A sweet way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah
By Tina Wasserman
Apples and honey. The words are bound together like peanut butter and jelly and are overflowing with memories. Ask Jewish pre-schoolers what these words bring to mind, and they will shout out gleefully, “Rosh Hashanah!” In the Ashkenazi world, dipping a sliced apple in honey, and in the Sephardi world, eating a sweet apple conserve with bread are universal traditions that express our hope for a sweet and fruitful year. These apple traditions are not based on law or dictates, but rather, are based on customs. Jewish customs often originate as a way of reinforcing Jewish identity and history, and serve to bind Jews throughout the Diaspora to their heritage and homeland. The question is, why apples and honey?
Most associate the apple with Adam and Eve’s mishap in the Garden of Eden, though the Bible never states what fruit was picked from the Tree of Knowledge. However, apples are most often used as a metaphor for affection and association with God.
In Solomon’s “Song of Songs,” the Jewish people are compared to an apple: “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved (Israel) amongst the maidens (nations) of the world.” In medieval times, apples were considered so special, that prayers were etched into the skin of the apple before it was eaten. Could this have lead to the custom of using the apple as a symbol of our “wishes” for a fruitful year? Even the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text of Kabbalistic writings, states that beauty “diffuses itself in the world as an apple,” and God represented beauty.
May all of you experience a year filled with good health, peace, prosperity and contentment.
Apple Raisin Noodle Kugel
Kugels are part of the Italian and Eastern European Jewish culinary repertoire. This most likely had a great deal to do with the spice trade route between Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East, where noodles were consumed. Because the following recipe is made with pareve margarine, it can be served with meat, according to Jewish dietary law. It is equally good with pears during the rest of the year.
12 ounces extra-wide egg noodles
½ stick pareve margarine or coconut oil
2 (3.9-ounce) cups unsweetened applesauce or pear/applesauce
4 large eggs (or 3 eggs and 2 egg whites)
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
Generous pinch of nutmeg
2/3 cup dark raisins
3 Gala or Jonagolds apples, or fresh D’Anjou pears, pared, cored and sliced into thin semicircles
Additional cinnamon and sugar for topping
Additional margarine or oil spray for topping
- Grease a 13×9-inch pan with margarine. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl with the ½ stick margarine and the applesauce. Stir gently to combine, and allow the margarine to melt.
- In a 1-quart bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add this blended mixture to the noodles along with the raisins and sliced fresh fruit. Mix gently but thoroughly and pour into the prepared pan.
- Lightly grease the shiny side of a sheet of foil with margarine or spray and then cover the casserole, greased side down.
- Bake for 45 minutes and then uncover, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Spray lightly with cooking oil or dot with margarine and return to the oven for 15 minutes more or until lightly golden. Let kugel sit for 10 minutes or so before cutting.
• To cook with apples, you should have a peeler, corer and paring knife. However, if you never want to be intimidated by a recipe that calls for multiple peeled apples, then you should invest in a peel-away, hand-cranked, apple peeler that also can core and slice your apples crosswise. This is not electric, so it is safe for children to use as well.
• Keep a stick of butter or margarine in the freezer for when a recipe calls for “dotting” your dish with fat. Just use a large grater, and grate the frozen fat over the dish to evenly distribute it over the surface.
• Non-cheese kugel should NEVER be assembled in advance. The egg mixture settles, while the top becomes hard and crisp, and the bottom becomes gummy.
• Covering a kugel during part of the baking time helps it stay moist and to “puff” up.
Bukharan Chicken Palov
Bukhara is a region in Uzbekistan, Central Asia, that figured prominently in the spice trade during the Middle Ages. The city was the center for the exchange of western furs and comestibles for the spices and silks from the Orient and India. While it was difficult to travel to, many Jewish traders made their home in this region; that strong Jewish presence was in place until the 20th century. This recipe is traditional for Rosh Hashanah and festive occasions, as fruit and vegetables were often combined in meat dishes.
1½ pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
1 medium onion, chopped into ½-inch pieces
2 cups coarsely shredded carrots (about 2)
2 apples such as Jonagolds or Gala (if available, substitute quince for 1 apple)
½ cup raisins
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
13/4 cups canned chicken broth
1 cup basmati rice
- Remove the fillet from the chicken breasts and lightly pound them to be ¼ to ½ inch thick. Lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Heat a large skillet for 20 seconds. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat for 10 seconds. Add the chicken breasts and sauté for 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Remove to a plate and keep warm.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat for 10 seconds. Add the onions and sauté until lightly golden.
- Add the carrots and apples or apples and quince, and sauté an additional 5 minutes until soft.
- Add the raisins and all of the seasonings to the fruit mixture. Add the broth and bring to a boil.
- Add the rice and stir to combine.
- Reduce the heat to medium; cover the pot and simmer the rice for 20-25 minutes or until rice is tender.
- Slice the boneless chicken breasts into ¼-inch slices. Place rice mixture in the center of a serving platter and place the sliced chicken over the rice. Serve.
Note: You may leave the chicken breasts whole and serve the rice on the side. Another alternative, and a more traditional way, is to slice the chicken before sautéing, then add it to the rice mixture halfway through the allotted cooking time.
• If you want an apple to hold its shape during long cooking times, such as those used for-jams, pies, and crisps, use firm apples like Gala, Granny Smith or Winesap apples.
• Apples should be placed in a bowl of acidulated water (water with some lemon juice added) if they will not be cooked shortly after peeling.
• If you choose to cook the meat with the rice, you are better off with thigh meat, so it will not dry out during the time it takes to cook the rice.
Here is a recipe whose components can be prepared in advance, then popped in the oven when you want to eat it. This could be used for Rosh Hashanah morning, a snack in the middle of the day between your family lunch and dinner, or even for Yom Kippur break-fast, if your family can begin the meal while the pancake cooks.
½ cup milk
½ cup flour
Pinch of nutmeg
Zest of 1/4 orange
1 stick unsalted butter
1 Jonathan or Gala apple
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup apricot preserves
½ teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
Powdered sugar for dusting
- Prepare the filling by thinly slicing the peeled and cored apple.
- Melt the tablespoon of butter in a skillet and add the apples, apricot preserves, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. Sauté over low heat until the apples begin to give off some of their juices. Continue sautéing over medium heat until the mixture becomes more syrupy. Cover and keep warm while you prepare the pancake OR cover and refrigerate or freeze for days until needed.
- To make the pancake, preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
- Combine eggs, milk, flour, nutmeg and orange zest in a blender and blend until smooth and well combined.
- Place the stick of butter in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, cast-iron skillet or 2-quart Pyrex pie pan. Place in the oven and heat until the butter is melted.
- Immediately add the batter to the hot skillet. Return pan to oven and bake for 12 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and transfer to hot pad or place pancake on a plate.
- Reheat apple mixture in the sauté pan or in the microwave (if mixture was made in advance and refrigerated), adding a little water, apple juice or applejack if the mixture is too thick.
- Place apples on top of pancake. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.
• Mix your pancake ingredients in a blender, then cover the blender jar and store in the refrigerator. Just before making the pancake, place the blender jar back on the base and turn the blender on for 10 seconds or until the mixture is well combined.