by Kate Heyhoe
Messing with holiday traditions can be tricky. Take Thanksgiving, for instance. If you've ever tried to supplant the traditional roast turkey with a more exotic bird, say a pheasant or a duck, you've likely encountered at least some degree of family resistance. Some readers tell me that their innocent but novel twists on tradition have sparked unpleasant pouting, whining, and even fisticuffs among disgruntled family members. So much for trampling on tradition!
Radical changes can be tough to introduce. However, minor tweaks on tradition are often more easily accepted, such as changing the stuffing recipe but not the bird. Or, offering a new version of stuffing alongside the near-sacred family favorite.
Change, as they say, is hard to accept. But the one holiday in all cultures that shares a schizophrenic relationship with the idea of change is the coming of the new year. Whether you're in Teheran, Tennessee, or Timbuktu, the end of one year and the beginning of the next juxtaposes traditional customs against the hopes, wishes, and dreams for the days ahead. At new year's, people look both to the past and to the future, hoping that the changes to come will be positive, fruitful and even better than the year just ended.
This weekend marks one of the most festive new year holidays for many people around the world, Rosh Hashanah. This two-day Jewish celebration, accompanied by a rich and sweet feast, is followed ten days later by Yom Kippur, a day of atonement marked by a 25-hour fast. Foods typically served at Rosh Hashanah bear a symbolic meaning with an emphasis on sweetness—to start off the new year with sweet wishes. The most widespread custom is to serve apple slices dipped in honey, symbolic of the Garden of Eden, while reciting to God, "May it be Your will to inaugurate for us a good and sweet year."
Over the past five years, a number of Jewish cookbooks have been released, and while some document traditional dishes, most of these new releases emphasize ways to update Jewish food. The spins on today's Jewish cookbook include low-fat cooking, 30-minute meals, gourmet kosher, holiday bread making, entertaining, and even a book called Master Chefs Cook Kosher, featuring Mexican kosher meals and California kosher. Oy vay! (Actually, these fresh, innovative menus from the nations' leading chefs are quite tasty and inspiring.)
This movement towards "new Jewish cuisine" must be popular, as the publishers are releasing so many such titles that it's almost a genre in itself. Not being Jewish, I can't attest to the receptivity of guests or family to tweaks in their food traditions. But I do think that if changes in holiday feasts are going to be attempted, then the new year holiday is the best place to start. Out with the old and in with the new, as the saying goes.
So, in the spirit of the new year, I've selected a few recipes that reflect the ways these cookbooks are tweaking Jewish holiday traditions.
The first set of Jewish nouvelle recipes below are especially created for Rosh Hashanah, as lighter or more elegant versions of their traditional counterparts. While Yom Kipper itself is a day of fasting, the meals before or after the fast have great importance. Meals going into the fast tend to be bland and lower in salt, so as not to drive up thirst, but the meals coming out of the fast are more robust, with breakfast-like dishes being popular favorites. In the gourmet vein, for instance, Bradley Ogden's Salmon Hash elevates the typical post-fasting meal into a more exotic celebration, yet still homey and comforting.
Of course, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy these recipes. As with all good food and great dishes, festive meals are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, to nourish and give pleasure. Also, if you look at each new day as a new beginning, then new year's can be celebrated any time you want. As the customary greeting at Rosh Hashanah goes...
L'shanah tovuh u'metuka!
(To a good and sweet new year!)
Yom Kipper meals (before or after the fast):
Coming soon: For those of you who, like me, could stand another few weeks of vacation, join me starting September 25 for Kate's Virtual World Tour: A Progressive Feast. From September to January, the progressive banquet begins with Appetizers in Asia, continues with multiple courses across India, the Middle East, and North Africa, and around Christmas, crosses over to Europe for Desserts in Deutschland. Recipes, country backgrounds, local attractions, and special travel tips make each stop vivid and exciting, as if you were right there, experiencing the journey yourself. These world tour specialties and authentic recipes will inspire you to create your own unique and festive holiday tables, fit for kings and queens. No passport needed, just a fork, a stove and a hearty appetite!
This month in Kate's Global Kitchen...
9/04/99 —Fighting Fall Out: Summer Don't Go!
9/11/99—New Traditions for a New Year
9/18/99—Sushi Rice 101
9/25/99—Special Series: Virtual World Tour & Progressive Feast
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created September 1999
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