We are about to come to the Days of Awe, when observant Jews contemplate their lives and their values, their relationships with people and with their Creator. The season begins at sundown on Monday, September 29, 2008. Jewish families throughout the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the New Year 5769. It concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement on October 9th.
The High Holidays carry an air of solemnity, but it is also a happy, hopeful time. Thousands of years ago the prophet Nehemiah reminded our people that while the occasion is momentous and sacred, it is also a time to rejoice, and to eat rich foods and drink sweet beverages. Jews have always taken Nehemiah at his word. During the High Holidays we feast on special holiday dishes.
The preparations can seem endless. Many of us go to synagogue more and the services are much longer than usual. We also spend more time with extended family and friends. Adult children visit with their children. Kids travel home from college. Grandma and grandpa come to stay.
That means there’s a lot of food to serve. It makes sense to choose dishes that can be made partly or completely in advance so last minute cooking is left to a minimum.
The weather can be iffy at the end of September. Although we may have a warm spell, odds are that temperatures will dip to cool and we’ll be looking to eat foods that look to autumn and beyond: soups, roasts and braised dishes rather than light salads and quickly grilled ingredients of summer.
Carrot Soup’s light, delicate flavor makes it an ideal choice to start a sumptuous holiday dinner. Carrots are among the sweetest of vegetables, which is in keeping for holiday wishes for a sweet new year. The soup’s lovely pale-orange hue is festive looking, especially if you garnish each serving with a small sprig of fresh dill. Another benefit is that Carrot Soup is versatile. You can make it with vegetable or chicken stock, making it suitable for either dairy or meat meals (for meat meals replace the cream with soy milk or other dairy substitute). You can make it 3-4 days ahead of serving too, keeping it in a covered plastic container in the refrigerator.
Cornish hens can be made ahead also, up to the point of actually cooking them. They’re a wonderful treat for the holiday because hens are not something most people make on a regular basis. There are several ways to cook them, but one of the easiest is roasting. You can roast a Cornish hen whole, as you would a chicken, but if you cut it in half you’ll cut cooking time and have dinner sooner.
The recipe for Orange Glazed Hens with Sesame contains honey, an ingredient we often associate with Rosh Hashanah, but the dish isn’t overly sweet; fresh ginger and orange peel provide vibrancy and soy sauce and hoisin sauce complement with a savory quality. If you can find fresh lemongrass, add it to carry even more of a subtle but distinctive citrusy flavor. This dish follows on nicely to Carrot Soup. Serve it with mashed potatoes — always a favorite — or cooked couscous or polenta, and a green vegetable such as roasted asparagus, which you can also ready in advance up to the point of cooking.
To end the meal, consider a dessert based on apples. Not only is this fruit traditional to Rosh Hashanah, apples are now in season and at their finest tasting. You’ll find the best selection of fresh crop apples starting in September: Cortlands, Rome Beauties, Gravensteins, Macouns and so on. Most apple desserts can be made well ahead of serving: pie, crisp, tart, baked apple, and so on. So too with Apple-Cranberry Brown Betty, with its tender fruit and crusty, crunchy top. Dried or fresh cranberries give the dish extra color and tart flavor, but you can leave them out if you prefer the dish only with apples (or you can substitute raisins). Brown Betty can be either dairy or pareve, depending on whether you use butter or margarine. You can make Apple-Cranberry Brown Betty two days ahead (store it in the fridge); if you like crispy fruit desserts served warm, reheat the dish in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes.
Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She currently writes regular features for the food and community sections of daily newspapers and has written articles for Newsday, Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer’s Digest, Connecticut magazine, and many other publications. She operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut and is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent is Hip Kosher (DaCapo, 2008).