Rosh Hashanah: Newish Jewish?

Every year I follow what have become family traditions which come from my husband’s Eastern European family roots. Like all traditions, they bring warmth and nostalgia to those who deeply enjoy the meals. But, from time to time, I feel that creativity must find a home among the old tried and true recipes. Might I not also be free to start some traditions of my own?

Photo: Melissa Goodman mixes Rosh Hashanah traditions with new dishes for the holiday. Click for her Rosh Hashanah food gallery.

The comforting chicken soup with matzoh balls will remain consistent, however, I am given to experimenting with those ingredients to produce my own novel traditions, sometimes with a cajun-creole flair, even something Mexican creeps in.

I rarely bother to make homemade gefilte fish these days. It is really a great deal of work and, although I would never return to the jellied horror of jarred gefilte fish, I now opt for the frozen fish loaf … which, when boiled with a mirepoix of vegetables, can be quite novel .. and it is served with something which has replaced the horseradish mixed with beet juice. I now opt for a mixture of sweet red hot cocktail sauce mixed with Boar’s Head white creamy horseradish sauce … often using a ying/yang design to separate the two.

Last year, I opted for my homemade gravlax for the fish course. It was viewed as a tradition-breaking item and was well-received by both family and guests.

Salads this year will be decidedly non-traditional as well: a jicama-orange “slaw”, roasted golden beets with a sherry vinaigrette, and my newest Thai cold noodle salad with a spicy-sweet peanut sauce … topped with crunchy peanuts, carrots julienned, diced red peppers, and blanched snowpeas.

My brisket has given way to a lamb roast and, this year, Honeyed Duckling:

Honeyed Duck or Goose (

Potato kugel must remain as it always has with golden onions, full of eggs, and crusty on top. Another traditional starchy course is the yam/apricot/carrot/apple/cranberry tzimmes which everyone enjoys. This year will bring asparagus mimosa as a sidedish. On occasion, I stuff roasted acorn squash with apples and fresh cranberries stewed in port.

The traditional honeycake has now evolved into the Moist and Majestic Apple Cake in a bundt form: rich, eggy, cinnamony-sweet, with nuts and raisins.

So, I must again inquire: need we follow traditions blindly or create our new, unique, personalized variations for future generations to learn about and grow nostalgic? The famous author of many Jewish cookbooks, Joan Nathan, expresses her feelings on changing traditional recipes here: “This is what concerns me. The planet’s cuisine is on a fusion course as young chefs cook at the altar of innovation. Will this massive global melding swallow up individual cuisines? What will happen as people—and food—become homogenous? Despite its powerful roots in Jewish history, I’m afraid Jewish food is as vulnerable as any other cuisine.  Let us pray that Jewish parents will continue to prepare their old family recipes, blessing their children with food memories that are unique from those of their friends.”

Mexican High Holiday variations from NBC:

Spice Up Your Rosh Hashana, Mexican-Style

Reported by Melissa Goodman

4 Responses to Rosh Hashanah: Newish Jewish?

  1. Katie Loeb says:

    Hi Melissa!

    Great article! Everything looks delectable!

    My old boss, Michael McNally (yeah, I know. An Irishman no less! But he was married to a NJG for many years) is the chef at London Grill restaurant here in Philly. He was just on the “Good Morning Philadelphia” program touting his “Newish-Jewish cuisine” today! To this day he makes the best salmon gefilte fish I’ve ever had. His recipe for brisket is here:

    Congrats on the recognition of your superior holiday preparations!


  2. Bux says:

    Hope the link works. I suspect you will be interested in reading what Joan Nathan, regarded as an authority on Jewish American food, has to say about matzoh balls; gundi, a cardamom-flavored chickpea and chicken dumpling from the kitchen of an Iranian Jew; and Kubbeh an Israeli Jewish dumpling for soup, made by Kurdish or Iraqi Jews. Traditions vary and evolve.

    I don’t have strong feelings about tradition, or rather I love them and equally love breaking them or ignoring them as suits my fancy. I suspect breaking strong ethnic traditions can become a problem when in-laws are involved. Then again, maybe the in-laws are the problem if there is a problem.

  3. Steve says:

    Exellent idea on the gefilte fish sauce… we use the frozen loaf as well and is much better. I like to chop scallions and place as a garnish on the fish.. .works well… with or without horseradish.

  4. After reading this article from the Los Angeles Times, I realized that the original premise of this article had larger ramifications:,1,5613157.story?coll=la-headlines-food

    A brief excerpt:
    MAYBE it was because so many of the traditional dishes from Northern Europe — tzimmes (a thick vegetable casserole), a roast chicken, the brisket — seemed rather heavy in the lingering heat of early fall, I couldn’t at first settle on a menu.

    But after leafing through cookbooks and reveling at farmers market stalls filled with Medjool dates, fresh figs, pluots and dragon fruit, it dawned on me: Exotic fruits are a traditional Rosh Hashana food. Why not go Sephardic? Just because David’s tradition was Ashkenazi didn’t mean I couldn’t veer from that.

    With a phone blessing from Nathan, who assured me that she tried to incorporate foods from different ethnic backgrounds, I expanded my culinary search farther south, from the northern latitudes of Ashkenazi culinary traditions to the Mediterranean shores of southern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, where the Sephardic Jews had migrated.
    Couscous and harissa began to replace borscht and gefilte fish, which was a happy revelation for someone who grew up around people who actually ate lutefisk.

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