High Holy Days Food: Welcoming new breaking-the-fast traditions


On Yom Kippur, after the day’s hard spiritual work is done, the break-the-fast meal poses its own challenges. An upside: No one is terribly picky about what they’re taking in after 24 hours of fasting. Preparing a tantalizing spread can be almost an act of cruelty; better to keep the fare simple. But then again, why not have something delicious and special to look forward to?

My husband and I faced a particularly daunting and unusual break-the-fast predicament when our youngest son was born in late September 2009. We got home from the hospital, both of us enshrouded in the shared postpartum haze, and counted out the calendar days to figure out when the bris would take place. 

We landed on Yom Kippur, of all dates. “Can you even have a bris on Yom Kippur?” I asked, stunned. Bringing home a newborn and facing the bris is stressful enough; I almost became unglued thinking through another layer of logistics required to do the right thing as a Jew. Would our mohel of choice, who had performed the bris of our first child, be around? And perhaps most importantly, should a mohel who’s been fasting report for duty on Yom Kippur?

As my husband likes to say, it turned out we were dealt the highest hand in Jewish poker. The bris practically trumps all else. So it should absolutely happen on Yom Kippur. We settled on an early evening start time, so that the event could double as a break-the-fast. (The mohel assured us he had made a special exception and had a bite so he’d be in the right condition to perform the task.) 

Not wanting to repeat the same event we had for our eldest, I scrambled to come up with an alternative food plan, something a bit out of the norm, and to find a caterer who was oriented toward market-driven and seasonal cooking. Plus, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone who harbors certain demographic clichés about young Jewish families living between Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.

Through Sunday wine tastings at Silverlake Wine, one of our favorite local spots, we knew of Matthew Poley, who with Tara Maxey was then starting up his now very popular Heirloom LA operation. He made for us a memorable spread (and politely listened to my rough explanation of the ritual), including descriptions of all the handmade food items carefully written out for our guests on a blackboard. Very rustic chic, indeed. 

After taking the collective sigh of relief, we feasted on butter lettuce wraps with farmers market veggies, confit of wild sturgeon and other savory fillings, plus flatbreads paired with various Mediterranean-inspired spreads, and Heirloom LA’s signature single-serving lasagna “cupcakes.” The mohel himself couldn’t have been more thrilled. “Oy, you wouldn’t believe how sick of deli I am,” he commented as he dug into an expertly piled plate. (We still had bagels on hand to satisfy some people’s expectations and traditions.) 

This year, with the High Holy Days taking place during the late summer/early fall, the timing also works in Southern Californians’ favor, food-wise. These holy days coincide with the harvest, with produce such as luscious pomegranates and robust squash being appropriately symbolic. Lucky for us, however, we also have access to stellar berries, tomatoes, lettuces and other items that hang around farmers markets while folks further east are already facing endless months of root vegetables. 

Following are suggestions from a few Los Angeles-area chefs of various Jewish backgrounds who, much like the aforementioned mohel, might appreciate a good quality deli-based break-the-fast, but who also relish the prospect of merging tradition with something a little different, more in tune with the times and with the season. 


MARYN SILVERBERG

After the Yom Kippur fast and observance, caterer and culinary instructor Maryn Silverberg’s family believes in “rewarding ourselves,” she said, “which means kicking off the night with a beverage. My mom created the Orange Blossom Cocktail.”

ORANGE BLOSSOM COCKTAIL

  • 10 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 10 tablespoons orange liqueur, chilled
  • 10 tablespoons mandarin-orange flavored
  • vodka, chilled
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 5 cups champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
  • 10 orange peel strips

Pour 1 tablespoon orange juice, 1 tablespoon orange liqueur and 1 tablespoon vodka into each of 10 champagne flutes.

For each drink, stir in 1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water; fill with 1/2 cup champagne.

Garnish each drink with an orange peel strip.

Makes 10 cocktails


CHICKS WITH KNIVES

Rachael Narins, an educator, writer and chef who, under the brand Chicks With Knives, also hosts underground supper club dinners, is a certified Master Food Preserver. Meaning Narins believes in the power of pickles. Since the best break-the-fast foods need to be prepped in advance, Narins’ Master Pickle Brine recipe is ideal. She advises that this simple combination is best for cucumbers, cauliflower, red bell peppers, red or green tomatoes, onions, asparagus, beets and okra. Or whatever strikes your fancy, really. Have some fun with it. Plus, “Pickles are eaten by all cultures and are a great way to perk up the palate,” Narins noted. Her Chilled Beet Soup recipe is also simple, fresh and practical. 

chickswithknives.com

MASTER PICKLE BRINE 

  • 1 cup water      
  • 2/3 cup white vinegar      
  • 1/2 cup sugar   
  • 2 tablespoons salt   
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spice   
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed      
  • 1/2 onion, minced  

Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan. Simmer until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add vegetables; simmer until just cooked through.   

