When visiting my parents last week, I asked what they were cooking for Rosh Hashana; they looked at me with a puzzled expression. Ah, I thought, I bet they were planning on me doing the cooking or at least planning the menu. As they are getting older, they seem to depend upon me more to take over their kitchen when visiting. I do enjoy it. However, when I cook, things do splatter and pots and pans do pile up. I don’t think they like that aspect of my cooking, so I made a deal: don’t worry about the mess that will eventually get cleaned up, and simply enjoy the results.
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown Sept. 18. It is the first of the High Holidays, the second being Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. (The proper way to greet someone celebrating Rosh Hashana, byt the way, is “shana tova” — a good year.)
Unlike Yom Kippur, which is a fasting holiday, symbolic foods are eaten during meals. As a child, a fond memory is dipping challah bread and apples in honey, symbolizing a sweet new year. I remember my paternal grandmother’s challah breads were braided the rest of the year, but were round for Rosh Hashana, to reflect the circle of life and cycle of the seasons. Raisins were added to the dough, for sweetness in the New Year.
So, back to planning the menu. I looked through some new arrivals to my Jewish cuisine cookbook collection and have a few ideas. The first book, “Deep Flavors: A Celebration of Recipes for Foodies in a Kosher Style” by Kenneth Horwitz (2019, Inspire on Purpose Publishing, $39.95), is an eclectic collection of family recipes, including reminiscences and insights about food and its preparation in a kosher style from the perspective of a southern Jew. I was curious to speak with the author, a tax attorney and food lover.
I got the feeling during our telephone chat that Ken is larger than life — his humor, enthusiasm and love of life and family. This is also shown in his book, the purpose of which was to pass on family recipes to his son and daughter and others who want to preserve a food culture that is disappearing. When asked why his book doesn’t include a recipe for gefilte fish, a traditional dish served at holiday dinners, he quickly said, “because I don’t like gefilte fish!”
During an interview with Today’s CPA, he said, “my approach to cooking is really an extension of what I do in my professional practice. I solve problems. One of the problems, at least in my house, is that since we maintain a kosher house, but eat eclectically, is how to convert recipes so that they are kosher.”
For example, his Texas State Fair blue ribbon-winning spinach mushroom lasagna is vegetarian, accessible both to those who keep kosher and vegetarians. It has a unique twist on ingredients that gives it a complex flavor profile. His recipes for classic dishes such as brisket and roast turkey have newly imagined taste combinations and techniques to elevate them while maintaining recognizable elements of the dish.
Perhaps why he didn’t know what carrot tzimmes is, is because it perhaps is a Northeast kind of dish? I’ll be sending him Dori’s recipe below to add to his repertoire!
Jewish-style stuffed cabbages are in the multicultural tradition of vegetables stuffed with meat and other fillings. The Italians stuff zucchini flowers, zucchini, eggplant and other vegetables. The French and Eastern Europeans stuff cabbage (primarily with pork, which is obviously not what we do). Mexicans have chile rellenos or stuffed poblano peppers, filled with either a meat or various sorts of cheese. Stuffed cabbage in the Jewish style generally has a sweet-and-sour flavoring. In my family, the sour comes from sour salt — essentially citric acid — and sugar, but in my wife’s family, the sour comes from lemon, also sweetened with sugar. Some recipes also call for the sour to be derived from addition of vinegar, also offset with sugar.
Prakas (or holishkes) are served at the Jewish holidays of Sukkoth (the harvest festival) and Simhath Torah, the celebration of the Torah and the completion of the cycle of reading through the entire Torah at services and the start of the recitation and reading of the Torah for the following year. The custom of serving stuffed cabbage at Sukkot implies richness or plenty, while at Simchat Torah, it is the symbolism of two pillows of cabbage placed side by side that is evocative of the Torah scroll.
Apparently, the term prakas is a name given to holishkes or stuffed cabbage leaves by American Yiddish-speaking Jews in Philadelphia and Baltimore. My mother’s family used the term prakas, but as far as I am aware, we had no connection on that side of the family with either Philadelphia or Baltimore.
Whatever the dish is called, it is comfort food that is most delicious.
Prior to removing the leaves of the cabbage, cut around the core (the stem end) carefully and remove core from the cabbage. This will facilitate removal of the outer leaves from the cabbage, exposing inner leaves.
The cabbage leaves need to be separated from the cabbage without tearing since they need to be whole in order to be stuffed. The leaves need to be softened prior to their removal from the head. This can be achieved in one of two ways: (1) you can freeze the cabbage, and then let it thaw (an idea from Julia Child); or (2) you can boil a large pot of water, and place the cabbage (with the core removed) into the pot of water until the outer leaves are softened, repeating as necessary as the outermost leaves are removed, exposing the uncooked, unsoftened inner leaves that also need to be removed. If you freeze the cabbage, remove it from the freezer, and allow it to thaw so that the leaves are all softened.
