High Holiday Recipes and Answers from Joan on Diner’s Journal - Part 5

Originally published here.

Q. My family is Sephardic, leaving Spain with the Inquisition and traveling through the Ottoman Empire to end up in Egypt. As I have gotten older and started cooking recipes passed down to me, I have become very interested tracing the history and politics pertaining to our dishes and food customs. Do you have any suggestions for how to begin my research? — Arielle

Joan replies: Look at all the Sephardic cookbooks that are out and look for recipes that sound like home. You will learn about your own journey.

Q. Growing up, I remember the traditional high holydays dessert honey cake being dry, tasteless, and with a texture somewhere between sand and cardboard. even a scoop of ice cream (our home was not kosher) wouldn’t help. Any suggestions? — Richard

Joan replies: Richard, I couldn’t agree with you more about honey cake. Most are dry and just don’t taste good. Try the one from my earlier set of responses. I think the problem is over baking and not keeping them fresh and covered well.

Q. Do you have any recommendations for what a well-meaning goyishe boyfriend can bring to the family Rosh Hashana gathering? This is my third one. The first year I panicked and brought way too many bottles of kosher for Passover wine, which the family is still working through. Last year I chickened out and brought flowers. — Shiksa boyfriend

Joan replies: Why not try your hand at baking a round hallah or bring a basket of new fruits of the season like pomegranates, heirloom apples, blue plums, and dates and some good artisanal honey for a sweet new year.

Q. Do you have a good recipe for Jerusalem Kugel or as it is called in hebrew Kugel Yerushalmi (which is a traditional Rosh Hashana dish)? Last year I made it and it came out too greasy. many thanks. — Leah

Joan replies: I love Jerusalem Kugel. Why don’t you try this kugel from my “Foods of Israel Today” cookbook.


2 ½ teaspoons salt
12 ounces capellini or other thin spaghetti
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
2. Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a pot, add ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook capellini or spaghetti for about 5 minutes, or according to package directions, until al dente. Drain, rinse in cold water, and place in a bowl.
3. Add pepper, remaining salt, eggs, and 2/3 cup of sugar. Mix well.
4. Heat oil in a small saucepan and add remaining 1/3 cup of the sugar. Mix well and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar melts and starts to turn brown. Keep an eye on this, for once it begins to color, it will get dark quickly.
5. Pour caramelized sugar over pasta, mixing well. Don’t worry if some of the caramel hardens, it will soften later.
6. Grease a Bundt pan and pour spaghetti in. Cover with tin foil and bake in the middle rack of the oven for 2 hours. If you like a crustier top, take the foil off for the last half hour of cooking.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Note: For an old Sephardic Jerusalem variation, add to the cooked pasta the following ingredients: 2/3 cup of plumped raisins, 3 sauteed onions, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 clove garlic, crushed, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Proceed as above.

Q. Do you know where can I find carp in Manhattan, and if not carp, what other fish should I use for Gefilte Fish and where can I buy them? — Addi.

Joan replies: Go to Citarella. Sometimes, though, you have to call up for special orders. By the way, carp used to run in the Hudson River.

Q. I was wondering if you had any tips for preparing brisket that don’t rely so heavily on onions (I’m in my first trimester with my second child and I can’t stand the smell of them!). — Jennifer

Joan replies: Try that Atlanta panacea called Coca Cola Brisket. Chili sauce, onion soup mix, and a can of Coca Cola.

Q. When I was growing up in Albany, N.Y., a favorite anytime — but especially around the holidays — was a walnut cake from Leo’s Bakery. I have searched and tried various recipes but none comes close. This cake (definitely not a torte with egg whites beaten and folded in) was moist and dense, the nuts chopped or coarsely ground. It probably sat on a thin crust of some sort and had a layer or at least a topping of raspberry jam. He baked it in large sheets; it was about 3 inches high. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. — Ellen Rocco

Joan replies: That sounds like a Hungarian walnut torte to me. Look up in any Hungarian cookbook to find that one.

Q. I am curious to know what distinguishes recipes for Rosh Hashana from those of other Jewish holidays. For years, I’ve been using a wonderful apple cake recipe which I discovered in an article about Jewish cooking. I’ve always wondered what makes it unique, aside from the use of apples which are seasonal. Is it perhaps the use of cream cheese in the batter? I know that cream cheese is often used in other baked items in Jewish cuisine. — Jennifer S.

Joan replies: Apples are new fruits of the season at Rosh Hashana and that is why they are used. So are carrots which mean to increase and multiply in German. For the same reason, pomegranates and many other seasonal vegetables and fruitsare used. Don’t forget Rosh Hashana is also a harvest festival. If you look at the Rosh Hashana section of “Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook” you will see why you use all these vegetables and fruits.

Q. Thanks for suggesting a more diabetic-friendly recipe. Do you have any other suggestions in that vein? — Susan

Joan replies: Cook your fruits down to get the true flavor of the fruit. That way you will need less sugar.

Q. I have been blessed with acceptances by all of my invited guests – so my usual gang of 10 is now 22! My guys like roast chicken/capon – but is there a way to roast multiple chickens through the day to serve later without drying them out? Any ideas for using the beautiful broccoli and caulifower that is in the markets now (do ahead); I was planning on just roasting, but that is so boring — Carolyn

Joan replies: Why not serve turkey instead of chicken. I think it will stay moister; or brown your chicken ahead and refrigerate. Just heat up in the oven before serving. I too love broccoli and cauliflower. I would put a little bread crumbs on them, brown them in the oven until they are sweet, and reheat just before serving.