Let cool completely, cover, and refrigerate. 

Makes approximately 2 cups brine, plus the added vegetables.

CHILLED BEET SOUP, AKA NOT YOUR BUBBE’S BORSCHT

  • 4 large red beets, roasted, peeled and cooled
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1/8 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • Fresh dill sprigs

Coarsely chop the peeled and cooled beets.

In a blender, combine beets, vinegar, cucumber, red onion, dill seeds, bell pepper and water. Blend on low speed, then increase speed to purée. Slowly drizzle in 2 tablespoons olive oil, allowing it to emulsify and thicken. 

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Let the soup rest for five minutes, then pour through a fine mesh strainer.

Chill until ready to serve. If it separates, reblend before serving.

Divide the soup among four chilled bowls; top each with 1 tablespoon of sour cream and a dill sprig

Makes 4 servings.


ALLUMETTE 

Chef Miles Thompson might have been building a reputation for the astonishingly avant-garde cuisine he’s been presenting at Allumette restaurant in Echo Park (recently included on Bon Appetit magazine’s 50 Best New Restaurants list), but when it comes to breaking the fast, his routine growing up was fairly straightforward. “My family would always break fast at our friends’ house,” the self-taught Thompson said, adding “we always had bagels and lox and whitefish salad.” Thompson’s recipe below is a delicious, light treat, as well as a clever twist on the tradition of layering dairy with seafood on a carbohydrate base. Each bite is bright and tangy, with a rich interplay of textures. We promise your guests will never have seen anything like it. 

allumettela.com

bonappetit.com/uncategorized/article/top-50-new-restaurants-allumette

POTATO CHIPS WITH FRESH SALMON ROE AND YUZU CRÈME FRAÎCHE  

Miles Thompson’s Potato Chips With Fresh Salmon Roe and Yuzu Crème Fraîche. Photo by Jessica Ritz

YUZU CRÈME FRAÎCHE

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yuzu
  • (Japanese citrus) juice
  • 1 cup Bellwether Farms crème fraîche
  • Salt to taste

Whip the yuzu juice and crème fraîche to stiff peaks with a whisk. Season generously with salt. Reserve in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

MARINATED ROE

  • 1/2 cup shiro dashi (available at Asian grocery stores and some Whole Foods locations)
  • 1 cup fresh coconut water
  • 1/4 pound fresh salmon roe, cleaned

Combine the shiro dashi and coconut water in a bowl. Add the salmon roe and gently stir as not to damage the roe. Place in an airtight container and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours prior to use.

POTATO CHIPS

  • 2 medium-sized German Butterball Potatoes, sliced 1/16th-inch thin on a mandoline and held in water*
  • Rice bran oil for frying
  • Salt

Vigorously rinse the sliced potatoes in several changes of water until they no longer release starch; the water will be clear. Pour off the clear water and cover with ice water.

Stir the potato sliced through the ice water and allow to sit for 30 minutes, stirring well every 10 minutes to ensure that all of the potato chips curl.

Using a pot that is taller than it is wide, fill less than halfway with rice bran oil. On stovetop, heat the oil to 275 F. Cover each of three sheet trays with two layers of paper towels to drain the chips.

Drain the potatoes well and place 15 slices at a time into the oil; do not overcrowd the pan. Constantly stir the potatoes with spider strainer, folding them into the oil as they fry. The potato chips are finished when the bubbling has totally subsided and the chips are golden. At this point, immediately remove the chips with the strainer and gently shake the oil from the chips.

Spill the chips onto the first prepared sheet tray and gently roll them to release oil. Season with salt. Move the chips to the second sheet tray and gently toss with your hands to remove extra oil. Transfer to final tray. No oil should remain on the paper towels of the final tray.

Allow the chips to fully cool before packing in a dry airtight container lined with a paper towel. Chips can be stored at room temperature for two days.

Assemble each chip with a modest amount of the Yuzu Crème Fraîche and Marinated Roe. If desired, finish with a light garnish, such as diced chives over the roe. 

Makes about 2 dozen chips.

*Dirty Brand Potato Chips are a good substitute, but nothing is like homemade.


