Sometimes I think I already am a Jewish grandmother. Let’s look at the facts: I love knitting, I think soup can cure anything, and I seamlessly insert Yiddish words into my sentences. What do you think, bubbelah? Do I pass the test?
Regardless of whether or not you have/are a Jewish grandma, I wanted to take a moment in honor of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, to highlight two of my favorite holiday recipes. These are, of course, no less delicious if you aren’t celebrating. So get in the kitchen, you little mensch, and start schvitzing over the stove.
I was a vegetarian for 6 years during high school and college. I embraced tofu and ground “beef” alike, learned to cook lentils, and relied on hummus like nobody’s business. Yet, try as I might, nothing could fill the void left by mother’s brisket. Eventually this, and this alone, brought me back over to the dark side. I simply couldn’t imagine another brisket-less holiday.
Shortly after my conversion back to meat-eating, my mom decided to change things up. She found a recipe in the New York Times for sweet and sour brisket—a “kitchen sink” type approach to marinade that ends up well-balanced and complex—and a new tradition was born. The brisket is sweet, tangy, and mysterious, in a way that keeps you guessing about the ingredients. We Bellins are not known for our affinity toward change, but in a rare exception, the new brisket surpassed the old brisket as the household favorite. For nostalgic purposes, I still request my Grandma’s brisket from time to time, but the recipe below is outstanding. And, well, Grandma’s is a secret anyway. Isn’t it always?
Alas, Rosh Hashana isn’t all about brisket. The holiday has a lot of rituals, and my favorite is the symbolism of eating apples and honey for a sweet new year. For whatever reason, charoset (chopped apples, honey, wine, and nuts) is unnecessarily linked to Passover alone, but I think it makes a great dish this time of year (or any time of year, for that matter). It’s incredibly simple to make, especially with the help of a food processor. Try it as a dip for crackers, a condiment for a turkey sandwich, and a snack to be eaten by the spoonful. Different cultures have variations of charoset involving dates, raisins, nuts, and other spices, so it’s a good place for some experimentation with ingredients.
So, go make your grandma proud, and cheers to a sweet new year.
Brisket in Sweet-and-Sour Sauce
Adapted from ”Levana’s Table,” by Levana Kirschenbaum (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2002), via www.nytimes.com
Time: 3 hours plus overnight refrigeration
Yield: 12 servings
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 two-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
6 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups Coca-Cola or ginger ale
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper or to taste
1 six- to seven-pound first-cut brisket, rinsed and patted thoroughly dry.
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place everything but the brisket into a food processor, and process with steel blade until smooth.
2. Place brisket, fat side up, into a heavy baking pan just large enough to hold it, and pour sauce over it. Cover tightly and bake for 2 hours. Turn brisket over and bake uncovered for one more hour or until fork-tender. Cool, cover brisket and refrigerate overnight in cooking pan.
3. The next day, transfer brisket to a cutting board, cut off fat and cut with a sharp knife against grain, to desired thickness. Remove any congealed fat from sauce and bring to a boil on top of stove.
4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Taste sauce to see if it needs reducing. If so, boil it down for a few minutes or as needed. Return meat to sauce and warm in oven for 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Source: years of experience
6 peeled apples, coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sweet red wine
2 tablespoons honey
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the apples are very finely chopped. If you like, keep processing until it becomes more like a paste. (I prefer the chunky style, myself.)
Freya Bellin writes weekly for Mark Bittman’s web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include You Say ToMAYto, I Say ToMAHto, Your New Favorite Brunch, and What My Spanish Mom Taught Me.