Once the usable leaves are removed, coarsely chop the remaining cabbage to add to the baking dish. (The core of the cabbages should be given to your dog as a special and healthy treat.)
Mix about 1/2 cup of the finely minced onion and garlic into the finely ground beef. Add the salt, pepper, and eggs, and mix thoroughly. Many recipes call for adding 1/2 to 3/4 cup of uncooked white rice to the ground beef mixture. My mom did not do this, but my wife and I tried this one time many years ago. We simply did not like the texture of the final product. However, it is your choice, and if you like that addition, you can certainly feel free to add the rice (uncooked) to the ground beef. Alternatively, you could soak 2 or 3 slices of bread (but not the crusts) in water to make a panade to mix with the meat to lighten the filling and help it stay moist, if you desire.
Once the leaves are fully separated from the cabbage and the filling is mixed, place a cabbage leaf on a flat surface, and measure about 1/3 to 1/2 cup (or less for smaller leaves) of the ground beef mixture. Place this filling into the cabbage leaf.
Fold up the bottom of the leaf, pushing the beef mixture down and making a packet. Next, fold each side across the folded-over base of the cabbage, and roll the cabbage until the packet becomes a nice pillow.
Add some of the chopped tomatoes and liquid to a roasting pan so that the prakas do not stick. Place folded packets seam side down in the pan. Continue folding until all of the meat is used. If you run out of cabbage before you run out of meat, simply roll any excess into meatballs, and place them into the roasting pan. If you have excess cabbage, chop up any remaining cabbage, and place it on top of the packets in the roasting pan. Sprinkle the remaining 11/2 cups of finely chopped onion over and around the packets of stuffed cabbage. Pour the lemon juice over the packets and place the rind into the roasting pan.
Cut the remaining tomatoes into smaller pieces, or crush the tomatoes with your hand. Stir the sour salt and the sugar into a can of hand-crushed tomatoes, and then pour the mixture over the filled roasting pan. Pour the other cans of hand-crushed tomatoes over the packets of stuffed cabbage. Add the bay leaves into the sauce in the pan. Grind pepper and add salt as necessary. You should taste after the cabbage has cooked for a period of time, and you may wish to adjust the seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Cook for 90 minutes. Adjust the sour salt/sugar balance as needed to taste. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with white rice.
Note: Sour salt is pure, granulated citric acid. It is available in spice racks in a white crystalline form that looks like, but has no taste relationship to, regular salt crystals. It has a neutral flavor but very sour impact on your taste buds that is really indispensable in this dish.
The other book, “Essential High Holidays from Scratch: Recipes from my Mother’s Kitchen,” by Dori Gordon Walker (2020, $15.50) available at https://amzn.to/3lLxPnp, includes classic Jewish recipes for both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur break-the-fast. Reading the recipes for Ruth’s Sublime Beer-Roasted Brisket, chocolate babka, tzimmes, and sweet and tangy apricot-almond noodle kugel tempted me, and perhaps you as well, to start cooking now.
Dori remembers watching her mother add a handful of this and a dash of that (sound familiar?) and has since gathered her memories into easy to follow recipes to help begin a sweet New Year.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked noodles, egg yolks, sour cream, cottage cheese, butter, preserves, and lemon juice.
Beat the eggs whites until stiff and fold into the noodle mixture.
Pour into a greased 11-inch-by-7-inch baking dish, and sprinkle with almonds.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until edges are golden. Serve hot or cold.
Chunk carrots, sweet potatoes, apple, and onion into generous 1-inch pieces. Cut apricots in half. Combine carrots, sweet potatoes, apple, onion, prunes, apricots, orange juice, water, and salt. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Top with lemon zest and a generous grind of pepper. Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours.
New Haven Restaurant weeks, Sept. 13-26. More than two-dozen of downtown New Haven’s award-winning and internationally diverse restaurants are featuring $19 lunch and $36 dinner fixed price menus along with $60 to-go options. Participating restaurants and details at https://bit.ly/2FY38uS.
BASTA Trattoria, 1006 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-772-1715, Pasta Trio, menu at bit.ly/2WPnmwy, choose three different pastas and three different sauces for $20 per person. Served for lunch (noon- 3 p.m.) Saturdays and Sundays for dining indoor or outdoor. bastatrattoria.com
Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, 271 Crown St. New Haven, 203-777-7700, happy hour from noon to 4 p.m., with $1 sliders, $1 drafts and $2 cans and bottles. These specials are available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). bit.ly/2ZW5cek
Shell and Bones, 100 S. Water St., New Haven, 203-787-3466, re-introduces happy hour, Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m, offering $1 oysters, half-price bottles of wine and $1 drafts. Specials available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). shellandbones.com
Worth Tasting, culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven, Sept. 12, 10:30 a.m., reservations required, 203-415-3519, $68. Enjoy tasty samplings from several of New Haven’s favorites.Tickets at bit.ly/2FjiwMP.