COLONIAL WINE BAR

Alex Reznik is known for having been a contestant on “Top Chef” as well as helming the kitchens at L.A. restaurants, including the high-end kosher La Siene on La Cienega, and Cafe Was in Hollywood. The Brooklyn native is currently cooking a series of weekend dinners at Colonial Wine Bar on Melrose Avenue in homage to his native Brooklyn. For break the fast, he offers a practical and (relatively) healthy approach featuring a mélange of farmers market greens. “Kale was used as the garnish at cheap buffets, [but] now we have realized that not only is it nutritious, but it’s delicious,” Reznik said. This tough green also can “stand up to bold flavors that most lettuce can’t. You can cut the kale and make the dressing before and just toss them together before you are ready to eat.” If you can’t find all three kales specified in the recipe, then most varieties will still do. 

colonialwinebar.com

3X KALE CAESAR SALAD

  • 1/4 cup Dressing (recipe below)
  • 1 bunch Russian kale
  • 1 bunch red kale
  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • 1 cup assorted toasted bagel chips
  • 2 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon capers sautéed lightly
  • in small amount of oil, drained
  • 1 teaspoon toasted pine nuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare Dressing; set aside.

Remove stems from kale. Chop kale into thin slices. Toss with Dressing.

Garnish salad with bagel chips, Parmesan, capers, pine nuts and black pepper.

DRESSING 

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon (4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Combine first 6 ingredients in metal bowl. Slowly add the oil and finish with cheese.


GERTLER’S WURST

“My style is tried and true,” said L.A.-based chef Adam Gertler, a Food Network regular and founder of Gertler’s Wurst sausage company. “It usually involves a scooped everything bagel — a New York bagel preferred — spread with smoked whitefish salad on one half, and on the other, scallion cream cheese. I then layer soft scrambled eggs, Muenster cheese, lox, thinly sliced tomato and red onion.” That’s a fairly ambitious bite to build. For the whitefish salad component, this Long Island native recommends the following method, which incorporates some updated flavors to give this classic mainstay a contemporary, fresher boost. Then see how much you can pile on a bagel. 

adamgertler.com

SMOKED WHITEFISH SALAD

  • 1 pound smoked whitefish, pulled from whole fish
  • 3/4 cup Extra Virgin Mayo (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill
  • 6 tablespoons diced celery
  • 6 tablespoons diced fennel bulb
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • Combine all ingredients, mashing only slightly to leave some nice chunks for texture.
  • Garnish with additional chives and lemon zest.

Combine all ingredients, mashing only slightly to leave some nice chunks for texture.

Garnish with additional chives and lemon zest.

EXTRA VIRGIN MAYO

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • Pinch salt (a little light on salt here because smoked fish is salty)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all ingredients except for oil. Starting with a few drops, slowly whisk in oil, building to a steady stream to form a nice, thick dressing.


WHOA NELLY! CATERING

Call it the anti-rubber chicken school. With farmers market-driven menus, Whoa Nelly! Catering shatters stereotypes associated with wedding and special event food. This hearty main dish from chef Elizabeth Griffiths, an alum of Suzanne Goin’s AOC restaurant, is easily made in advance and provides a perfect taste of fall. If you choose to cook the gratin the day before, save the final step in the broiler for when you’re ready to serve this rich squash and potato combo. 

whoanellycatering.com

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND YUKON GOLD POTATO GRATIN

Butternut squash at the West Hollywood Farmers Market. Photo by Jessica Ritz

1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut thin slices (mandoline-thin if possible, no more than 1/4 inch)
2 each Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut thin slices (mandoline-thin if possible, no more than 1/4 inch)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Position racks in upper and lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 375 F.

Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft and light brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Add flour, salt and pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add cream and continue to stir, scraping up any browned bits. 

Cook, stirring, until the sauce bubbles and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes. Add fontina to sauce; stir to melt. Remove from heat. 

Toss squash and potato slices in cream mixture. Layer half of squash and potato slices in bottom of gratin dish. Pour half of sauce over, until slices are submerged; repeat layers with remaining slices and sauce. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over the gratin. 

Place under the broiler and broil, watching closely, until the gratin is bubbling and beginning to brown on top, 1 to 5 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Tasty Middle Eastern flavors tweak Thanksgiving table


Hilit Gilat knows her way around the kitchen. For the past two years, the Israel-born chef has built a steady reputation for preparing sumptuous, slow-cooked meats, savory stews and Mediterranean delicacies for families and private events, corporate affairs and even visiting dignitaries.

