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Beyond Brisket: Go ahead, get crazy. Change up your Rosh Hashanah.

By Shannon Sarna

This article originally appeared in The Nosher.

(JTA) – I know the holidays will look, and taste, different than most years. I also know many families cherish the big brisket, standing rib roast or pot roast that graces their table each year. Traditions are important, and food imparts its own sanctity as part of holiday experiences; the smell, the sight and the taste all play a crucial role in what makes family gatherings during a holiday so very special. 

But it’s likely that your Rosh Hashanah gathering will be smaller this year, as we make tough choices around safety and health due to COVID-19, and so a brisket or other large roast may not be the ideal dish to serve as the main attraction.

Not to worry. There are many alternatives to serving a brisket. Here are a few.



By Laura Brehaut, from the cookbook SHUK by New York City-based chef and restaurateur Einat Admony, and Tel Aviv-based food writer Janna Gur. 

Poached in spicy tomato sauce, this fish dish (a.k.a. chraime or dag hareef) is a Shabbat staple for North African Jews, Einat Admony and Janna Gur write. It takes on different colour when made by Libyan (Tripolitan), Moroccan or Tunisian cooks.

“Often in Israel, in traditional Moroccan families, they serve it as a first course with some bread to mop up the sauce. It’s a beautiful, beautiful way to cook fish,” says Gur. “This is one of those dishes that, if you don’t tell people how easy it was, you would be considered this super-sophisticated chef because it looks amazing and it takes like 15 minutes to make. And, as opposed to a lot of fish recipes, you can reheat it.”

Cherry tomatoes, while not a traditional choice for the dish, add sweetness and a dollop of color.

1/3 cup vege
able oil
10 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 jalapeño chili, cored, seeded and thinly sliced (see note)
1 tbsp harissa, store-bought or homemade (see note)
3 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground caraway
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 pints cherry tomatoes
Kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1 large bunch fresh cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
6 (7- to 9-oz) fillets flaky white-fleshed fish (grouper, bass, snapper and halibut are all nice), skin-on, if possible
Challah or couscous, for serving

Pour vegetable oil into a relatively deep, large skillet. Immediately add the smashed garlic cloves and cook over very low heat just until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Watch the pan closely to make sure the garlic doesn’t brown, or it will become bitter. Increase heat to medium-high, add tomato paste, half the jalapeño, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the harissa and all the paprika, caraway and cumin, and stir for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add 1 1/2 pints of the cherry tomatoes (reserve the rest for later) and season with salt. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes start to break down, 7 to 8 minutes. Pour in the water, bring to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until thick and saucy.

Remove about 3 tablespoons of whole leaves from the cilantro bunch and reserve for garnish. Tear up the rest of the bunch and toss into the pan. Let it blend with the sauce, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and the remaining jalapeño, and 1 1/2 teaspoons harissa if you want more heat. Bear in mind that once you add the fish, you won’t be able to stir the sauce and play with the seasonings.

Add the fish fillets, skin-side up, tucking them gently into the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes on top of the fish. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, without stirring, until the fish is cooked through, 7 to 8 minutes. Thicker fillets, like halibut, will need 2 to 3 minutes more. To check the fish for doneness, make a small incision in the thickest part of the fish and make sure the flesh is opaque and flaky.

Serve straight out of the pan, garnished with the cilantro leaves, with bread or couscous alongside.

Serves 6

Note: This dish is meant to be spicy, but how spicy is up to you. Start with half the amount of harissa and chili, and fire the dish up to your liking.



From Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks by Ina Garten © Clarkson Potter 2018.

½ cup good olive oil
½ cup good red wine vinegar
1 ½ cups large pitted prunes, such as Sunsweet
1 cup large green olives, pitted, such as Cerignola
½ cup capers, including the juices (3 1/2 oz)
6 bay leaves
1 ½ heads of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
¼ cup dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (4-lb) chickens, backs removed and cut in 8 pieces
½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

Combine olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, 2 tablespoons salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken to the marinade. (You can also place the chicken and marinade in a 2-gallon plastic storage bag and squeeze out the air to make sure the chicken is fully covered with the marinade.) Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the chicken, skin side up, along with the marinade in one layer in a large (15-by-18-inch) roasting pan, sprinkle with the brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper, and pour the wine around (not over!) the chicken. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until the internal temperature of the chicken is 145 degrees F. Remove the pan from the oven, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Transfer the chicken, prunes, and olives to a serving platter, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices.



