September 26, 2003
Reinvent challah, honey, apples
For this year's High Holiday meals, take a chance and go where
Jewish cooks have never ventured before.
PEARL SALKIN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH BULLETIN
Life was so simple back in Brooklyn, N.Y. When I was a kid, there
were two types of challah braided for Shabbat, round for
Rosh Hashanah and other festivals. Wine was Concord grape and apples
were Macintosh. Honey was honey, something generic that came in
a jar that we bought from a beekeeper friend in the Catskills each
While I cherish my memories of those basics and the platters of
brisket and bowls of chopped liver, I wonder how those staples are
faring today. Is haute hot in kosher cuisine? Do more complicated
dishes dominate the High Holy Day dinner table? Has the lower-your-lipids
caveat convinced all of us fatty food addicts to become heart-healthy,
even on holidays? Is the heyday of heavy meals history, gone for
good? Have chefs and their clients seen the light?
With a few simple tools an Internet connection, a telephone
and my taste buds I set out to find solutions to these and
other culinary conundrums. The results will amaze you. Well, not
really, but it has been an interesting assignment.
One hundred pounds of brisket, 50 dozen eggs and 100 gallons of
soup. Pre-Kol Nidre dinner at your house? Actually, these statistics
are from a commercial kitchen and come courtesy of Natalie Brown,
co-owner of suburban New Orleans' Kosher Cajun, an acclaimed restaurant
and catering company.
"We do not see a trend toward lighter foods," she said.
"It seems as though our customers are still looking for the
traditional holiday foods. They want brisket with carrots and potatoes,
fresh made matzah ball soup, round challah (with raisins for a sweet
New Year) and gefilte fish."
But it appears that her glatt kosher foods reflect a little local
flavor and add some surprise to an otherwise typical take-out menu.
"We cook and smoke turkeys and briskets," said Brown.
"[And] we do have a special dish that we prepare for many people
during the Rosh Hashanah season cranberry crisp, a delicious
side dish. It is made with cranberries, oatmeal, apples, cinnamon
Bliss by the bayou, and healthy to boot!
A survey of several sources across the continent confirms the continuing
popularity of traditional fare. Regardless of their fat content
and uninspiring appearance, kugels, kneidlach (matzah balls), kishke,
chopped liver and the like are not slipping off the charts. But
Jewish cooks and consumers are expressing some creativity and sophistication,
and many have been tilting toward the leaner (and greener) side
of side dishes.
While potato and noodle kugels still rule, seeing something a little
lighter and brighter on a yom tov table is becoming more common.
Broccoli, spinach, carrots, apples and zucchini are putting up a
good fight to corner part of the pudding market.
After sampling some restaurants, delis and prepared food departments
of kosher supermarkets, I couldn't say that they were anywhere near
the cutting edge of kosher gastronomy. But a guy with a CIA background
led me in the right direction.
Chef Gershon Schwadron, globetrotting gourmet and resident expert
on kosher cooking for VirtualJerusalem.com, was trained at the CIA
Culinary Institute of America. Founder of New York-based
Chef-2-Go, an elite service that provides captivating kosher catering
just about anywhere in the world, Schwadron has kicked the brisket
habit, and embraces holiday dishes that take the best of traditional
and turn it into trendy.
"The New Year brings many new foods to mind," said Schwadron.
"I do a shana tovah chicken. I take a whole boneless chicken
breast and I make a stuffing of sautéed onions, carrots,
celery, apples, walnuts and challah. I finish it with an orange-pomegranate
glaze, and I usually serve that with maple-glazed beets and potato
Sounds wonderful! Lots of sweet ingredients for a sweet year, and
the inclusion of beets (symbolic of the desire to have our enemies
"removed") and pomegranates (significant because the fruit
has just about 613 seeds, and eating it affirms our commitment to
follow the 613 Torah mitzvot) shows how this chef can put a contemporary
spin on some customary edibles.
The chef's light touch is reflected in his break-the-fast menus,
"I'll do wraps that are small vegetable omelettes wrapped in
10-inch flour tortillas," he explained. "I have, on occasion,
served five-ounce slices of salmon that have been poached in a good
Chardonnay. And I have even done smoothies for a break-the-fast.
Of course, I have the usual stuff, too lots of juices, flavored
At Manhattan's upscale eatery, Levana, the glatt kosher Rosh Hashanah
menu reveals what proprietor Sol Kirschenbaum calls "a contemporary
twist on the traditional."
"In lieu of gefilte fish, we serve a fresh salmon roulade with
salmon mousse and roasted white asparagus, wrapped in nori [the
Japanese dried seaweed used to make sushi rolls] and we serve it
with a ginger scallion sauce," said Kirschenbaum.
In order to keep the customers happy, he offers something somewhat
more familiar a salmon and whitefish gefilte fish roll, coated
with dill and fresh herbs, and wrapped in poached leeks. And, yes,
he does serve a braised brisket of beef, but not quite your bubbe's.
It's made with pure maple syrup and sports a honey glaze.
What else is new on the kosher cuisine scene? Challah's been reinvented!
Though a holiday challah is still spherical, some brave bakers go
beyond the raisins and add apples, peaches, strawberries and even
chocolate chips to their dough. An egg wash gives the challah a
glistening crust, but some folks conceal that shine with a sprinkling
of sugar or poppy and sesame seeds.
Since there's no law that limits you to a particular honey or apple,
this is a golden opportunity to introduce a new taste sensation
to your family. Most supermarkets carry about a dozen different
types of apple and, while the no-frills honey of my youth is still
available, the trend is to try something new. Both neighborhood
grocers and online gourmet shops sell kosher honey made by North
American and Israeli bees. Orange blossom, eucalyptus, sweet clover,
fireweed, sage, alfalfa, tupelo, lehua each honey's distinct
color, fragrance and flavor will set the tone for a terrific dining
Since vintners know that it wouldn't be Rosh Hashanah without wine,
they are constantly courting Jewish customers with their latest
kosher offerings. But instead of thinking color, think climate.
More specifically, think ice. Ice wine is the "in" drink.
Only two producers make the kosher kind Rodrigues (Markland,
Nfld.) and Hafner (Moenchhof, Austria). It is made from fruit
grapes, blueberries, raspberries or strawberries that have
been nipped by Jack Frost in the fall, and that freezing process
gently sweetens the final product. It goes especially well with
dessert, so consider bringing out a bottle with your break-the-fast
Whether you stick with brisket or go where Jewish cooks have never
ventured before, Schwadron has this advice: "While everyone
wants elegant meals, each meal must be thoroughly planned and choreographed
in advance so that the cook is able to enjoy the simchah of the
I'll second that.
Pearl Salkin is a freelance writer living in New Jersey.