Welcoming a New Year With Sweet Celebrations

On the first day of Tishri, Sept. 10, the Jewish New Year begins at sunset. Every year, the reminder of the tensions between solemn and happy days, reflections on the past and a sense of renewal for the future, the sounds of wailing and the joy of singing hallelujah, create the intensity and the complicated nature of the season.

Where the wisdom of the holidays gives us relief is at the dinner table. And, it is done in abundance.

Rosh Hashanah has three solid days of celebratory eating (since it always begins at sunset the night before the day), and Yom Kippur has the feasting before and after the fast.

Everyone knows the custom of eating sweet dishes, including entrees, on Rosh Hashanah to reflect the desire for a sweet year ahead, round challahs to symbolize continuity, fish as a symbol of fertility. Sephardi traditions include black eyed peas, chick peas, rice and couscous as symbols of abundance. Green vegetables and olives are an important part of their holiday tradition. Nothing bitter should be served this time of year.

Of course, the joys of the season for me are best represented in the style of serving the wonderful abundant foods beautifully set at the celebration table.

Color, texture and taste should all be considered as the basis for holiday warmth. If you do not own beautiful linens or chairs, consider renting from a local rental company for the holidays.

Create yourself, or have your favorite florist design beautiful, fresh, low centerpieces filled with bright colors. Or, do several small arrangements, such as roses cut to their shortest length in shot glasses spread around the table. Candles in different widths and heights placed in several candlesticks can be spread around the table for flickering lights and mood.

Mix traditions with contemporary platters and tabletop accouterments. Combine glass with pottery or silver with antiques. Use fresh herbs or sprinkle rose petals on the table as decorations. Create scents that draw your guests over to the freshness of the table and the delights of the New Year.

The following recipes are some ideas that may be new to incorporate into your High Holidays repertoire. Enjoy decorating and cooking!

Roast Salmon with Spiced

Onions and Currants

An unforgettable first or main course that is an interpretation of sweetness.

1/2 cup currants

1/4 cup Cognac

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 large onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 6 &’009;&’009;cups)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional for the fish

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus &’009;&’009;additional for the fish

4 salmon fillets, about 3 oz. each for an &’009;&’009;&’009;appetizer/ 6 oz. each for a main course

1/2 cup chicken stock

Soak the currants in the cognac and 1/4 cup water until softened and plump, about 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until very tender and translucent, about 20 minutes. Stir in the spices, reduce the heat to low and cook for just a few minutes to meld the flavors. Stir in the currants and the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Divide the onion mixture into 4 piles in a baking dish. Place each salmon fillet on top of a pile of onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon the chicken stock over the salmon and bake until the fish is just cooked through, 7-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.

Vegetarians may use a vegetable or fish stock instead of chicken stock. Also, you may poach or broil the salmon fillets and then serve the warm onion mixture on top as a sauce.

Garnish the plate with leafy baby greens.

Moroccan Tagine of Lamb with Prunes & Honey

The term “sweet meat” will be understood after tasting this North African ragout. It is rich and needs little in the way of embellishment other than some couscous and a simple salad.

1 pound pitted prunes

1/4 cup mild olive oil

4 tablespoons unsalted margarine

4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed well &’009;&’009;and cut into 1 inch cubes

2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 cups)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger pinch of saffron

2-3 cups lamb stock (made the same as chicken &’009;&’009;stock, but substitute lamb shanks and &’009;&’009;meat trimmings for chicken bones.)

1/4-1/3 cup honey

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Cover the prunes with warm water in small bowl and let soak until needed.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons margarine in a heavy saute pan or skillet over high heat. Add as many lamb cubes as will fit without crowding and brown on all sides. Transfer to a deep casserole. Repeat with the remaining lamb cubes, adding oil and margarine to the pan as needed.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons margarine in the same pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the spices and cook 3 minutes.

Transfer the onion mixture to the casserole with the lamb and add enough stock or water to barely cover the meat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, about 45 minutes. Drain the prunes and add to the stew.

Continue cooking until the lamb is very tender, about 20 minutes. Add the honey and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with couscous.

Serves 6-8.

Sweet Endings

Oranges with Orange Zest & Honey

6 large oranges

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup orange liqueur

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup chopped pistachios or almonds

Remove the bright orange zest of the oranges with a potato peeler (try not to get the bitter white pith) and cut into thin julienne strips. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the julienne and blanch 2-3 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Set aside.

Cut off all the white pith from the oranges with a small knife. Then remove the segments by cutting between the membranes. Place the peeled orange segments in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the water, sugar and honey in a saucepan and cook over high heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking until the syrup thickens and measures about 230 degrees on a candy thermometer. Let the syrup cool for a few minutes, stir in the blanched zest and pour over the orange segments. Add the orange liqueur, the mint, or nuts, if you like. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Try a Twist at Your Break the Fast

Rice & Cheese Croquettes with Tomato-Olive sauce:

3 cups cooked and cooled short grain rice

1 cup shredded mozzarella

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves &’009;&’009;(or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

3 large eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1 cup dry bread crumbs olive oil for frying

For the Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 large clove garlic, peeled

28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes with juice

2 tablespoons each chopped fresh basil and &’009;&’009;parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves (or &’009;&’009;1/2 teaspoon dried)

Salt and ground pepper

1/2 cup sliced, pitted green olives

Making the Croquettes:

In a mixing bowl, combine the rice, mozzarella and oregano. Mix well. Add 1 of the eggs and stir to thoroughly combine. In a small bowl, beat the remaining 2 eggs lightly. Place the Parmesan and bread crumbs on separate pieces of waxed paper. Line a tray or baking sheet with waxed paper.

Pick up some of the rice mixture in your hand and squeeze it until it holds together. If it won’t hold together, stir a tablespoon of flour into the rice mixture. Form the lump in your hand into a patty and dredge it gently in the Parmesan, coating both sides. Shake off the excess. Coat the croquette with the beaten egg, then the bread crumbs and place it on the prepared tray
. Don’t worry if the edges are ragged at the point. Continue making and coating croquettes until all the rice mixture is used. You should have 8 3-inch or 12 2-inch croquettes. Place the tray in the refrigerator and chill for 1-3 hours.

Making the Sauce:

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion until tender and translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a boil, breaking up the tomatoes against the side of the pan to break them up, for 15-20 minutes, or until thickening somewhat. Stir in the olives and heat 2 minutes more. Serve immediately over fried croquettes or cover and set aside to be gently reheated at serving time.

Fry the croquettes. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the croquettes from the refrigerator and smooth any rough edges between your palms. Fry the croquettes until golden, 3-5 minutes a side. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with tomato-olive sauce, garnished with parsley.

Serves 4-6.