It seems hard to believe, but the Jewish New Year is just a few weeks away. As families are prepping their table, ordering the wine and finalizing the guest list, they just may be looking to add a few exciting new dishes to the yearly rotation.
Modern Jewish Comfort Food: 100 Fresh Recipes for Classic Dishes from Kugel to Kreplach by Shannon Sarna is a beautiful collection of recipes and variations inspired by Jewish history as well as Sarna’s own history as the product of an Italian mother with a talent for baking, a Jewish father, a food chemist grandfather.
This book comes out just in time to use as a guide for modernizing and adding variety to the upcoming Rosh Hashanah meals, and Sarna has some beautiful recipes I’m considering adding to my own family’s table this year.
The book showcases this mix of tradition, creativity, and inspiration with fun ideas like reinterpreting Shakshuka as a deep-dish pizza or turning classic potato latkes into vegetable-focused variations such as beet & carrot and summer corn zucchini.
Among Sarna’s favorites are the sweet and sour meatballs. “Sweet and sour meatballs may not sound fancy or special, but it’s the epitome of American-Jewish comfort food and is the kind of dish that is much more delicious than the sum of its parts,” said Sarna.
Sarna says this dish is a crowd pleaser any time but also a win on the holidays, specifically. “I know the kids at the table will actually eat it (but adults love it, too). It’s simple, can be doubled for a bigger meal and can be prepared ahead of time which makes it perfect for busy holiday prep,” she said.
The book also has a recipe for stuffed onions with pomegranate sauce that would fit into a holiday meal perfectly. “It’s a very special dish that takes a bit of effort, but the result is so worth it. The meat is spiced with allspice, cinnamon and mint, and the sauce is rich, tangy and sweet. It’s a beautiful presentation with fresh pomegranate seeds,” said Sarna.
Apple cake or honey cake are popular desserts for Rosh Hashonah, but there’s a dessert in this book that promises to be a splash at the high holidays. “A lot of Jewish American families serve apple cake or honey for Rosh Hashanah, but I am a big fan of fruit crumbles which anyone can make and which taste like pie, without the fuss of making a homemade crust. The Tahini Apple Crumble is so perfect for fall and the holidays, and isn’t complicated to make at all. It can be made with butter or non-dairy vegan butter with equally delicious results,” she said.
With the holidays coming in September, as life is so busy with the return to school schedule and so much going on, the best way to prepare for the holidays is to make a point to plan ahead. “The first thing I do whenever I am hosting a holiday meal is to start planning and making my lists about three weeks in advance: what is the menu? What ingredients do I need? And when can I start preparing the dishes? Mapping out what you need and when it makes sense to cook which dishes always makes the task of a big meal feel more digestible,” said Sarna.
And there’s lots of dishes that can be served at the holiday dinner you can make ahead of time, like one of the most classic ones! “Chicken soup is probably one of the best things that you can, and should, prepare ahead of time. When I know I will be short on time before a holiday, I make the chicken stock a week or a few weeks ahead of time and allow it to cool completely. Skim any fat off the top once it cools, and then I freeze in deli containers until the holiday. I know many people make matzah balls and freeze them, but I prefer to make those fresh the day I am serving,” she said.
Brisket is another dish that can be made ahead. “Brisket is like sauce or stew: always more flavorful the next day, so it’s a great dish to make 1-2 days ahead of time. It also freezes well, just allow it to cool completely, slice the meat against the grain, pop it back into the sauce, and then freeze,” said Sarna.
And of course, the best time saving tip is to invite yourself to someone’s else’s meal. “Then all you have to do is pick up wine and flowers!” said Sarna.
Speaking of wine, any holiday dinner needs to have some good beverage options. And for Sarna, it’s not necessarily wine! “This may be a little unconventional, but I love having some hard cider on the table, which ties into the ingredients of apples and sweet flavors to kick off a sweet new year. My favorite cider is the Brooklyn Cider House Semi Dry or Rose ciders,” said Sarna.
But wine is of course a must, especially at Jewish holidays, and Sarna is a fan of sparkling wines and sparkling rose, which pairs well with most dishes served for Rosh Hashanah. “Plus isn’t something bubbly always perfect to celebrate the New Year? Billecart Salmon Rose is a wonderful choice, it’s champagne (so celebratory) but also a rose, so it has this lovely pink hue. If you want something more traditional and playful, my husband loves to make sangria using Manischewitz. For kosher wines, we usually choose an Israeli winery like Barkan or Carmel,” she said.
These recipes and many more are available in Modern Jewish Comfort Food: 100 Fresh Recipes for Classic Dishes from Kugel to Kreplach, which will be released on August 30 and is available for preorder now.