The Most Important Jewish Holidays and their Foods
High Holy Days Facts and Foods
As a refresher, we start this recipe blog with some simple questions about the high holy days in the Jewish Calendar. Understanding the importance and symbolism of these Holidays allows the cook to create more compelling food for the feasts enjoyed during the Holidays. We then offer several recipes for each of the Holidays to spark a creative culinary mindset as menus are developed.
- Which two Jewish Holidays are the most important on the calendar?
- How many days between them and what is the activity often undertaken during these days?
- What does the first holiday celebrate?
- What is the central purpose of the second holiday?
- What often used modern word finds its origins in the second holiday?
- When does a Holiday begin?
- Proper pronunciation of the day of atonement?
- What might one expect if attendance at synagogue is only during these holidays?
- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
- Rabbis state that God opens two books at Rosh Hashanah and writes names in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death. During the 10 days ( "The 10 Days of Repentance") between the two holidays (Rosh Hashanah being first - this year Sept.29-October 1), many people will volunteer and/or give to charities in the hope that these good deeds will outweigh any bad deeds of the past year. When the two Books are reopened by God on Yom Kippur, these people hope their names will be entered into the Book of Life.
- Rosh Hashana is the traditional Jewish New Year commemorating the creation of the world and specifically the creation of man on the 6th day of creation. The holiday is one or two days. Rosh Hashanah is generally a time of spiritual reflection and prayer. A special horn called a shofar is blown to signal the start of the new year.
- The second holy day, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement),a far more somber holiday, is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. For obvious reasons, nobody adds an extra day to this 25-hour fast!
- Scapegoat. The high priest used two goats at the ceremony in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. On one, the priest would confess the sins of Israel and send the goat into the wilderness to die as the scapegoat. The other goats blood, after its sacrifice, was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Voila, atonement for all people in one day.
- The holiday starts at sunset the night before the day shown on calendars. Many will be offended if important events, meetings or tests are scheduled on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Even those who do not go to synagogue and do not observe the holiday may be offended - it is akin to scheduling something on Easter or Christmas.
- Yom (rhymes with Home) Kippur ("key" "poor" with emphasis on "poor"). Often pronounced improperly as the smoked fish.
- Nonmembers of the synagogue may be required to purchase often-expensive tickets for the services at crowded synagogues, which often rely on the funds to subsidize practices for the rest of the year. At expensive synagogues, such as New York City’s Temple Emanu-El, prices for the top High Holiday seats can reach $2,970.
Jewish Food Generalizations
Much of the foods prepared and served at Jewish Holidays are symbolic of specific themes. Food, in general, in the Jewish tradition is an integral part of the religion and if themes and Laws of Kashrut (Kosher) are followed, meals become a daily ritual of reminding the observant of good and evil, right and wrong, self control and Jewish practices.
Many believe that following kosher methods and eating kosher foods was a outgrowth of now outdated health issues. Pork and shellfish could often make one ill and poor slaughtering and inspection could also lead to bad health effects. There is evidence that eating meat and dairy together interferes with digestion. Because of these purported health benefits and consumers' trust in kosher foods, only around 8% of all kosher foods sold are purchased by the Jewish population.
Rosh Hashanah Foods
There is a tradition at Rosh Hashanah to eat symbolic foods (simanim) meant to help ensure a good new year. Every item that appears on the Rosh Hashanah table contains an ancient significance that reflects an appetite for happy prosperous days to come. Challah, a braided egg bread, makes an appearance dipped in honey to symbolize a prayer for sweet things to come in the new year. Apples, which evoke the smells of the Garden of Eden, are dipped in honey during Rosh Hashanah for added sweetness (of the new year). New fruits appear on the table for blessings in appreciation of new things. (see our new exotic fruits here) Pomegranates are a popular “new fruit” symbolizing the hope that the participants’ merits will increase just like the plentiful pomegranate seeds.
We include several recipes below that are inspired by the foods that symbolize the traditions of Rosh Hashanah.
