Jewish Journal


September 9, 2009

Lighter Twist on Traditional Fare [RECIPES]


Around Rosh Hashanah, when the weather is often still hot, many of us prefer our menu to be a bit lighter and easier than the traditional holiday fare. To make it lighter, I like to include plenty of produce, serve chicken as a main course and bake a cake with oil, not margarine. To simplify preparation and serving, I choose dishes that can be prepared in advance and reheated.

Of course, I want the menu to be delicious and interesting. I like to cook in the popular “Ashke-Sephard” fashion now popular in Israel, incorporating elements of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi specialties, so that the dinner feels familiar and yet has a creative touch. Here is a menu in that spirit.

In keeping with Rosh Hashanah customs, the menu includes carrots to symbolize prosperity and sweetness, fish to stand for fertility and abundance, and honey for a sweet new year. The dishes are festive yet healthful and include a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit.

Of course, you’ll want to have a luscious sweet holiday challah on the table, and to start the Rosh Hashanah meal with apples dipped in honey. 

For the soup course, serve a velvety carrot soup with parsley matzah balls, a new twist on the usual soup with knaidlach, and garnish it with carrot rounds. If you prefer to begin with a salad, try a light potato salad with tomatoes and fresh mint, moistened with extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice instead of a heavy mayonnaise dressing. 

For a main course, treat yourself to a delicious Moroccan-style chicken with a sauce of grilled sweet and hot peppers and tomatoes. Serve the chicken with noodles, rice or couscous (or potatoes if you’re not making the salad). You might also like to accompany it with cooked green beans or zucchini or simply to prepare an Israeli salad of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice.

Instead of the usual honey cake, prepare a dessert that echoes the Rosh Hashanah apples-and-honey theme — a honey-scented layered apple cake flavored with grated lemon zest.

If you have a hectic schedule (and who doesn’t?), for ease of preparation, you can cook the recipes in stages. You might like to cook the soup on one day and the matzah balls on another. Similarly, you can prepare the sauce for the chicken one day, and bake the chicken the next day. 

Don’t forget to take advantage of your time-saving machines. Use a food processor to chop onions and garlic, and a blender to puree the carrot soup.

To further simplify the menu, you can omit the salad or the soup. Or use a favorite time-saving trick of many busy people who enjoy entertaining — make some dishes at home and buy others at a good delicatessen or bakery. The main thing is, enjoy the chance to celebrate the holiday with your family or your friends. Have a happy and sweet new year!

Potato Salad With Tomatoes and Mint

Fresh mint and green onions give this colorful, refreshing salad a lively flavor.

3 pounds fairly small potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
cayenne pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons water
3 to 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
5 or 6 plum tomatoes, cut in small dice

Put potatoes in large saucepan, cover with water by about 1/2 inch and add salt. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer over low heat about 25 minutes, or until a knife can pierce center of largest potato easily and potato falls from knife when lifted. 

Meanwhile, prepare dressing: In a bowl large enough to contain potatoes, whisk lemon juice with a pinch of salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and water. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and whisk again.

Drain potatoes, rinse briefly and leave until cool enough to handle. Peel them and cut in 1-inch dice. Add to bowl of dressing. Fold gently but thoroughly with dressing. Let cool. Fold in green onions and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning; add another 1 or 2 tablespoons oil if desired. Gently fold in tomatoes. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 6 servings.

Light Carrot Soup With Parsley Matzah Balls

This is a very pretty soup, of a bright orange color with green-flecked white matzah balls. It is low in fat, but because of the pureed carrots and rice it has a wonderful, creamy texture.

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and diced (about 1-inch dice) plus 1 extra carrot, sliced (for garnish)
5 1/4 cups chicken broth, packaged or homemade
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 tablespoons uncooked rice
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch of sugar (optional)
Parsley Matzah Balls (see next recipe)

First prepare the carrot for garnish. Heat 2 cups broth in a large heavy saucepan to a simmer. Add sliced carrot. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 6 minutes or until just tender. Remove carrot with a slotted spoon. Reserve its cooking liquid. Wipe saucepan; there’s no need to wash it.

Heat oil in the saucepan. Add onions and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 7 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add diced carrots, 4 cups broth (including the broth from cooking the sliced carrot), rice, pepper, thyme and bay leaf. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook about 30 minutes, or until carrots and rice are very tender. Discard bay leaf. Let soup cool 5 minutes.

