Recipes: Symbolic Rosh Hashana Foods and Russian Tea Biscuits

By Jean Graubart, Director of Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Sunday night September 16, is right around the corner.*

Every year, as I prepare my menu to share with family and friends, I think of ways to add meaning to the meal.It is the beginning of our New Year and a time we think about our hopes and desires for the year to come, dreams for ourselves, those we love and the world around us.

There are foods we can add to our table that symbolically add good wishes for the new year!

Dates dipped in powdered sugar and served along with the more familiar apples and honey, bring sweetness to the new year.
A prayer to accompany the eating of dates: “As we eat this date, may we ‘date’ the New Year that is beginning, as one of happiness and blessing and peace for all the world.”

Pomegranates are said to contain exactly 613 seeds, the same number of mitzvot, the biblical commandments. These beautiful fruits often decorate the holiday table but cut open and eaten bring a year filled with as many good deeds at the pomegranate seeds.
A prayer said as seeds are tasted: “In the coming year, may we be rich and replete with acts inspired by religion and piety, as this pomegranate is rich and replete with seeds.”

Pumpkin is often served in some form in Sephardic homes to express the hope that, as this vegetable has been protected by a thick covering, we too will be protected. Our family ate the seeds toasted and salted by my nona.
Prayer for eating pumpkin: “May the coming year grow as a gourd in fulness of blessing.  In the year to come, may this pumpkin guard us from enemies.”

Leek is considered a food for luck, something we all need.  In Sephardic cooking, leek is as common as the onion and is cooked and added to meat for keftes, small burgers made with boiled leeks chopped, ground beef or turkey, eggs, matzo meal and salt and pepper to taste, then fried lightly in oil, cooked in tomato sauce with lemon or baked in the oven. For a vegetable side dish or for vegetarians, boiled and chopped to mix with chopped spinach, matzo meal, eggs and salt and pepper and cooked like the meat.
A prayer for this lovely vegetable: “As we eat this leek may our luck never lack in the year to come.”

Beets are a prime vegetable at this time of year.  Roasted with a little olive oil (wrapped in foil and baked at 450 for 40 minutes until soft) or boiled, beets are a beautifully colorful addition to the Rosh Hashanah table. They can be served cold in salad or alone with a little balsamic vinegar.
While enjoying, recite: “As we bite this beet, may those who in the past have beaten us or sought our harm, be beaten in the coming year.”

Recently a friend told me to be sure and add celery and raisins to the holiday table.  This is an easy one, since celery is good in salad and a must in chicken soup, a tradition at the holiday table. For the raisins, add to your favorite apple cake or make these delicious Russian Tea Biscuits, a recipe brought from the “old country” (this time from eastern Europe, an Ashkanazi treat) and filled with raisins and nuts.  Why raisins and celery?  For a raise in salary!

Russian Tea Biscuits

4 1/2 cups flour (begin with a little less)
1 stick parve margarine (butter if for dairy meal)
1/4 cup oil
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons sweet wine
1/4 cup club soda (this was made when baking soda was not to be found)
1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix margarine, oil and sugar
Add eggs and mix
Add dry ingredients and mix
Put in wine and club soda and mix with wooden spoon
Add flour as needed for dough you can roll out easily
Divide dough into 4 pieces
Roll each into rectangle on floured board or table

Fill, using what you like from below, all or some. This is for you to enjoy, put your signature on it!
2 jars preserves spread on the dough
Chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds)
Raisins (yellow or black)
Dried shredded coconut

Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top of filling
Roll like a jelly roll, tuck top and bottom under
With a spatula, place on greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper)
Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle crumbs on top made with 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar and1/2 cup margarine mixed together
Cut half way through the dough, about 1/2 inch apart

Bake 325 (preheated oven) for 1 hour
Cool and slice through
Place in cupcake papers
Can be frozen if made in advance.

As these are very full, we hope for a full and satisfying life. Enjoy as the finish of a wonderful and meaningful Rosh Hashanah meal.

Shana tova, and hopes for a year of sweetness and satisfaction to you and your loved ones!


