The Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah, kicks off Friday at sundown, marking the beginning of an important 10-day stretch in the Jewish calendar. It culminates with the Day of Atonement known as Yom Kippur. Even with a day of fasting, food plays a key role in these holidays, a time of celebration as well as introspection.
For guidance, we turned to Bonnie Benwick, a Washington, D.C.-based Jewish home cook and journalist who has made food her life’s work. (See our Q&A in the sidebar.) She shared the details for two of her High Holiday favorites: brisket braised in a honeyed sauce with slow-cooked vegetables and pears, and the sweet noodle pudding known as kugel, this one loaded with apricots. The recipes that follow are in Benwick’s words, which will take you on a delicious homespun adventure in which everyone is welcome, even at a time when we cannot gather. In a year of so much sorrow, we all could benefit from a little L’chaim, a toast to life.
ABIGAIL'S TOP-SECRET BRISKET
Of the dozens of briskets I have recipe-tested and served at my own Jewish holiday tables, this remains my favorite. The combination of broth, wine, honey, onions, carrots, garlic and – surprise! – pears melds to create a lovely sauce. Adding the par-cooked vegetables and fruit to the meat after a few hours of oven time, plus the extra step of removing them from the braising liquid as it reduces on the stovetop, will help keep them intact for serving.
The fat cap on a first-cut/flat brisket is often left in place to keep the meat moist as roasts. Here, there’s enough juiciness generated in the pot, so feel free to cut away all but a thin layer of fat, or you can score the fat and leave it in place. As with most braised meats, their flavor deepens after a day or two’s refrigeration. Leftovers are great for biscuit sandwiches or shredded as filling for a sweet potato-topped shepherd’s pie.
The brisket can be made weeks in advance, cooled, wrapped and frozen. To reheat, defrost in the refrigerator overnight then warm through, uncovered, in a 325 F oven for at least 40 minutes.
Adapted from a 1998 cookbook by New York caterer Abigail Kirsch.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
- One 6-pound brisket, fat trimmed or scored (see note above)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper, plus more as needed
- 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped (6 to 8 cups)
- 4 medium carrots, scrubbed well and cut into 1/2-inch dice (3 to 4 cups)
- 4 cloves whole garlic
- 3 firm skin-on Anjou pears, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 7 cups no-salt-added chicken or beef broth
- 2 3/4 cups dry red wine
- 2/3 cup mild honey
- Fresh thyme sprigs, for serving
Lay a large piece of aluminum foil on a work surface near the stove. Adjust the oven racks as needed so you can fit a large, lidded Dutch oven (6-quart, at least) on the middle rack; preheat to 350 F.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Use a fork to whisk together the salt, pepper, dried thyme and flour in a small bowl, then use the mixture to coat the brisket evenly on both sides. Once the oil is shimmering in the pot, add the brisket; sear for 2 or 3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Transfer the meat to the foil.
Reduce the heat to medium; stir in the onions and carrots with a wooden spoon, working to dislodge any browned bits in the pot. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, then stir in the garlic and pears. Cook for 2 minutes, then scrape the pot’s contents into a large heatproof bowl and cover loosely. Return the Dutch oven to the stovetop. Add the broth, wine and honey, stirring to combine and dislodge any remaining browned bits. Bring to a boil over high heat, then return the brisket to the pot, fat side up. Lay a piece of lightly crumpled parchment paper over the pot, then cover tightly with a lid (that will hold the parchment in place). Roast for 2½ hours.
Uncover and add the reserved vegetable-pear mixture, on top of and around the meat. Cover again and roast for 45 minutes, or until the meat can be easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife and the vegetable-pear mixture is meltingly soft.
Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet; use wide spatulas to transfer the brisket there. Use a slotted spoon to transfer most of the vegetable-pear mixture to a bowl, making sure to leave the garlic in the pot. Bring the remaining contents of the pot to a boil over high heat; cook uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, or until that liquid has reduced by half to form a sauce (you can usually tell by the wine ring around the inside of the pot). The sauce should be just syrupy enough to coat the back of a spoon. Mash the garlic cloves until evenly distributed. Taste, and adjust the salt and/or pepper as needed.
Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and pour any accumulated juices back into the pot. Cut the meat against the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices, arranging/overlapping them in a large casserole or baking dish as you work. Spoon the vegetable-pear mixture over the sliced brisket, then pour the sauce from the pot over the top.
At this point, the brisket can be cooled and refrigerated until well chilled, then wrapped and frozen. If you are serving it soon, roast the sliced/dressed brisket in the oven, uncovered, for another 25 to 30 minutes. Scatter the fresh thyme sprigs over the brisket just before serving.
DOUBLE APRICOT KUGEL
This noodle pudding features a fruit-forward sweetness that seems apt for the Jewish New Year as well as a Yom Kippur break-fast. It can be made weeks in advance, cooled, wrapped and frozen. To reheat, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then warm in a 300 F oven.
The recipe is based on one that was passed along to me from Washington, D.C.-area cookbook editor Paula Jacobson.
Note: If canned apricots are hard to come by, opt for canned sliced peaches instead. Drain them (or drain and rinse, if they were packed in syrup), and lay enough of them atop the noodles so they completely cover. Alternatively, try fresh pluots, pitted and halved.
Makes 8 to 12 servings.
For the topping:
- 3 cups plain corn flakes or bran flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger or cardamom
- 1/2 cup turbinado sugar (or light brown sugar)
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) salted or unsalted butter, melted
For the kugel:
- 8 ounces medium-width dried egg noodles
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large eggs
- 3 ounces cream cheese, softened (do not use nonfat)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup whole or low-fat milk
- Two (15-ounce) cans apricot halves in syrup or juice, drained
- 11 ounces (1 can; about 1 1/2 cups) apricot or mango nectar
For the topping: Crush the cereal into smaller bits (placing them into a zip-top bag and using a rolling pin is one way to do that). Transfer to a medium bowl or simply add to the bag the cinnamon and ginger or cardamom and melted butter, stirring or massaging the mixture until well incorporated.
For the kugel: Use a little of the melted butter to generously grease the sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cook the noodles according to the package directions and drain, then transfer to the baking dish and toss with the remaining melted butter until evenly coated.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then whisk in the cream cheese and granulated sugar until relatively smooth. Pour this mixture over the noodles, then pour the milk evenly over them, stirring gently to distribute.
Arrange the drained apricot halves, cut sides down, on the noodles, snuggling them in. Pour the nectar evenly over the apricots, then sprinkle the cereal topping evenly over the whole kugel. Finally, scatter the turbinado sugar over the cereal topping. Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the top is golden and the kugel is bubbling, about 1 hour.