According to 23andMe, I am genetically predisposed to prefer sweet over salty foods. I didn’t need them to tell me that!
No wonder I love Rosh Hashanah cuisine so much. Apples dipped in honey, raisins in our challah–sweetness is the order of the day. There are so many ways to wish each other a sweet New Year.
While brisket and roast chicken are standard fare for my Ashkenazic family’s holiday dinners, our Sephardic mishpuchah dines on dishes like the tender, spicy lamb dish featured here.
When I interviewed Wolfgang Puck about his Seders at Spago, he told me that if he had been born Jewish, he would have liked to have been born Sephardic because of the cuisine. I know what he means!
I love the pungent Moroccan spice mixture and usually make extra to save for flavoring other dishes. The wine is an untraditional addition and would never be used in a Moroccan kitchen.
Interestingly, cookbook author Joyce Goldstein told me that Jews in Arab countries, despite the fact that they do not share their neighbors’ prohibition against drinking wine, traditionally do not use it in cooking either. Purists may substitute additional chicken broth for the wine.
The tradition of eating apples on Rosh Hashanah began with the French, according to Rabbi and food historian Gil Marks, of blessed memory. As he notes in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, a siddur compiled circa 1100 explained it like this: “The residents of France have the custom to eat on Rosh Hashanah red apples, everything new and bright and good for a good sign for all Israel.”
This tradition spread widely among Ashkenazim, whose most popular Rosh Hashanah tradition is the dipping of apple slices in honey at the beginning of the evening meal. For Sephardim and Mizrachim, quince is the predominant Rosh Hashanah fruit. A typical first course might be poached quinces in syrup.
Marks notes that some communities avoid certain foods for this holiday as well. “Eastern Europeans eschew nuts, as well as any sour food, even sweet and sour dishes,” he writes. “In North Africa, black foods, a color associated with mourning–including olives, raisins, eggplant, coffee and chocolate–are banned, although some permit these items on the second day. Iraqi Jews avoid fish, since its Hebrew name “dag” is similar to the Hebrew word “da’ ag” or damage (to worry).”
Nearly every Jewish holiday cookbook will contain at least one apple cake recipe. Searching for something new this year, I was struck by Beth A. Lee’s Apple Cake with Candied Ginger and Cinnamon from her new “The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook” (Rockridge Press, $16.99). She had me at ginger!
A paean to her bubbes, the book contains 50 recipes–Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Mizrahi–including Sweet Challah Rolls with Apple Currant Filling, Chocolate Babka, Grandma Mellman’s Knishes, Malawach (Yemenite Flatbread), Potato and Cheese Borekas and Biscochos.
But this is a baking book, not just a dessert book, and I was delighted to find recipes for New York bagels and bialys, rye bread, both a sweet and savory kugel, and Blintz Casserole as well. Her index contains helpful lists of dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, pareve, and vegan recipes for easy reference.
Lee was late to the table when it came to baking. As a child, she watched her bubbes turn out delectable baked goods without using recipes.
“My grandma’s kitchen was the size of a small closet,” she writes, “but she baked enough to feed a large extended family along with half the neighborhood–no exaggeration.”
But Lee was more an observer than a participant. After college she got a job in marketing in California’s Silicon Valley. In 2010, she realized that she preferred pita chips over computer chips and launched her food blog OMG!Yummy, where you will find savory as well as sweet recipes.
For her apple cake, Lee recommends using Fuji or Gala or Golden Delicious apples or a combination.
“I’m a big believer in using what’s in my fridge as long as they are still fresh and juicy,” she says. “Versatility is this cake’s middle name. It was originally adapted from a Marian Burros plum cake recipe. Then the blog KosherCamembert adapted it into an apple cake recipe. Then I turned it into a pear cake recipe for my own blog. For this book, I decided to use Rosh Hashanah‘s featured fruit and take it back to apple cake, but if you want to color outside the lines, use pears or plums instead.”
Moroccan Lamb Shanks
Feel free to substitute dried plums for all or part of the apricots, as shown in the photo. This dish tastes even better the next day and freezes well.
Yield: 4 servings
4 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each), visible fat removed
Kosher (coarse) salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-size onions, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
1 cup dry red wine
1¾ cups homemade chicken stock, or 1 can (14½ ounces) low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons Moroccan Spice Mix (recipe follows)
1 cup dried apricots
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Dry lamb shanks well with paper towels, then season them all over with salt.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy, oven proof pot over medium-high heat. Add shanks and brown them on all sides, about 15 minutes altogether. Remove shanks and set aside.
- Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pot, if necessary (you will need it if you have been diligent in removing all visible fat from lamb), reduce heat to medium, and cook onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Remove pot from heat. Stir in wine and deglaze the pot, scraping up all the crusty brown bits. Stir in chicken stock and Moroccan Spice Mix. Return lamb shanks to pot. Place pot in oven and roast, covered, turning and basting shanks frequently, for about 1 hour. Add apricots and continue roasting, covered, until meat is very soft, about 1½ hours.
- Transfer shanks to a platter and keep warm. Remove as much fat as possible from sauce, using a spoon or fat separator. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over lamb shanks and serve, passing any extra sauce in a sauce boat.
Apple Cake with Candied Ginger and Cinnamon
You can wrap this cake tightly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and freeze it for up to two months.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
2 cups apples, peeled, cored and diced into one-inch pieces (about 2 medium apples)
Juice of half lemon
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil (mild flavor), plus more for greasing pan
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized candied ginger
1 apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
¾ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of a 9–inch round cake pan (spring form if possible) with parchment paper, and grease sides of pan with olive oil. In small bowl place diced apples for the batter, and in another bowl sliced apples for topping. Sprinkle lemon juice evenly over each bowl to prevent browning. Set aside.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another medium bowl, whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, and brown sugar for about one minute. Add oil and vanilla to egg mixture and whisk again.
3. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and combine with wooden spoon. Add diced apples and ginger and mix again.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Decorate top with sliced apples in a circular pattern. In small bowl, mix together granulated sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.
5. Bake cake for 50 to 55 minutes until top of cake is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes. Release outside of spring form pan and carefully place cake on serving platter. Cool before serving.
Source: “The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook”
by Beth A. Lee