This year Erev Rosh Hashana falls on Labor Day! Not only does the early date catch us by surprise, but it's going to be HOT! I don't know about you, but I don't want to work for two days in a hot kitchen preparing a heavy traditional Rosh Hashana meal of chicken soup, gefilte fish and brisket with all the trimmings. But a traditional Labor Day cook out of burgers and dogs doesn't feel right either.
I love tradition, but sometimes traditions don't fit the current situation. This is one of those times.
So I created a menu that combines the best of both traditions. It incorporates all the traditional and symbolic foods for Rosh Hashana in a make-ahead picnic style meal.
All Jewish food traditions developed around the foods that were available in whatever location a Jewish community found itself. So the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) tradition includes dipping apples (a fall fruit) in honey (bee honey available in Europe). Kosher meat was sometimes scarce and always expensive, so it was reserved for special occasions like holidays. And in that part of the world summer was most definitely over by Rosh Hashana, so mostly fall produce was available, like sweet potatoes and dried fruits, which became tzimmes.
Northern Africa and the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Yemen) have more moderate climates and more diverse agriculture. So Jews in those places, Sephardi and Mizrachi, developed different food traditions. Based on the nature of a fruit or word play with its Hebrew name, these communities created a "seder" for Rosh Hashana that offers an array of foods imbued with symbolic meaning. These foods include dates, pomegranate, green beans, pumpkin or squash, beets, leeks, scallions or chives, and a fish head or head of lettuce.
This menu incorporates all these foods from Jewish traditions around the world in a mostly cold make-ahead picnic style meal.
I've included three recipes here. The recipe for the Squash Salad ran in my American Israelite article, along with an explanation of the Jewish calendar. Click here to read that.
Cold Borscht Shooters Click here to print. Makes 2 quarts; serves 8 to 12 in bowls & makes about 30 2-ounce shooters Ingredients 1 LB cooked beets 2 lg garlic cloves, crushed 4 C vegetable stock 1 tsp honey Juice from one lemon 1 C plant-based yogurt or real sour cream 3 scallions, chopped Salt & pepper
Directions 1. Grate the beets into a medium saucepan, using the largest holes on a 4-sided grater. 2. Add garlic, stock, honey & lemon juice to the pan. Bring to a boil, turn down to simmer for 10 minutes. 3. In the meantime, use the bottom of a small glass to smash the chopped scallions with some kosher salt until they’re pulpy. 4. When the borscht is cool, use an immersion blender to puree. Make as smooth or chunky as you like. 5. Add scallions to the borscht; stir in the yogurt. Season liberally with freshly ground pepper and taste for salt. 6. Serve in bowls or shooter glasses with a small dollop of yogurt and scallions for garnish.
Crab Salad (Imitation) Click here to print. Serves 4 to 6, depending on the rest of the menu Ingredients For the Salad ½ LB imitation crab flakes or sticks, chopped fine 1 stalk celery, diced 1 very small onion, diced 1 TBSP capers, chopped
For the Dressing 1/3 C mayonnaise 1 tsp Dijon mustard 2 tsp whole seed mustard 1 tsp celery seeds ¼ tsp smoked paprika Pinch cayenne pepper (or more)
Directions 1. In a medium bowl toss crab, celery, onion & capers together. 2. In a small bowl combine all dressing ingredients; taste for seasoning, add salt & pepper. 3. Add dressing to crab, toss to combine. 4. Serve on lettuce with cucumber & tomato as garnish.