How chefs are making Yom Kippur break fast in a freakishly uncommon year
Yom Kippur is a time of prayer and personal reflection, bookended with meaningful meals: a light supper before the fast begins, and a more celebratory break fast when the atoning is complete. Some choose to start and end quietly as a family, while others do so by welcoming or visiting friends and relatives.
This year is different though. There will be socially distant services — many conducted via Zoom or live stream — and get-togethers will be limited. So what does this mean for the meals?
As we did for Rosh Hashanah, we turned to some of the best culinary minds in the Jewish food biz and asked them how they were starting and breaking their own fasts and adapting their gatherings and menus in light of the coronavirus. They offered lots of inspiration, ideas, and advice in addition to a slew of spectacular recipes.
Pati Jinich, Mexico City-born, Washington D.C.-based host of “My Mexican Kitchen” and author of cookbooks including “Mexican Today:”
How She’s Observing: We typically go to Mexico in December, so usually the Jewish holidays we spend here. A group of Latin friends — some from Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina — we’ve gotten together with them for years. Somebody does Start the Fast, somebody does Break the Fast. But now everybody is isolating, now we’re starting to get together in smaller bubbles, so we’re all deciding. Are we comfortable?
The holidays are really about the family and generations and the kids, so what I think is going to be the tone of this year is we’ve been connecting a lot more with our close family — our parents and sisters — on a regular basis, every friday, on Zoom. For example with my husband’s family we see each other in December, but now because of the pandemic we’ve been zooming every Friday for Shabbat. So the kids get to connect more.
My husband’s family is all about family, getting together. We’ll do the blessings together, the challah together, but everyone’s eating whatever they’re eating. My family, all that matters is food. So when we Zoom together, we plan, ‘Let’s make this menu,’ so we all make the same thing. Not the entire menu; not all the sisters at the same time — I have three. We will agree on certain dishes, somebody’s always more ambitious than the others, that’s how we connect in my family, through the food experience. We’ll say, ‘Hey, why does your chicken look different?’ We’re connected because we’re eating the same thing.
For Mexican Jews it’s important to have all the parts of a sit down meal, not just for Rosh Hashanah but for Yom Kippur. I remember when I first moved to the U.S. and went to a break fast, it was more like an open door, a buffet, and I was shocked because I was used to having the break the fast as a formal sit-down meal with soup and a chicken and some sides.
So here, for many years, friends would invite us to break the fast and at a certain point I told my husband, ‘I really need to have our sit-down thing,’ and the people who were craving our sit-down thing were our Latin friends. We finally decided let’s just do our sit-down thing, and we had been doing that until now. But I think we will not be doing the holidays with our friends; we’ll probably do the Zoom thing with our families in Mexico.
So it will be different, and I feel like we’re all Zoom-exhausted, but I think with the holidays and the change of seasons, that will sweeten it up. And also with the dishes that you know you only get during the holidays, that will really help lift people’s spirit. People have been very frustrated because there [seem to] have been no change in season or days of the week, but the holidays really make you feel like time does indeed move; it has moved.
What’s Cooking: It’s mostly soothing food because you’ve been fasting, so you want to do a light thing. Citrus Chicken With Carrots and Baby Potatoes is an amazing chicken because on Yom Kippur you don’t want to be cooking for hours, because you’re hungry. It has tang from the orange and a tiny bit of heat and it’s a one-pot meal, because it has the carrots and the potatoes. And if you cook rice, everything feels bountiful. But it’s soothing, it’s not heavy. Rice With Angel Hair is very simple, but it’s different than your typical rice pilaf. And the sauce of that chicken is delicious so you can spoon some of that over the rice. I have a great Orange and Almond Flan. It has no butter or milk. It’s almond, orange juice, and egg yolk, so it’s great for people who are kosher.
Danielle Renov, New York-born, Jerusalem-based author of “Peas Love & Carrots:”
How She’s Observing: We don’t usually spend the holiday with our family because our family is in America and we’re 6,000 miles away here, but the friends and community we’ve created here are such a big part of our holiday experience. Friends really are the family that you get to choose. We have wonderful holidays because we’re surrounded by all these friends who we chose to be in our circle, but we can’t get together and do all that this year. As of now, that’s really something that can’t happen. In that regard there’s definitely something missing.
On the other hand, I feel very fortunate in that my oldest is 13, my youngest is an infant. We really have each other. I can think back and remember myself with two little kids who went to bed at 6:30, and I can put myself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe they’re home with small children or alone or isolated or elderly.
