Snack Attack: What to Cook for Rosh Hashana

September 27, 2011

We don’t have a ton of time on our hands—what with spending most of our days rubbing down our twitter timelines and making friends at the bar. But every once in a while, a FADER family member will find the time to explore something delicious, talk about what it is and explain how easy it is to make. This week, Naomi Zeichner writes about cooking for the New Year.

Rosh Hashana translates literally as the “head” of the Jewish year. During the two-day event, it’s custom to blow a shofar, an instrument carved from a ram’s horn. A shofar’s noise is truly awful. The goal is that the blast will nudge people to attention, and that over the course of the holiday they’ll enjoy a momentary understanding of their lives and the lives of others. Ideally, you'll start the year fresh with a keen sense of yourself and a lot of hope, ready to be a good human and friend. Unlike Passover, its spring cousin, Rosh Hashana is not celebrated with a formal Seder. Its dinners don’t have a set, ritual order. But Rosh Hashana cooking has a guiding structure —many symbolic foods are associated with the occasion, and—Jewish or not—they’re fun to collage together (with booze) into a sweet party meal. Here are some of my favorite recipes.

In Hebrew, the word for year means both to repeat and to change. Challah's are typically braided into loafs, but Rosh Hashana challahs are shaped into spiral rounds, reflecting the cyclical nature of a year. As the year should be, they're also sweet, studded with raisins, spiced with cardamom or brushed with honey. Challah makes the absolute best french toast.
Recipe: My Favorite Challah

Apples and Honey
Apples are round and sweet, just like the challah. Find honeycrisps if you can. Ginger golds, fujis and galas are also in season. Dip them in honey, a symbol of wealth and the good life, to wish for a candy-coated year.

Shu Mai
Because it's the "head" of the year, fish heads appear on Rosh Hashana tables. The rest of the fish shows up too, as a symbol of abundance and fertility (fish have a ton of babies and are good swimmers). Stretching this concept a little, serve shrimp dumplings. They're not kosher but easy to buy and not hard to make. Everyone will eat them.
Recipe: Shrimp and Cilantro Shu Mai

Click through for entrees and desserts.

Green Beans with Leeks
The word for leek in Hebrew resembles the Hebrew word for decimate. As in, decimate your enemies. That you chop leeks heightens the drama. A super-easy side your vegetarian friends can eat.
Recipe: Vibrant Green Beans

India-inspired carrots are slow-stewed until they're sweet. Chiles and curry make them savory and interesting. Serve with rice.
Recipe: Carrot Kari

Bad brisket is the worst. That the dish is common at many Jewish gatherings feels like a test. The key to success is: cooking low and slow. You need two days. Cook it some one evening then leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day, skim off all the chilled fat (yup) and then cook more before you serve it. I use Jewish cookbook mogul Joan Nathan's recipe, but with my mom's adjustments—she adds ginger and wine. It works.
Recipe: Friday night Brisket (via my mom)

Itsy Bitsy Weed Cookies
A variation on the theme of after-dinner drinks. Because these are tiny and low-dosed, you'll still be able to get out of your seat after eating one or even a couple. Replace half of the recipe's butter (1/4 cup) weed butter. Don't get anyone high by mistake! Make a sign or announcement for fair-warning.
Recipe: Itsy Bitsy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Apple Plum Pie
A jewel-toned showpiece. Substitute a different crust and it's safe for calorie-watchers.
Recipe: Single Crust Plum and Apple Pie

Chocolate Babka
This rolled loaf cake has more than two pounds of chocolate, over a pound of butter and a pound and a half of sugar. It is expensive and difficult to make. I've never tried. Allegedly it's worth the loving labor. Your friends will applaud you.
Recipe: Chocolate Babka

Posted: September 27, 2011
Snack Attack: What to Cook for Rosh Hashana