The Rosh Hashanah Recipes That Define My Family's Tradition
The comforts of traditional dishes mixed with a newer takes on classics welcome a new sweet New Year in my home.
Now more than ever I’m craving the sense of togetherness that comes with celebrating my tradition with a family holiday dinner. Growing up, my Jewish home was a mixture of traditions around Rosh Hashanah. My dad is a New Yorker and my mother was Israeli. Both grew up on apples and honey for a sweet New Year but my mom brought in a few particularly special traditions.
Since Rosh Hashanah marks the New Year on the Hebrew calendar, tradition dictates serving a whole fish with its head on. The symbolism honors the "head" of the year and is meant to remind observers the importance of being a leader (the head) not a follower (the tail). In Israel, where I was born, many observant Jews enjoy whole fish on this holiday; in my mother’s home, this meant traditional geflite fish, essentially a handmade carp fish pate that is then baked under the skin of the fish. Today in the U.S. it’s common to see gefilte fish served at Passover, usually brined in a jar and far less than desirable than it’s Polish version brought to Israel. I still love it either way!
My mother usually leaned into an easier recipe that is no less delicious: whole roasted salmon stuffed with lemons and herbs. She often served the fish chilled with a yogurt dill sauce because holiday services tend to last all day, so it was nice to have a dish already prepared and ready for the family to eat.
This whole grilled salmon recipe with fennel and lemon is a great way to cook a whole fish and could easily be cooked in an oven, if September weather doesn’t permit.
My mother would also make a great side that helped set the tone for the New Year — tzimmes, which features slow-roasted carrots and dried fruit. This one is ideal for autumn and can be prepared set-it-and-forget-it style in a slow cooker.
Another essential part of any Rosh Hashanah tradition is a challah loaf — round instead of long — studded with raisins. The round shape represents the circular nature of the repeating seasons and hope for goodness all year with no end. Raisins, like apples and honey, are there to sweeten the New Year. I still remember my dad spending a day and half making his first two challah loaves, and how they were devoured in the blink of an eye. He joked recently that he can’t decide if he appreciated how much we adored them, or whether it was heartbreaking to see his creations disappear so quickly after all that hard work.
If you follow this class on how to make a classic Rosh Hashanah Challah with Jenn Louis, I think you’ll find you’ve got a great challah to enjoy with your family too!
The American members of my extended family serve less fish, opting instead for chicken or brisket, both cooked in a sweet stewed sauce. This holiday embraces natural sugar in all forms.
Apricot chicken has been one of my favorites out of these dishes. Or, you can’t go wrong with Ina Garten’s Chicken Marbella. My cousin makes it almost every year; the prunes become sweet umami bursts and the chicken is so juicy.
Let’s not forget the brisket. One year, when I was about 12, we went to a family friend’s home to celebrate the holiday and they served the most tender and rich food I’d ever tasted. We were essentially pescatarians then, so I’d never tasted brisket. I felt like my parents had been keeping some kind of secret from me. So, it was only in this way that I learned that Jewish brisket is a staple at the holiday table. I make one every year, either at Rosh Hashanah or Hannukah.
This brisket recipe is so tender and delicious. And if you like, you can add a cup of dried apricots or cherries to sweeten it up for the New Year.
Last but not least, there was always some sort of honey cake at my house for dessert. If you’re looking for a way to take yours to the next level, Food Network Kitchen’s Honeycomb Cake is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten and I officially made it family tradition as of last year when our test kitchen created it.
Whatever your tradition is for this holiday, make sure to embrace it and pass it on. One of the best parts of a meal spent together is the shared experience. Shanah Tovah, or Happy New Year, everyone!