Pour soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Return to saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Add about 1 1/4 cups broth, or enough to bring soup to desired consistency. Bring to a boil, stirring. Taste and adjust seasoning; add salt and pinch of sugar if desired.

When serving soup, use slotted spoon to add four to six hot matzah balls and a few carrot slices to each bowl.

Makes 6 servings.


Once the matzah balls are cooked, you can refrigerate them in their cooking liquid. Reheat them in a covered saucepan over medium heat or in the microwave before serving.

2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup matzah meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

In a medium-sized bowl, lightly beat eggs with oil. Add matzah meal and salt; stir until smooth. Stir in water, then parsley. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Bring about 2 quarts salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. With wet hands, take about 1 teaspoon matzah ball mixture and roll it between your palms to a ball; mixture will be soft. Set balls on a plate. Reduce heat so water simmers. With a rubber spatula, carefully slide balls one by one into simmering water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until matzah balls are firm. Cover and keep them warm until ready to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Moroccan Jewish Chicken With Grilled Pepper Sauce

Couscous or rice are good accompaniments for this savory chicken. You can make the pepper sauce ahead, or simmer it while the chicken is baking.

Grilled Pepper Sauce (see next recipe)
4 1/2 pounds chicken pieces
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 large onion, halved, sliced
cilantro sprigs for garnish

Prepare pepper sauce. Preheat oven to 400 F. Put chicken pieces in shallow roasting pan large enough to hold them in one layer. Season them on both sides with salt, pepper, cumin and paprika. Rub spices into chicken pieces. Put chicken skin side down. Top with sliced onion.

Cover chicken with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover, turn pieces skin side up and bake 20 minutes. Add 1/3 cup hot water to pan juices. Spoon pepper sauce over chicken. Bake uncovered, basting once or twice, about 25 minutes or until chicken is tender and juices run clear when thickest part of thigh is pierced with sharp knife. Serve chicken with sauce. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Makes 6 servings.

Grilled Pepper Sauce

Sweet bell peppers and hot peppers gain a smoky taste when grilled and impart a delicious flavor to this sauce. If your family doesn’t like hot peppers, omit them.

3 green bell peppers
1 large red bell pepper
2 or 3 jalapeño or serrano chiles
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup small cilantro sprigs
a 28-ounce and a 14 1/2-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Broil green and red bell peppers, turning every 5 minutes, until their skins are blistered and charred, about 20 to 25 minutes total. Broil chiles, turning often, for 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer peppers to bowl and cover tightly, or put in a plastic bag and close bag. Let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince garlic in food processor, add cilantro sprigs, and mince together. Add tomatoes and chop coarsely by pulsing processor on and off.

Peel chiles and bell peppers using paring knife. (Wear gloves when handling chiles if your skin is sensitive.) Halve peppers; discard seeds and ribs. Cut bell peppers in 1/2-inch dice. Chop chiles fine.

In a medium sauté pan, warm oil over low heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika and 3/4 teaspoon cumin and mix well. Stir in tomato-garlic mixture, hot and bell peppers, salt and pepper. Bring sauce to a simmer. Cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring often, 10 minutes or until sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning; add cayenne pepper if needed.

Makes 6 servings.

Honey-Apple Cake

A honey and lemon-scented batter alternates with layers of cinnamon-flavored apples for this easy-to-make, delicious cake.

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large sweet apples, such as Golden Delicious (total 3/4 pound)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup diced or coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil an 8-inch square pan and then flour lightly. Mix 1 tablespoon sugar with the cinnamon. Pare and slice apples thin, less than 1/4 inch thick; set aside. In mixer, beat eggs with 3/4 cup sugar on medium speed. Add honey, oil and lemon rind and beat to blend. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Combine lemon juice with water. On low speed, stir flour mixture and lemon juice mixture alternately into batter, each in two batches. Stir in walnuts or pecans on low speed.

Spoon 1/4 of batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange 1/3 of apple slices on batter and sprinkle evenly with 1/3 of cinnamon mixture (about 1 heaping teaspoon). Spoon another 1/4 of the batter in dollops over apples and spread very gently. Repeat with two more layers of apples, cinnamon and batter, ending with batter. Top layer of apples may not be completely covered. Bake about 40 to 45 minutes or until cake is done; a cake tester inserted in cake’s center should come out dry.

Cool cake in pan on a rack about 20 minutes. Run a metal spatula carefully around cake and turn out onto rack. Let cool before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Faye Levy’s latest book is “Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home” (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2008).


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