Our Virtual Bubbe Answers Your Rosh Hashanah Cooking Questions

New Fruits: Heirloom tomatoes hit peak season just in time for the High Holidays. Swap out traditional fruits for these beautities.
New Fruits: Heirloom tomatoes hit peak season just in time for the High Holidays. Swap out traditional fruits for these beautities.

By Adeena Sussman

Published August 28, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
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We asked you, our readers, to send us your Rosh Hashanah cooking questions to our virtual bubbe, cookbook author and food writer Adeena Sussman. She shares her kitchen wisdom, tips for making your first brisket, which new fruits to serve and how to get your holiday cooking done ahead of time. For more questions and answers, visit forward.com/food.

My guests are getting bored with the “new fruits” selection at my Rosh Hashanah meals. How can I get back the magic?

I feel your pain. There was a time when a star fruit, pomegranate or doughnut peach would cause a frisson at the table. In these food-obsessed times? A yawn if you’re lucky. To generate some genuine tableside buzz, consider a schlep to the nearest Asian produce market, where you practically need a passport to navigate the exotic choices. For sheer drama, nothing beats a dragon fruit. Named for its scaly, pterodactyl-like exterior, this hot-pink specimen is as beautiful inside as out. Slice it open, and you’ll find a snowy flesh dotted with tiny black seeds, along with a floral aroma. The flavor’s quite mild, though, so pair it with other tropical selections on a fruit platter that will have even your most one-upping guests bowing in reverence.

Another underrated suggestion would be heirloom tomatoes. This year the High Holy Days dovetail with peak tomato season, and as we all learned in elementary school, tomatoes are members of the fruit family. Though it’s true that even a bruised, pale tomato can be delicious, in this case looks matter. Seek out bright colors (yellow, candy-sweet Sungold cherry tomatoes), stripes (Green Zebra or Speckled Roman) or — in the spirit of forgiveness — odd shapes and sizes, slice and top with a sprinkle of sea salt. Each variety tastes different, and if you haven’t had one yet this year, you can even lead everyone in a rousing rendition of the Shehechiyanu.

To channel Willy Wonka, conjure up a handful of red Miracle Berries (available on Amazon). Originating in Western Africa, where it is known as táami, this fruit contains a molecule that tricks the taste buds into perceiving sweet foods as sour, and vice versa. If only we could perform the same trick on difficult relatives.

I’m hosting my family for Rosh Hashanah for the first time, and I am overwhelmed whenever I look at a brisket recipe. Which cut should I buy? How do I ensure that my brisket is tender but not falling apart?

If meltingly rich, fork-tender meat with the consistency of braised short ribs (and an almost limitless calorie count) appeals, go for second-cut brisket, also known as the deckle. Marbled with fat, I like to think of it as “Jewish Wagyu,” but at bargain-basement prices. Second-cut brisket is less likely to overcook, so if you’re a novice this may be an especially reassuring option. Make sure to ask your butcher to reserve one for you, since they’re usually as elusive as Cronuts at noon.

For leaner, more traditional brisket, the first cut is the way to go. It’s more expensive, but unlike deckle cuts — which fall apart like ribs off the bone — a well-cooked and cooled brisket will slice up nicely. Whichever route you go, make sure to cook your brisket in advance, then allow it to cool in any cooking liquid at least overnight and up to two days. This helps the meat firm up and develop flavor, and also allows you more control over the amount of fat you skim (from the braising liquid of a first-cut) or trim (from a deckle cut).

Recipe choices are endless, but whatever you do, don’t cut any corners on cooking time; anything over 325 degrees Fahrenheit will result in tough, rubbery meat — not the way you want to herald the arrival of a new year. To reheat, warm in a low oven until the braising liquid — which probably will have gelatinized — is warmed through but not bubbling. Another option is to separate the meat from the cold liquid, let the brisket itself come to room temperature, and reheat only the sauce and pour it over the brisket.

The Holidays fall so close to the beginning of the school year and Labor Day weekend that I am afraid I won’t have time to cook a feast that week. What can I make that will freeze or refrigerate well and save me time during the chagim?

Fret not, humble cook. Many items can be made in advance to make meal day a simpler proposition: braised meat, especially brisket (see above) and short ribs. Remove from the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator two days before you plan to serve. Soups are also good prep-ahead candidates. Make a chicken stock weeks in advance, freeze it and defrost on a low burner. The day of your gathering, add whatever you’d like to enhance your dish: fresh carrots and celery, herbs, chunks of chicken and — of course — matzo balls. Defrosted, pureed soups (for example, carrot, butternut squash, mushroom) may need a few extra whirrs of the immersion blender before serving, but otherwise they’ll be as good as fresh.

You can also prepare grains, like quinoa, rice and couscous, up to two days in advance, then add seasonings, dressing and vegetables for a great, low-stress side dish or vegetarian main. And of course, there’s honey cake. As long as you wrap it, first in plastic wrap and then in foil, and unwrap before defrosting to avoid sogginess, none will be the wiser (except you). If the top of the cake looks a little dented, it’s nothing a dusting of confectioners sugar won’t remedy.

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