Time out! Here we are in the midst of summer grilling, and this year the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, comes hard on the heels of Labor Day weekend barbecues. Two days is not enough time to arbitrarily segue to traditional holiday menus when it’s actually the height of tomato, zucchini, and eggplant season. So let’s not.
In case you’re wondering, traditional in my house includes hot chicken soup, tzimmes, and brisket. It includes lots of other things, but you get the idea. All delicious, but I’m not quite in the mood. The holiday also includes apples dipped in honey for a sweet year and pomegranates, whose many seeds (arils, actually) hold the promise of our many good deeds in the coming year.
Here are some ideas that properly evoke the holiday while staying true to the season and weather. Instead of chopped liver, welcome your guests with a foreshpice of eggplant caviar seasoned with generous amounts of lemon juice and garlic and served with pita or basil leaves. (Skip the feta cheese for a dairy-free appetizer.)
Gather seasonal bounty into a simple table scape that you can eat later. Here in Southern California, it’s too early for pomegranates, but just right for black mission figs, concord grapes and young Barhi dates on the stalk. Unripe dates (the khalal stage) are yellow, crunchy, and mildly sweet with a touch of tannin that mellows on cooking (a fact I learned in a recent facebook chat with Felicia Friesema). Raw yellow dates can be snipped into salads or pickled or marinated. Flying Disc Ranch sells khalal dates “en branche” at local farmers’ markets and by mail order.
I prefer chicken to brisket when the weather is warm. Roast or braise a bird or two with olives, ripe or unripe dates or prunes, and cherry tomatoes or pieces of orange. Serve with farro, rice, or Israeli couscous and accompany with harissa and grilled carrots sweetened with honey or roasted pattypan squash.
The chicken can be prepared a day ahead and reheated, and the vegetables can be made earlier in the day and served at room temperature.
Work apples dipped in honey into dessert: Roast or pan-grill seasonal fruits—early apples and pears, late peaches, oval Italian or prune plums, and concord grapes or berries–tossed with honey and wine. (400 degrees, shallow pan, fruit of your choice, enough honey and white, rose, or red wine to moisten the dish, 45 to 60 minutes.) That’s the dish captured up top by Staci Valentine, because why not start with dessert for a very sweet year!