From Feasting: A New Take On Jewish Cooking by Amanda Ruben, published by Hardie Grant Books March 2018.

“One of my chefs, Matthew Wihongi, created this recipe for our catering business and it really wows,” says Amanda Ruben. “If you don’t have time to slow roast the cauliflower, parboil it until it is soft enough to pierce with a fork. Then put it in the oven with the saffron liquid and baste until golden.

1 large caulif
ower head
1 Tbsp saffron threads
1 Tbsp sumac
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground chili powder
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra if needed
1 tsp salt
2 cups Tahini
½ cup slivered pistachios, to garnish (optional)
2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds, to garnish (optional)
2 Tbsp chili threads (optional)
For the tomato salsa:
¼ red onion, finely diced
5 tomatoes, deseeded and finely diced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the cauliflower head on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Combine the saffron threads with 2 cups boiling water and set aside to steep for 15-20 minutes. In a bowl, combine the saffron liquid with the sumac, ground spices, oil and salt. Pour the mixture over the cauliflower, making sure it is evenly coated. Cover the tray with foil and roast the cauliflower in the oven for 2 hours, basting every 30 minutes with the saffron liquid. Add more oil if needed to keep the cauliflower moist. Remove the foil and roast for a further 10 minutes to brown the cauliflower a little. While the cauliflower is browning, make the tomato salsa. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Season to taste with salt.

To serve, spread the tahini dip on a large platter and place the cauliflower on top. Cut out a wedge of cauliflower and pile tomato salsa inside and around the edge of the cauliflower. Garnish with slivered pistachios, pomegranate seeds and chili threads.



Rosh Hashanah dinner, Yom Kippur break-fast, sukkah hops: How risky are these High Holiday activities during COVID-19?

By Shira Hanau

(JTA) – When Passover arrived just a few weeks after the pandemic set in earlier this year, it was clear that Seders with families and friends would not be happening.

Five months later, as Jews across the country prepare for the High Holidays, calculating risk has become much harder. The pandemic seems under control in parts of the country but is still raging in others; some people are staying home as much as possible while others have practice going out safely; and the costs of disruption and isolation are beginning to feel more acute.

That means the questions surrounding how to observe the holidays have murkier answers: Is it safe to do Rosh Hashanah dinner with the grandparents? What about our annual Yom Kippur breakfast with the neighbors? Can we still go sukkah hopping?

We spoke to two epidemiologists who have been advising Jewish communities during the pandemic about the risks involved in these classic High Holiday traditions and more. Here’s what they told us.


In-person services

While most non-Orthodox synagogues are planning to hold services exclusively over livestream, some synagogues, including many Orthodox ones, are planning to gather for in-person services, often truncated or otherwise adjusted to minimize disease risk.

Among the most important ways to keep these services safe are maintaining distance between people, requiring masks, screening for illness or exposure to the virus and ensuring proper air flow.

Eili Klein, a professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, said he won’t be attending in-person services this year. But for those who are, he said, outdoors is better.

Klein cautioned that large tents erected by some synagogues to allow outdoor services might carry similar risks to being indoors. You want to be sure you’re not gathering in a place where the air flow might not be very good, he said, and the center of a large tent can easily be one.

“This gets into fluid dynamics and all these things where, if you’re getting to that level, you’re probably getting to a place where that’s not a good idea,” Klein said.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere, a large Orthodox synagogue in Long Island’s Nassau County, said he would feel comfortable praying at an indoor or outdoor minyan “if they’re done properly.”

How can an indoor service be done properly?

For Glatt, that means screening participants for illness or exposure to the virus, maintaining at least six feet of distance between people and keeping masks on while indoors.

And it’s not just about keeping to the guidelines while the services are taking place, he said. The safety of the in-person services depends on people adhering to safety guidelines in their lives outside of synagogue as well.

“If you wish to be in public places like a minyan then you have to take the guidelines seriously, which means you’re masking and social distancing as best as possible at all times,” Glatt said.