*While this post was supposed to go up a few weeks ago, it mysteriously disappeared into the bloggy ether… Enjoy all the festive foods during these Days of Awe!

Recipe: Five Israeli Salads

By Jean Graubart
Director, Leo & Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

(c) PBS

Thinking about the beautiful days we are having and the joy of being surrounded by friends, eating and laughing and talking and crying… all that is missing is good food.

When the weather begins to warm up, I picture salads of all kinds and colors and tastes.  Perhaps more than any other food, salads are the typical Israeli dish.  The evening meal is often a variety of salads consisting of many vegetables, grains and fruits.

I remember my days on Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra and Kibbutz Hanaton, working in the communal kitchens there, where I would find freshly picked vegetables and be told, “create a salad.”

The most typical salad – and an accompaniment for most all meals – is the Israeli Salad.  We made bowls of it for breakfast, lunch and supper for the hungry kibbutzniks who piled their plates with this salad.

Little dishes of many tastes is very middle eastern.  It is fun to create various salads, many tastes and highlight the wonderful produce that is part of this season.

There are few other sights in Israel or the world that can compete with the color and clamor of their fruit and vegetable markets.  The produce tastes as good as it looks!

3 to 4 cucumbers (the Persian are the best, sweet as sugar and delicious whole or in this salad)
3 firm ripe tomatoes  (grape tomatoes make slicing easy, cut in 1/4s)
3 to 4  peppers (mix yellow, orange, red, green)
6 scallions sliced thinly
1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped

Cut all vegetable into small pieces or cubes Add 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper.
Taste and add whatever your palate calls for

Tehina dressing can also be used:
2 teaspoons tehina paste (available in most markets) Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup cold water
Salt, pepper and paprika.
Mix well and pour over vegetables.

3 red peppers
3 green peppers

Char peppers on the grill until the skin is black
Remove from the fire and peel
Cut the peppers into strips
Add 3 tablespoons oil, 3 garlic cloves crushed, salt, pepper and juice of 1 lemon

Great on the side of fish, chicken or with other salads!

4 to 6 beets (any color) roasted on a cookie sheet (rub with olive oil) Bake in 400 degree oven for about an hour Cool and slice or dice
1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 to 1 cup vinegar (Balsamic is perfect)
2 small onions (red or white) sliced thinly into rounds
finely chopped parsley or cilantro

Mix and chill.

2 small firm eggplants
1/2 cup grated onion
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup tehina
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Grill or broil eggplants 15 minutes turning for even cooking
Test for tenderness and then let the eggplants rest on grill or in the oven
Peel the skin and discard the liquid
Chop the eggplant by hand (not in the processor) so small pieces are formed
Mix the eggplant with all other ingredients
Refrigerate and enjoy with crackers or pita

And what salad table in Israel would be complete without hummus? Make your own easily!

2 garlic cloves chopped
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans drained
1/3 cup tehini
1/2 lemon juiced
1/2 cup chopped drained roasted red peppers from a jar salt and pepper

In a processor, drop in garlic and mince, add chickpeas, tehina and lemon juice
Process until mixture is smooth
Add roasted pepper and process until finely chopped
Season with salt and pepper
Transfer to bowl and pour olive oil in a swirl on top
Sprinkle sumac or zahtar to taste

Enjoy these tastes from Israel and surprise family and friends with a table full of healthy and fresh salads to accompany any other foods or as a meal itself.

Summertime means salads!  Start early mastering your favorites!

Happy Birthday Faye Moskowitz

In honor of the incredible Faye Moskowitz’s 80th Birthday, past particpants in the annual Washington DCJCC Writer’s Retreat created a collection of essays and stories surrounding food and cooking — a topic close to Faye’s heart. The only requirement for submissions was that you share a recipe. Despite not having attended the retreat, but out of my enormous respect and love for Faye, I was allowed to make the following contribution. The collection was presented to Faye last night at the 8th annual Retreat, so now I am safe to post this…

My mother writes to me:

So I have no recipe for chicken marsala – I just make it from memory

Pound the chicken cutlets until they are thin
Dip in seasoned flour and brown in olive oil

Place cutlets in a baking dish

Slice fresh mozzarella cheese and put a slice on each cutlet (this is your memory)
Slice mushrooms and lightly coat with flour mixture
Lightly sauté mushrooms – add more olive oil if needed
With mushrooms still in pan, add a cup of chicken broth, ½ cup white wine and mix until sauce thickens

Pour sauce over cutlets – cover lightly with foil and bake at 350 for ½ hour – longer for thicker cutlets
Remove foil for last few minutes

Photo courtesy of

Photo by 2-Dog-Farm. Used under Creative Commons License.

