The Shegetz’s guide to food for the Jewish high holidays

If, like me,  you’re a not-Jewish guy (a shegetz), but are married to someone who is, Jewish holidays sneak up on you.  Most of them seem to be movable feasts, falling on different dates each year, like Easter does in the Christian calendar. So unlike, say Christmas, which is pretty predictable, I never know when there’s one just around the corner. I’m usually just getting over a massive effort in the kitchen for some other project (most recently, preserving the summer’s bounty) when Daniel asks something like  “Are we making gefilte fish this weekend? It’s Rosh Hashana, you know.”

I remember Jerry Seinfeld once saying Judaism was a religion about food.  I know he was being facetious, but on the other hand, there is a grain of truth in that comment.  Each holiday seems to have a different food or dish: Hamentaschen for Purim, Charoset and Matzoh for Passover, dairy-based dishes for Shavout, Latkes for Hanukkah, apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah. For the more important holidays, though, where a major, celebratory meal is involved, there are some dishes that almost always make an appearance: a loaf of beautifully braided challah, chicken soup, chopped liver, gefilte fish, a savoury poultry or meat dish, maybe a vegetable or two, and a dessert that is often specific to the holiday in question. (Note: the preceding dishes are from Ashkenazi, or Eastern European Jewish cuisine; Sepharidic and Mizrahi cuisine is quite different.)

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most important, holy holidays (a.k.a. holy days) in the Jewish calendar. Families with the resources to do so will often travel to be together, to attend synagogue and, of course, to eat together. Any balabusta worth her salt will pull out all the stops for these, the most important of holidays, and will have a fridge overloaded with the makings of everyone’s favourite holiday dishes.

With only two days to go before Rosh Hashanah, this balabusta doesn’t have much time to get prepared.  (And we’ve been invited out for the 1st night of the holiday.)  But I’m going to  squeeze in a few of the standards of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine in the next two days, and will try to keep up with documenting my progress.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s what’s on my list so far, in order of its preparation:

  1. Chicken soup
  2. Gefilte fish
  3. Chopped liver
  4. Challah

There will be a main dish … I haven’t decided what yet.  Jewish-style brisket, which to my mind, is the perfect food, is one option.  But to do it right, you need a whole brisket, which is enormous, and it feeds an army. The little 3-4 pound slabs of meat you see in the supermarket look reasonable for four to six people, but after 5-7 hours in the oven, they shrink down to half their size, and then you’re left wondering how you’re going to feed everyone. Another option is a breast of veal. Stuffed, it makes an elegant dish, but it’s not always easy to find, and frankly, it’s a bit of a pain to make.  Capon is a good choice; it is more “fun” than a regular chicken, is easily obtained in most good supermarkets or butchers, is virtually foolproof, and is delicious.  A few other things  might be a few other things that get thrown in, like a tzimmes, and a potato dish.   And of course a dessert … again, not sure what I’ll do here. After all the other food, a (boozy) fruit compote and some cookies might be the most appealing.

So, stay tuned, if you’re interested, and see what transpires … !

Copyright (C) 2015, Allan Risk. All rights reserved.

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