of that leftover apple confit, which keeps well in the fridge and has some fantastic savory applications, like with goat cheese, or chopped liver."
Based in Portland, Oregon, Bonnie Morales, the chef and owner of Kachka, has one dish that's always on her Rosh Hashanah table, "along with the requisite apples with honey and challah," that is. "I love making my mother's tzimmes," says Morales. "Her's is not the sickeningly sweet mush many associate with tzimmes. Instead, it is a deeply flavorful braise of short ribs with a mess of carrots, prunes, and bay leaves. Right at the end, she drops little klyotski (flour and water dumplings) in the pot. I've been making it for several years now and I can't imagine Rosh Hashanah without it."
Author of The Instant Post Kosher Cookbook ($17.95, barnesandnoble.com), The New Passover Menu ($24.95, barnesandnoble.com), The Holiday Kosher Baker ($5.47, betterworldbooks.com), and The Kosher Baker ($8.64, betterworldbooks.com), Paula Shoyer combines crowd pleasing dishes with cherished family favorites on her holiday table. "I always serve matzah ball soup because my mother included it at all holiday meals. Now I make my soup in my Instant Pot because the flavor is more intense. I have given mom's recipe a modern twist with matzah balls flavored with chopped fresh herbs," she says.
"Brisket is always a crowd pleaser, being a cut of meat made magical by cooking it for a very long time, until every bite melts in your mouth," Shoyer adds. "I have created recipes with the flavors of beef bourguignon, veal osso buco, and ratatouille, with my newest version made with a spinach pesto sauce."
And she doesn't forget about dessert. "I serve chocolate babka for dessert, the epitome of comfort food, with soft dough and gooey chocolate," says Shoyer. "It is my four children's favorite and reminds me of the childhood babkas I loved from New York bakeries."
Lior Lev Sercarz
Lior Lev Sercarz, chef, spice blender, and owner of La Boîte spice shop in New York City—as well as the author of Mastering Spice ($30, laboite.com)—explains, "I grew up eating mainly Ashkenazi food. I luckily had a Tunisian grandfather so I started adopting more and more from his family recipes. My version of tzimmes includes harissa and lots of lemon juice. I still use carrots, and instead of prunes I use dry figs. The result is sweet and savory and it is also great as a salad."
Sercarz also likes to tweak traditional dishes. "Instead of the traditional apple and honey dipping, I made a dish many years ago of apple wedges tossed in an olive oil and honey dressing. I also add lots of herbs to it (cilantro, parsley, mint) and sprinkle a bunch of pomegranate seeds on it. You can just pick an apple wedge or two with some herbs and make your blessings."
Chef and owner of Taim and Balaboosta in New York City, and author of Shuk ($35, barnesandnoble.com), Einat Admony says her mom has influenced what she serves for Rosh Hashanah. "Persians have a lot of different rice and my mom, who is originally from Iran and then moved to Israel, used to make this dish which she called it Rice Fit for Kings, because it has a lot of different things in it. It has barberries or currants, black-eyes peas, carrots, and cumin seeds. She would boil the rice ahead of time until it was al dente, then sauté each ingredient separately, and then mix everything with the rice and the oil from cooking. Then, she would put potato on the bottom of a large pot and then layer the rice on top, and cover it for an hour or two until its cooked and colorful."
"My mom used to call this Persian chicken dish Of Shachor, which means black chicken in Hebrew, because it takes forever to cook and she makes it super, super dark," says Admony. "She would make her own pomegranate confiture, which I love. But as a kid I didn't love it because I had to break open and seed all the pomegranates myself, and they had to be perfectly clean with none of the white membrane. But every year for Rosh Hashanah now I make this pomegranate chicken, or fesenjan. And my kids love it. But I just use pomegranate molasses from the store—I don't make my kids break open cases of pomegranates."