This was my favorite dinner that my mother would make when I was growing up. I have not eaten it in many years – not since I began keeping kosher and forsook all that combined milk and meat. Intellectually, I have problems with the dictum that milk and meat should apply to poultry at all: the commandment tells us to “not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.” The logic goes that to do so – to literally boil the slaughtered flesh of a premature lamb in the substance it’s mother’s body excretes with the intent to nourish it –would be cruel. I can see their point.

But chickens produce no milk. They do produce eggs in abundance, but there is no similar prohibition against dipping butchered fowl in a yolky-albumen cocktail of its never-to-be-born offspring. Such are the vagaries of kashrut. There is, of course, a lengthy chain of Talmudic logic that gets you from cheeseburgers to chicken parm. I will not trouble you with it here. It is a logic I begrudgingly accept as an article of faith, in part because the logic is so extended and because I doubt faith supported by less serpentine logic would qualify as faith at-all.

It is for that dubious faith that my mother’s Chicken Marsala is now a dish consumed only in my memory where it comes out of the oven piping hot, bathed in brown gravy with stray whorls of mozzarella cheese floating about, tempting you to pluck them out at the expense of singed fingers and scalded tongue. Once cooled and served with a healthy portion of rice pilaf (via Rice-A-Roni), the dish is a perfect combination of the slight crunch of tender chicken, the milky sweetness of gooey cheese and the earthy, savory warmth of that gravy. Honestly, I could drink that gravy and many times I literally licked my plate. If I were a deer, that gravy would be my salt-lick, and the last thought that would go through my mind before the bullet sent it, along with my skull and six-point antlers to the wall of some survivalist supply store would be, “Yum.”

My mother claims that the detail of the cheese on top of the chicken is an invented memory, belonging only to me. Technically, she is correct that traditional Chicken Marsala is prepared without cheese. But if we were to get technical then I would be compelled to note that nowhere in my mother’s recipe does the ingredient Marsala wine appear. And come to think of it, I don’t remember any mushrooms either. That detail doesn’t jibe with a dish that was imprinted on my psyche at an age when I was most certainly not yet reconciled to the view of fungi as fit for human consumption. And looking at the recipe, there is no reason I couldn’t make this dish now and stay within the bounds of kashrut by simply withholding the (possibly fantastical) cheese.

And perhaps some day I will. But I am already bracing myself for the letdown when, inevitably, the alchemy of this childhood dish fails to reactivate. Even if the cheese is a pure fabrication, it stands in-place for the one-way passage that delivers us from childhood and the comforts thereof. I can no more be the little boy licking his plate clean than I can convince the Sanhedrin that dairy and poultry really is kosher. Would that I could do either.

(cross-posted to Not-For-Profit Dad)


Getting Ready for Pesach With National Noodle Month

Well folks we just learned that it is National Noodle Month and to honor it we are sharing a favorite noodle recipe with you.  We figure it must have been a Jew who created this special month since it is just at the time we are clearing out our chametz for Passover.  Enjoy this and feel you are doing your part to celebrate the noodle and also to prepare the house for the upcoming holiday.

Spinach Noodle Kugel
1 bag noodles (I prefer medium but thin will do as well.  Use what you have)
1 bag or box of frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
2 large diced onions sautéed in oil and golden brown
4-6 eggs to hold it all together
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together
Heat oil in a large pyrex rectangular pan on 450 until nice and hot
Add the noodle mixture to the hot pan and bake at 350 (lower the oven) until golden and crisp on top ½ hour to 45 minutes or however long it takes.
Enjoy hot or room temperature or cold the next day. 

Happy Noodle Month!

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