Ah, the High Holidays. The 10 days in September that Jewish people the world over observe Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While many observing the holidays use this time to focus on repentance, spiritual renewal and joy, others (like myself), focus on the most Jewish theme of all: food.
Ashkenazi Jews, or those of us who can trace our lineage to Eastern Europe, usually celebrate the New Year with a traditional menu of staple dishes, including roast chicken or brisket, matzo ball soup, noodle kugel and apples dipped in honey. Likewise, we break the Yom Kippur fast with a feast of Jewish deli staples, including bagels and lox, whitefish salad or herring, sweet cheese blintzes and… more kugel.
Don’t get me wrong: Ashkenazi food is delicious, and after a 25-hour fast, I’m not picky. But there are so many more flavors of the Jewish diaspora to try while atoning, or reflecting, or just plain noshing.
This year, I’m changing up my holiday menus and highlighting some dishes from my Mizrahi and Sephardic brethren. Mizrahi represents those with roots in the Middle East or North Africa, while Sephardi are those with ancestors from Spain or Portugal. Join me, won’t you?
Instead of matzo ball soup, try:
Marak Temini - Traditional Yemenite Soup
This meat and white bean soup has two main versions; one with chicken and one with beef. The richer beef version is the one that has been popularized in Israel. In Yemen, many Jewish families use chicken, which is cheaper.
Instead of roast chicken, try:
Khoresh-e Fesenjoon - Persian Chicken with Pomegranates and Walnuts
Fesenjoon hails from northern Iran, where pomegranate and walnut trees are abundant. Pomegranates are hugely symbolic in the Jewish faith, representing everything from mitzvot (or sacred obligations) of the Torah to fertility, prosperity, and celebration. So, mazel tov!
Instead of brisket, try:
Dafina - North African Beef Stew
Dafina is the North African or Moroccan version of stew, packed with slow-cooked meat, grains, vegetables, and eggs. Loaded with spices, and sweetened with dates and honey, even the toughest critics will like it (including Bubbe).
Instead of kugel, try:
Jeweled Rice Tahdig - Crispy Rice with Fruit and Nuts
Thanks to plenty of butter and spices, this golden-crusted Basmati rice dish gets incredibly crispy; then it is topped with assorted fruits and nuts.
Don’t tell my mother, but there are delicious alternatives to bagels and lox when breaking the fast after Yom Kippur. The ten holiest days of the year are behind us, and it’s time to celebrate with a feast.
Instead of bagels, try:
Borekas - Stuffed Pastry
These flaky, savory stuffed pastries are popular from Turkey and Greece to the Balkans and Israel and can be filled with anything from eggplant or mushrooms to spinach and cheese.
Instead of cucumbers and tomatoes, try:
Ful Mudammas - Warm Fava Beans
Sutlatch - Turkish Rice Pudding
Delicate, creamy, and occasionally nutty, Sutlatch (or Mahallebi) is a favorite dessert of adults and children alike. Try substituting dairy milk with your favorite nut milk for even more depth of flavor.