Honey Truffle, Honey and Apple Arborio Rice Pudding
How better to wish for a "Shana Tova U'Metukah"— the traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting wishing a good and sweet new year—than to eat one of nature's sweetest foods? For Ashkenazim in particular, apples are the iconic accompaniment to honey. We make is a gourmet treat here by using honey truffles as well on a rice pudding base.
- 1 cup water
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 cup Arborio rice
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup pure honey plus more for drizzling
- Fresh Crisp apple - thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon honey truffle, finely chopped
- thin shavings of truffle for garnish
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice, return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Stir occasionally, cooking until the rice has absorbed all of the water but it still al dente, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for a moment.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk and honey. Slowly add the still-warm cooked rice mixture a spoonful at a time, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping down the sides, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the pudding is very thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and the finely chopped truffle. Allow to stand for an additional 5 – 10 minutes. Stir in a little more milk if the pudding is too thick.
Serve in individual containers. Add sliced apples, drizzled with honey and garnished with a few thin shavings of honey truffle just before serving. Arborio Rice Pudding is equally delicious whether eaten warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Sweet Beet Salad
The Hebrew word for beets, selek, is similar to the word for "remove." They're eaten to express the hope that enemies will depart.
- 14-18 baby Candy Stripe beets
- 4 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- 2 tsp. salt
Wash beets. Cut off their stems and bottoms, but do not peel. Cut them into quarters and place in a pot of water (enough water to cover the beets). Bring the water to a boil. Turn the flame down to low, cover, and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Drain and cool the beets. Then peel and slice them. Add the sugar, lemon juice, oil, and salt. Note that the amount of the seasonings can be changed according to your taste
Cover and refrigerate. This salad is best when it sits for a few hours or overnight before serving. Serve cold.
Moroccan Black-Eyed Peas
Dishes using small beans or fenugreek symbolize the hope for a fruitful year filled with merit.
- 1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas (soaked)
- 2 tomatoes (grated)
- 1 large onion (sliced)
- 3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped or pressed)
- 4 tablespoons fresh parsley or cilantro (chopped)
- 4 Tablespoons Fenugreek leaves (chopped)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Drain the soaked (in cold water overnight) black-eyed peas, then mix them with the remaining ingredients in a pot. Add 3 1/2 to 4 cups of water and bring to a simmer.
Cover and simmer the black-eyed peas over medium heat for an hour or longer, until the beans are tender and sitting in a reduced, but ample rich sauce. Check the water level occasionally during the cooking, adding a little more if necessary. Adjust the seasoning if desired, and serve.
Whole Roasted Arctic Char with Fennel and Pistou
Including some sort of head on the menu is representative of our hope that we are likened to a head, and not a tail. In other words, we should move forward and make progress in the coming year, rather than follow or linger in the rear.
- 2 (4 to 6 pounds) whole arctic char, gutted and scaled, gills and fins removed, head and tail intact (Order other fish for your freezer)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 handfuls mixed fresh herbs (basil, thyme, tarragon)
- 2 small bulb fennel, sliced, fronds reserved
- 8 bay leaves
- 2 lemon, cut into 8 slices
- Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 vine-ripe tomato, seeded, and chopped
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Rinse the fish well inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Lay the big-boy out on a large rimmed sheet pan; cut 4 gashes crosswise on both sides of the fish, slicing all the way down to the bone. Season the arctic char with a generous amount of salt and pepper, inside the cavity and all over the skin. Stuff the mixed herbs and fennel inside the body of the fish. Tuck a lemon slice and bay leaf inside each of the slats. Rub a decent amount of olive oil on all parts of the fish. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until the skin is crispy and the fish itself is flaky. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with fennel fronds. Serve with Pistou sauce.
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until the garlic is finely chopped. Serve at room temperature with grilled or roasted fish.
Honey and Lemon Glazed Roast Capon
The sweetness of honey symbolizes the hoped for sweetness of the new year and the large capon represents the desired bounty.