Even though we’re isolated, I’m never really alone. I can contain both emotions and sympathize and understand what people are going through at holiday time. It’s hard enough to be isolated when it’s not a holiday time. It’s a period of connection and spiritual growth, and it can be very hard to be alone. I don’t want to forget about people who are suffering — I don’t want to acknowledge how fortunate I feel without acknowledging how hard it might be for others. Corona is not a blessing, but I do feel blessed to be experiencing Corona at this stage of life.
How She’s Breaking the Fast: That meal is going to look the same for us. It’s such an intense day. We go into the fast by ourselves and we break the fast on our own. It’s the first time our son is fasting, he’s almost bar mitzvahed so I’m going to try to incorporate some foods he likes. He loves a creamy soup, and my Dairy Delicious soup is just the best actual soup ever. And the dough dumplings are just beyond. So it’s perfect for after the fast.
A symbolic post-fast food is a traditional Moroccan thing: It’s actually an egg custard that you make to add to your coffee right after the fast. It’s one egg yolk, four tablespoons sugar, you just whip until light and ribbons and thick, and you just add that to a cup of coffee and it’s the best thing ever.
I always make chicken soup with kreplach before the fast. It’s not Moroccan, but it’s [my husband] Eli’s custom and we love it. Because kreplach are dough “dumplings” that are stuffed with meat and sealed. So we hope on Yom Kippur that our prayers will result in goodness for the year and that the decree will be sealed in, just like the kreplach!
Advice: If you find yourself isolated, maybe at home with small children, do whatever you can to get through the holiday. If that means buying food, great. If that means splurging on a few books or new makeup, go for it. Maybe get some help one day for an hour so you can take a walk. Whatever it takes so that you at least have moments within these two days you can look forward to and then enjoy mindfully.
Evan Bloom, co-owner of Wise Sons Delis in the Bay Area and co-author of “Eat Something: A Wise Sons Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews:”
How He’s Observing: I’m not usually doing the holidays at home, I’m too busy [at the restaurants]. So in a sense it’s great because I’m going to be home with my wife and my baby.
On Yom Kippur, we’re open and we’re busy. In San Francisco, Jews are like, ‘There’s something going on, so I should go eat Jewish food.’ Companies here are like, ‘It’s a Jewish holiday, let’s order bagels for everybody.’
Because we expect groups to be smaller this year [in light of COVID-19], you can still buy a dozen bagels, slice them and freeze them, but we’re doing half-size platters this year. The platters usually serve 12; now they serve six. Even if you’re not six, having a little extra cream cheese and salmon at home isn’t a bad thing.
It’s really the basics: noodle kugel, smoked salmon platters, tuna salad, potato salad.
What’s Cooking: I’m always working on Yom Kippur, but this year I’ll be at home. What we’ll be breaking the fast with is noodle kugel. It’s one of my favorite things.
Alon Shaya, chef/owner of Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver:
How He’s Observing: Usually we would go out on Kol Nidre with a group of friends to this local Italian restaurant in town — that’s been our tradition for many years, and unfortunately this year we’re not going to be able to do that.
What’s Cooking: Normally, for breaking the fast, I love doing smoked fish and bagels and stuff like that because it really reminds me of growing up. We’d break the fast at temple, with chopped liver and smoked salmon and bagels. We typically do that, but this year I haven’t gotten that far yet.
I think that my Blackberry Torta della Nonna is a perfect Break Fast dish because you can make it and let it sit on the counter for a few days until you are ready to eat it. No one wants to wait for something to finish baking after you’ve been fasting for 24 hours, so it will be ready when you are!
Eden Grinshpan, Brooklyn-based, Toronto-born host of Top Chef Canada and author of “Eating Out Loud: Bold Middle Eastern Flavors for All Day:”
What’s Cooking: For Break Fast, there’s the Persian Mixed Herb Frittata. It’s my take on kuku sabzi, the Persian egg dish. It’s an easy, make-ahead dish that you can warm up. It serves six for pretty decent portions, so you can cut it into smaller portions if you’re feeding more people. Who doesn’t love an egg dish? I love a baked frittata, it’s your lazy version of a quiche. I have an entire chapter called “Eggs All Day” in Eating Out Loud.
What’s so fun about this one, you don’t hold back on the herbs. I put a lot of fresh parsley — for 12 eggs I have one cup of fresh dill and one cup of parsley chopped. So it’s very green. And I use a lot of spices. In this I have cumin, turmeric, and coriander. You’ll find that in the book I repeat a lot of spices on purpose, so the pantry I tell you guys to put together actually gets used.