Outdoor shofar blowing

Hearing the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is considered a sacred commandment, so some synagogues are offering standalone shofar-blowing services outdoors to accommodate those who do not feel comfortable attending services in person.

Both Klein and Glatt agreed that a short, outdoor shofar-blowing service would be relatively safe. But keeping people distanced and wearing masks is key.

Some have suggested covering shofars with masks to prevent the virus from being dispersed when they are blown. Glatt has suggested that having someone blow the shofar who has already recovered from COVID-19 would be ideal, but he said the actual blowing of the shofar is unlikely to be a major risk.

“Do it in the street, do it outside, have a set number of people showing up so you don’t have more people than you expect,” he said.

Klein believes that outdoor situations with proper social distancing and participants largely wearing masks would be a “fairly safe environment,” even with a somewhat large gathering.

“The problem becomes, in any of these situations, if you have people violating those things, then that puts everyone at risk,” he said.


Rosh Hashanah dinner with grandparents

Risks are involved in getting together with people outside of your immediate bubble, according to Klein and Glatt. But there are ways to gather in small groups safely, beginning by keeping the gathering outside and guests from different households far apart.

“Outdoors is better than indoors,” Klein said. “That reduces the risks dramatically.”

Both Klein and Glatt said the main problem with big meals is the gathering of people, not the sharing of food.

“There’s been a lot of evidence that this does not seem to be spread by food,” Klein said, meaning that giving gifts of food could be a way to celebrate the holiday without gathering in groups.

Glatt said he would have one family, not a lot of different people.

“Assuming the parties are all responsible, an outdoor meal is doable,” he said.

Still, if you live in a part of the country where the virus is still largely uncontrolled or if someone you’ve invited may have been exposed to the virus, it’s best for everyone to stay home. And people who may be particularly vulnerable to the disease, including the elderly and those with other medical conditions, may want to avoid any risk at all.


Pilgrimage to Uman

Most Jews don’t include travel to Ukraine as part of their High Holiday traditions, but every year tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews belonging to the Bratslav Hasidic sect head there for a Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav.

Last week, Ukraine decreed that foreigners would not be able to enter the country until the end of September, in part to keep out the pilgrims (some have already arrived in the country). But some lawmakers in Israel and the United States are pressing for a small number of pilgrims to be admitted.

“Should I go to Uman?” was one item in Glatt’s latest update to members of his community. His answer: “NO. Absolutely no. … Uman could be the world’s worst COVID-19 super-spreader event.”


Fasting on Yom Kippur – and breaking the fast

There’s no reason to avoid fasting on Yom Kippur during a pandemic if you are otherwise able to do so, Glatt said. But the calculation would be different for someone who has the virus, as it is for anyone with special medical conditions.

“There’s no evidence that if somebody doesn’t have COVID that fasting is a problem,” he said. “If somebody does have COVID, they should discuss with their doctor.”

When it comes to sharing a Yom Kippur breakfast with friends or neighbors, the same guidance would apply as to a Rosh Hashanah dinner: Outdoors is better than indoors, distancing should be in place and the groups of people who do not live together should be kept to a minimum.

This may be more challenging at breakfast, which often features buffet setups. The danger in a buffet is less likely to be sharing utensils –although offering hand sanitizer probably isn’t a bad idea –but in the way diners are encouraged to congregate near each other. If you’re hosting, you probably want to think about how your guests will get their food.


Sukkah hopping

For some communities, sukkah hopping, in which people (often kids or families) visit several sukkahs and eat something in each one, is a classic Sukkot holiday ritual.

Sukkahs would seem to be perfectly designed for the pandemic because they are not enclosed. Still, because many sukkahs are small in size and sukkah hopping often involves many people, Klein and Glatt said the activity would need to be seriously modified to be safe.

“Any activity which has mixing with a large group of people either serially or in a big group is not a safe activity,” Klein said.

Klein suggested keeping the time spent inside the sukkahs to a minimum so people aren’t crowded in small spaces for prolonged periods of time. If that can’t be done, sukkah hopping should be avoided.

“It’s not something that it’s going to be terrible if we don’t have the children go to a sukkah hop,” Glatt said. “It’s a fun thing, but sometimes we don’t do fun things because pikuach nefashos [saving a life].”

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