How Rosh Hashanah Meals Vary Around the Globe
In Little Book of Jewish Feasts, Leah Koenig shares 25 globally inspired Jewish holiday main dishes that will satisfy and delight. Building on traditional flavors with the innovative and modern interpretations that Leah is known for, the book features showstopping recipes that embody Jewish cuisine.
Here, Leah discusses how Rosh Hashanah is celebrated through food around the world. Read on, and try out her Balsamic and Brown Sugar Brisket!
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Eating apples dipped in honey is a highlight of Rosh Hashanah, also called the Jewish New Year. Together, the two symbolic foods represent one’s wishes for a sweet and full year ahead, and also offer an excuse to enjoy the crunchy fruits at their early fall peak. But this food tradition is just a small part of the story. Around the globe, Jewish families and friends gather together for festive meals—but depending on where they live (or originally hail from), the dishes on the table differ dramatically.
For Jews with Eastern European backgrounds, saucy braised brisket almost always takes center stage on Rosh Hashanah. Once considered part of Jewish poverty cuisine (brisket’s toughness made it a less desirable, and therefore less expensive, cut of meat), it has become one of the most celebrated and iconic holiday dishes. There are countless ways to dress up brisket. The Balsamic and Brown Sugar Brisket in my cookbook Little Book of Jewish Feasts (recipe at the bottom of the page!) adds a hint of bright, fruity sweetness that makes it a perfect fit for Rosh Hashanah.
Persian Jews, meanwhile, often welcome Rosh Hashanah with Fesenjan—a chicken (or sometimes duck) dish that is flavored with pomegranate molasses and a complex bouquet of herbs, and is bathed in a sauce thickened by ground walnuts. The dish’s sweet flavor accent’s the holiday’s themes of sweetness. And a sprinkle of seasonal pomegranate seeds overtop adds a pop of autumnal, ruby color.
In North Africa, Moroccan Jews enjoy a Seven Vegetable Tagine, among other dishes, on Rosh Hashanah. Each of the vegetables in the stew holds symbolic meaning for the New Year, while the number seven itself is said to represent the Jewish month of Tishrei, which is when Rosh Hashanah falls. Traditionally served over couscous, the intricately perfumed recipe in Little Book of Jewish Feasts comes brimming carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, butternut squash, chickpeas, onions, and garlic. A handful of golden raisins adds sweetness and a sprinkle of toasted almonds lends crunch. The tagine makes a great companion to meat dishes, but also shines as a delicious and nutritionally-complete vegetarian main dish.
Jewish communities have lived, cooked, and celebrated virtually everywhere from Greece and Turkey, to Lithuania and Poland, to and Ethiopia, India, and Mexico. With a cuisine so profoundly global, there are countless expressions of what a holiday dinner can and “should” look like. What holds all of these diverse cultures together is a love of family, tradition, and a great meal. This Rosh Hashanah offers the perfect opportunity to get to know the world of Jewish feasts, one dish at a time.
Balsamic and Brown Sugar Brisket
Braised brisket began as poverty cuisine—a method of low-and-slow cooking that was capable of transforming a cheap, tough cut of meat into something desirable. This version adds brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to the braising liquid, resulting in deep flavor and caramelized edges. Like many braised meat dishes, brisket’s flavor improves with time, so plan to make it a day or two before serving. To slice, find the grain (the thin lines that run in one direction along the brisket) and use a sharp knife to thinly slice perpendicular to those lines.
- 4 to 5 lb [1.8 kg to 2.3 kg] brisket
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 large red onions, halved through the root and thinly sliced
- 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 cups [360 ml] beef or chicken stock
- 1/3 cup [80 ml] balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup [65 g] packed light brown sugar
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F [165°C] and season both sides of the brisket with salt and pepper.
2. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a Dutch oven or large sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. If the brisket does not fit all at once, cut it in half and sear it in batches.
3. Remove the seared brisket from the pot and set aside. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil followed by the onions, garlic, and bay leaves to the pot and cook, stirring often, until the onions soften and the mixture is fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, whisk together the stock, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, and 1 tsp salt in a medium bowl until fully combined. Transfer the onion mixture to the bottom of a large roasting pan and layer the seared brisket on top. Pour the balsamic mixture over the top, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and transfer to the oven.
5. Cook the meat for 2 hours. Remove from the oven, uncover, and carefully flip the meat to the other side. Re-cover and continue cooking until the meat is fork tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours more.
6. Remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a cutting board; drape loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing against the grain. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions and arrange around the brisket. Spoon your desired amount of pan juices over the brisket before serving. Serve hot. Store leftovers, covered, in the fridge, for up to 4 days. To reheat, transfer the brisket and any juices to a baking dish and heat in a 325°F [165°C] oven until warmed through, 15 to 20 minutes.
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For more Jewish meals from around the world, check out Little Book of Jewish Feasts by Leah Koenig.
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