Labor Day Rosh Hashanah: lessening the labor
Photo: Ethel G. Hofman
Chicken Masala

By Ethel G. Hofman

(JNS) I know, I know; it’s summer! Must we think of all the cooking now? 

This year, the holiday starts the evening of Sept. 6 — on Labor Day itself in the United States — and lasts through the evening of Sept. 8.

With the tastes of summer lingering on our palates, make the menu fresh, local and lighter than the traditional brisket and kugels. For inspiration, I pulled out works that long ago were my culinary Bibles: “The Settlement Cookbook” and anything by Betty Crocker. I flipped through old cookbooks by my foodie colleagues, Claudia Roden in the United Kingdom and Phyllis Glazer in Israel. I pulled out half a dozen of my own books (recipes tested and true) and reread, with awe, my food columns going back to when I was Philadelphia’s “Instant Gourmet.”

Back in the kitchen, I adapted old favorites — lively flavors reminiscent of overseas travels along with the variety of fresh fruits and veggies still abundant in an Indian summer. At a taste-testing supper, each dish received resounding accolades, with Ben’s Mint Refresher (the fizzy drink is cooling and palate-clearing), Chicken Masala (simmered in a mellow coconut-ginger sauce; if frozen, you may need to add more fresh ginger to the thawed dish), Sweet Potato and Squash Tzimmes (not a carrot in sight; best made one to two days ahead of time and kept in the fridge) and Josie’s Plum Kuchen (melted margarine is blended with vinegar, flour and a little sugar; no need to roll) the hands-down favorites. The Mint Refresher and the Plum Kuchen are easy enough to prepare at a vacation house, then pack in a cooler and transport them home. Just add seltzer to the mint “muddle” to serve.

The recipe for Oma’s Noodles and Blueberries came from my late husband’s grandmother, a German-Jewish summer dish and simple to put together at the last minute. And for non-meat-eaters, nothing could be easier than the salmon recipe. Make one to two days ahead, or cook same day and chill; it’s a standby for quick supper anytime.

Anne, my sister-in-law, a good cook in her own right, will sandwich the crisp Mocha Meringues with Nutella, while I opt for vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. And the bonus recipe: Best-Ever Honey Cake. A triple infusion of honey, molasses and brown sugar, along with canned pumpkin, gives this cake a moist, rich syrupiness — guaranteed to become a traditional holiday favorite.

L’Shanah Tovah — to a sweet, joyous and healthy New Year!

Ben’s Mint Refresher
Chicken Masala
Sweet Potato and Squash Tzimmes
Oma’s Noodles and Blueberries
Simple Salmon
Plum Kuchen
Mocha Hazelnut Meringues
Bonus Recipe: Best-Ever Honey Cake

Ben’s Mint Refresher (Pareve)
Serves 6

Cook’s Tips:
  • Make Herb Refresher. Combine equal quantities, fresh basil and mint.
  • Simple syrup may be made ahead of time. Extra may be refrigerated for three weeks.
  • To muddle ingredients means pressing ingredients against the side of a container to release flavors.


  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 4 to 5 sprigs mint, coarsely snipped
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 bottle (about 1 quart) seltzer


  1. In a small saucepan, stir sugar and water over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Lower heat. Simmer for 1 minute. Pour into a bowl.
  2. Add the mint, cover and steep for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  3. Add the lime juice to the cooled syrup mixture. “Muddle” the mint to release flavor.
  4. To assemble: Just before serving, stir in the seltzer. Pour over ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a slice of lime.

Chicken Masala (Meat)
Adapted from a recipe in Claudia Roden’s ‘Book of Jewish Food’
Serves 6-8

Cook’s Tips:
  • Substitute cumin for turmeric. You’ll get the flavor but not the yellowish-orange color.
  • Don’t worry if coconut milk appears curdled. Tiny flakes of coconut all but disappear in cooking.
  • If chicken breasts are large and thick, cut in half.
  • Make ahead, cover tightly and freeze.


  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped (in processor)
  • 4 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon bottled minced garlic
  • 2½-inch piece ginger root, grated on the coarse side of a grater
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 6 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (about 2½-3 pounds)
  • Freshly ground pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound little potatoes, quartered
  • 1 can (13 to 14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Water to cover
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1/3 cup each of cashews and raisins
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh parsley (optional)


  1. Sauté onions over low heat until soft and golden. Stir in garlic, ginger and turmeric.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken with pepper. Add to the onion mixture. Cook 5 minutes over medium heat, turning occasionally. Add salt, potatoes, coconut milk, cinnamon and enough water to barely cover (1 cup or less).
  3. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Mix cornstarch and ¼ cup cold water to a smooth paste. Stir into the chicken mixture.
  4. Simmer 2 minutes longer, stirring often. Adjust seasoning with pepper and salt.
  5. Stir in the cashews and raisins.
  6. Serve with hot rice, spiked with snipped fresh parsley (optional).

Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Tzimmes (Pareve)
Serves 6-8

Cook’s Tips:
  • Buy squash from the market already cut up.
  • Chinese Five spice is usually a combination of cinnamon, fennel, anise, cloves and pepper. You can substitute ¼ teaspoon each cinnamon, ground cloves and pepper instead.
  • Refrigerate 2-3 days ahead of time. Do not freeze.


  • 1 pound butternut squash, cut in ½-inch pieces
  • 3 sweet potatoes, about 2 pounds, cooked
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into coarse 1-inch chunks
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup dried apricots, halved
  • ½ cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons margarine, melted
  • ¼ cup honey, warmed
  • ¾ teaspoon Chinese Five Spice


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Place squash in a microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon water. Cover and cook on High for 3 minutes. Drain.
  2. Peel sweet potatoes and cut in ½-inch slices.
  3. Place the sweet potatoes, squash, apple, cranberries and apricots in a prepared baking dish. Add the orange juice, margarine and honey. Sprinkle with Chinese Five spice. Stir gently to mix.
  4. Cover and bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to 250 degrees. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes longer or until bubbly.
  6. Serve hot.

Oma’s Noodles and Blueberries (Pareve)
Serves 6

Cook’s Tips:
  • For blueberries, substitute diced blue plums or a pinch of raisins and salted walnuts.
  • Rinse and drain blueberries before use. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • To liquefy honey: Set the container in a bowl of hot water for three to four minutes. Do not try to microwave honey in a plastic bottle.


  • 12 ounces medium egg noodles
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 pint blueberries, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tablespoons margarine, melted


  1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain well.
  2. While noodles are cooking, in a small saucepan, mix honey, lemon juice, blueberries and 3 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring. Immediately remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, toss hot noodles with margarine. Pour blueberry mixture over top.
  4. Serve hot.

Plum Kuchen (Pareve)
Serves 8-10

Cook’s Tips:
  • Substitute butter for margarine if making a dairy dish.


  • 1 stick (4 ounces) margarine, melted
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 2/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 pound plums, pitted and quartered
  • 3 tablespoons water


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the margarine and vinegar.
  3. Blend in 2 tablespoons sugar and 1¼ cups flour to make a smooth dough. Press into the bottom of a 10-inch pie plate. Prick all over with a fork. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons flour, ⅔ cup sugar and cinnamon. Add plums and toss to coat.
  5. Arrange plums, cut-side up, on top of the dough to cover. Sprinkle any remaining flour mixture over the plums. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of water.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes or until pastry is golden at the edges. Cool before cutting into wedges.

Simple Salmon (Pareve)
Serves 4

Cook’s Tips:
  • Any other fish, such as haddock or cod, may be substituted.
  • May be prepared one to two days ahead of time and refrigerated.


  • Boiling water
  • ¼ cup distilled white vinegar
  • ¼ small onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 to 2 bay leaves
  • 4 (4 to 5 ounces each) salmon steaks, ½ to ¾ inch thick


  1. Pour about 1 inch boiling water into a large heavy skillet. Add vinegar, onion and bay leaves.
  2. Arrange salmon on top in a single layer. Add more water to almost cover if needed.
  3. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until salmon is opaque when flakes are separated with a knife.
  4. With a wide spatula, transfer salmon to a serving dish. Pour a little liquid around to keep it moist.
  5. Serve warm, chilled or at room temperature.

Mocha Hazelnut Meringues (Pareve)
Makes 15-18

Cook’s Tips:
  • Substitute flaked coconut or other nuts, such as walnuts, for hazelnuts.
  • Bring egg whites to room temperature before whipping. Cold whites won’t whip up well.


  • 3 egg whites
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
  2. Spray 2 cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually beat in sugar, ¼ cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Fold in the cocoa and coffee, then hazelnuts. Drop by heaped tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets.
  3. Bake in a preheated oven for 2 hours. Turn off the oven.
  4. Leave in oven overnight without opening door. No peeking. Transfer to wire rack. Let stand one to two hours.
  5. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate.
Photo: Ethel G. Hofman
Best-Ever Honey Cake

Best-Ever Honey Cake (Pareve)
Makes 1 average loaf (approximately 8×4 inches), plus 3 mini-loaves, or bake in a Bundt pan to serve 15 to 18 people.

Cook’s Tips:
  • All-purpose white flour may be used instead of a mixture of whole-wheat and white flours.
  • Use canned pumpkin, not pumpkin-pie mix.
  • Substitute 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg and ¾ teaspoon cloves for Chinese Five Spice.
  • Can use dried cranberries instead of raisins.


  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • ½ cup honey, warmed
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose white flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese Five Spice
  • 1 cup raisins


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pans or Bundt pan with nonstick baking spray with flour.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs and water to blend. Add remaining wet ingredients. Mix well.
  3. Stir in the brown sugar and flours, about ½ cup at a time.
  4. Add the baking soda and spices with the last ½ cup of flour. Fold in raisins.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans.
  6. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Mini-loaves will bake in 35 minutes or so.
  7. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Loosen edges by running a knife around.
  8. Turn onto a wire tray to cool completely.
  9. To freeze: Wrap tightly in aluminum foil.

Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.

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