- 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
- 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- Two 7-9 pound capons
- 16 large rosemary sprigs
- 16 garlic cloves, quartered
- 2 lemons, cut into 18 wedges
Preheat the oven to 450°. In a small bowl, combine the honey, lemon juice and soy sauce. Set the capons on a large rimmed baking sheet and tuck the wing tips underneath. Season the cavities with salt and stuff each one with 8 rosemary sprigs, 8 quartered garlic cloves and 9 lemon wedges. Brush two-thirds of the honey glaze over the capons and season lightly with salt. Roast in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325°. Rotate the capons in the pan and brush with the remaining glaze. Roast the capons for about 55 minutes longer, until the juices run clear when the thighs are pierced; turn the pan halfway through roasting. Transfer the capons to a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes. Carve the capons and serve.
Grilled Quail with Spinach - Pomegranate Salad
( Food and Wine, By Hugh Acheson, October 2010)
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 teaspoon coarsely chopped mint
- 8 semiboneless quail
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 packed cup spinach leaves, sliced 2/3 inch thick
- 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds
Light a grill. In a bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the pomegranate molasses, the 1 tablespoon of oil and the mint; season with salt.
Rub olive oil all over the quail. Season with salt and pepper and grill, breast side down, over high heat until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the quail and grill until the breast meat is pink (for medium), about 2 minutes longer. Transfer the quail to plates.
Add the spinach and pomegranate seeds to the dressing and toss. Serve the salad with the quail.
Bison Brisket with Meyer Lemon Pomegranate Gremolata
FOR THE BRISKET
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- Bison Brisket (3 pounds) From To-Table
- 3 Meyer lemons FromTo-Table
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
FOR THE GREMOLATA
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
- 2 teaspoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Flaked sea salt
- Make the brisket: Mash garlic and a pinch of salt using a mortar and pestle or the side of a knife until a paste forms. Season brisket with 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, then rub with one-quarter of the paste. Transfer to a baking dish. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Finely zest and juice 2 lemons. Juice remaining lemon. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear brisket until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Pour lemon juice over brisket, and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the meat (2 to 3 cups). Raise heat to high, and bring to a boil.
- Braise brisket, covered, in oven for 1 hour 15 minutes. Flip brisket, add remaining garlic paste, and continue braising until brisket is easily shredded with a fork, about 1 hour. Stir in reserved zest. Braise, uncovered, for 10 minutes more. (If the sauce seems too thin or not flavorful enough, remove brisket, and bring to a boil until desired consistency and flavor are reached.)
- Make the gremolata: Toss together pomegranate seeds, parsley, chives, lemon zest, and garlic. Season with sea salt.
- Slice brisket. Serve with pan juices and pomegranate gremolata.
The Feasts of Yom Kippur
On Yom Kippur — which begins on a Friday night — over half of American Jews will fast and, after the sun sets the next day, they'll break their fast. Yom Kippur break fasts are notoriously epic — all manner of smoked fishes and delicate pastries are piled high on the best china. For many of those gathered around a table heaped with traditional Eastern European delicacies, engaging in the holiday meal is a way to connect with their Jewish roots.
Jewish law prohibits any work until the end of the day, which makes for a rather unique culinary challenge: What can a hungry person do when cooking isn't allowed? In America, it's customary to break the fast with a comforting, easy-on-the-stomach meal featuring dishes that can be prepared ahead and either reheated or eaten at room temperature. While there are no rules about what can and cannot be consumed, it's common to serve dairy-focused dishes—rather than meat-based ones—because many people find them easier for empty bellies to digest.
Get creative with your break-the-fast menu and try some new dishes this year. Here are some menu suggestions to make that fast a little easier.
Caramelized Shallot and Wild Mushroom Frittata
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 3 shallots, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces wild seasonal mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 8 eggs
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350° F.
1. In a large oven proof pan coated lightly with extra virgin olive oil, add shallots and saute over medium heat for 10 minutes until caramelized and golden brown. Add mushrooms to the pan, a bit more olive oil and saute for 5 more minutes. Season veggies with salt and pepper.
2. In a large bowl, which eggs and milk together. Pour egg mixture into pan and transfer to oven. Bake for 20 minutes until eggs are just set ( a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean).
3. Cool and slice into wedges or squares. Frittata can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 day. Reheat on low if serving warm.
Cold Smoked Fish Salad
- 1 pound each Smoked Cod, Smoked Haddock , and Dry Salted Cod
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground horseradish
- 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
- Seasoned flatbreads or party rye
1. Cut fish into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl.
2. Add horseradish, pepper, and lemon juice and toss to mix. Garnish with dill and chill 1 hour before serving. Serve with seasoned flatbreads or party rye.
Apple Noodle Kugel
For the kugel:
- 1 12 ounce package wide egg noodles
- 8 large eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 3 medium apples, peeled and sliced thin
For the topping:
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces
- 1/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch springform pan or pyrex dish for baking. If using a springform pan, cover bottom in foil and place on a flat baking sheet to avoid spills.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook noodles around 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, salt and brown sugar. Add sliced apples and mix gently until coated completely.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add the butter and using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut into the dry mixture until even, coarse crumbs form.
When noodles have been drained, add to egg mixture and mix gently until coated completely. Pour mixture into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly on top of noodles.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until noodles have set and crumb topping starts to brown. Serve warm or room temperature.
Ricotta Blintzes with Lingonberry Syrup
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 3 cups fresh ricotta cheese (24 ounces)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- One 10-ounce jar lingonberry jam
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and sugar. Whisk the flour and eggs together; whisk in the butter. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.
In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, sugar and cinnamon.
In a saucepan, simmer the jam and maple syrup over moderate heat until slightly reduced, 5 minutes.
Heat two 8-inch nonstick skillets. Spray with vegetable oil spray and add 2 tablespoons of batter to each. Swirl the skillets to distribute the batter and cook over moderate heat until golden brown on the bottom, 1 minute. Flip the crêpes and cook until brown spots appear on the bottom. Transfer the crêpes to a cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining batter to make 20 crêpes.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line another cookie sheet with parchment. On a work surface, spread 2 rounded tablespoons of the filling in the center of each crêpe. Fold each crêpe to form a rectangular packet. Arrange the blintzes on the cookie sheet, seams down. Bake until hot.
Rewarm the syrup. Place 2 blintzes on each plate. Dust with confectioners' sugar, pour the warm syrup over the blintzes and serve.
Photo By Abbe Odenwalder (This is How I Cook.com)
Italian Sweet and Sour Fish
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley (to garnish)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/3 cup golden raisins, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 3.5 lbs Halibut Fillet
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Season fish with salt and pepper and place in a 9×13 pan.
Combine the vinegar, honey, olive oil, and salt in a small bowl. Pour mixture over fish. Sprinkle raisins and pine nuts over the fish.
Place in oven and bake until fish is no longer translucent throughout -20 minutes. Baste after 10 minutes if the fish is not yet ready.
Prior to serving, sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.
In the 17th century, drinking melted chocolate was a daily custom in Mexico. Jews living in the Central American country, under surveillance by Spanish Inquisitors, typically drank chocolate at the end of the Yom Kippur fast — mirroring what other Mexicans did every day, but waiting until dark to do it — so as not to arouse suspicion about their secret Jewish identities. Talk about a sweet way to honor history.
Try our Premium Hot chocolate from award winning Bixby and Co in Maine:
Smoked Salmon Dip
- 11/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 20 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 5 tablespoon capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
- 11/2 small red onion, diced small
- 5 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- Kosher salt
- 1 lb smoked salmon, coarsely chopped
In a small bow, combine the Greek yogurt and cream cheese with a hand mixer. Stir in the capers, onion, dill, and lemon juice. Taste and add salt as needed.
Fold in the smoked salmon.
- 4 lbs smoked cod
- 5 stalks celery, strings removed
- 2 cups sour cream (approximately)
- 3 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Garnish: sprigs of fresh dill and/or parsley
Carefully remove the bones from the whitefish (Cod) and place the meat in a mixing bowl.
Dice the celery and combine with the whitefish, along with 1 cup of the sour cream, the mayonnaise, and the pepper. Add the dill and parsley and as much more sour cream as is wanted.
Garnish with additional dill and parsley.