But when a client hired B-Shool (Hebrew for “cooking”), the Irvine-based boutique catering and private chef service she runs with her husband, to prepare his family’s Thanksgiving dinner last November, the sprightly aficionado of fine dining was put to her biggest culinary test.

“Thanksgiving doesn’t exist in Israel, and most Israelis have no idea what it’s about,” said Gilat, 36. “For many Israelis living here, it’s just another four-day weekend.”

Like scores of their compatriots, Hilit and her husband, Saar, spent their first Thanksgiving four years ago on a family trip with ne’er a turkey in sight.

Subsequent years were spent with friends, but without the holiday trimmings.

“All I was interested in is Black Friday,” she said, referring to the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.

Her first exposure to the holiday as a historical landmark came two years later, when her daughter, Romi, now 7, recounted tales of the Pilgrims she was learning in kindergarten. And though Hilit learned more each year through Romi and younger daughter, Yarden, 5, she failed to grasp Thanksgiving’s significance as a cherished family celebration.

It struck the couple as odd, then, when a client gingerly asked if they would consider catering his family’s Thanksgiving dinner for 12, if they didn’t already have holiday plans.

“He looked at it like he didn’t want to take us away from our family on Thanksgiving,” Saar said. “We just looked at each other and thought, ‘What the heck.'”

The pair soon realized the knotty task they had taken on.

“I knew about the turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but I had never tasted pumpkin pie and had no idea what else to prepare,” Hilit said.

That night, they sent an S.O.S. via e-mail blast to their American friends that simply read, “What do Americans eat on Thanksgiving?”

They looked up traditional ways of cooking yams, brussels sprouts, stuffing and green beans, as their friends had advised. But the couple, accustomed to the piquant taste of their French, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine, were unimpressed with the traditional meal’s relatively bland flavor. They decided to develop a Thanksgiving menu that would reflect their signature style, infusing holiday staples with exotic ingredients like date syrup, wine and dried fruits.

The side dishes proved easy to tackle. The turkey, on the other hand, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, was a far greater source of stress.

“I had never cooked a turkey before, and here I was, faced with so many different kinds to choose from,” Hilit said. “Organic, self-basted, naturally fed, I didn’t know where to start.”

There was also the timing issue. The couple usually precooks food in their kitchen and then completes the process at the event site. They feared that roasting the turkey this way might dry it out, ruining an otherwise elegant meal. They decided to bring the raw turkey to the host’s home early in the day to roast it and then return later to finish their preparations.
“It was like leaving a baby with a sitter for the first time,” Hilit said. “I was so nervous.”

The final obstacle was carving the massive bird. Practice runs with a carving knife and scissors came out “less than aesthetic,” according to Saar, so they invited the host to do the honors.

It was only the next day, while enjoying leftovers at a friend’s house, that they discovered what they affectionately call “the electric saw.”

“It will definitely be different next time,” he said.

Different, perhaps, but it would be difficult to make it better.

“It is strange to cook food that you’re not used to, but it’s fun to try new things,” Hilit said. “My clients realized it wasn’t my usual menu, and I think that made them appreciate it even more.”

With a successful Thanksgiving event under their belt, the Gilats no longer feel like outsiders looking in to a Rockwell scene, and they look forward to sharing their new repertoire with clients and friends alike. The experience has also given them a deeper appreciation for the quintessential holiday of their adopted home.

“It gives you a rare chance to reflect on, and be grateful for, the good things in life,” Hilit said. “That is a wonderful message you can give to your children.”

CRUNCHY YAM CASSEROLE
7 medium-sized yams
1/2 stick salted margarine, cut into cubes
1 egg white, whipped
1/4 cup nondairy heavy cream (optional)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chopped sweetened pecans

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Wrap yams individually in aluminum foil and place on baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until completely soft.

Peel yams and mash into lumpy texture (do not over mash). Add margarine and stir until completely melted and dissolved. Fold in the whipped egg white, nondairy heavy cream, juice, white sugar and vanilla.

Pour mixture into heat-resistant dish. Mix pecans with brown sugar and sprinkle on top of yam mixture.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sugar caramelizes and pecans are brown and crispy.

Makes six servings.

FESTIVE RICE-STUFFED TURKEY WITH SAGE, DATE SYRUP AND WINE
Cooking time: 4 hours

1 organic turkey (12-14 pounds), cleaned, washed and dried
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
handful finely chopped sage
1/2 cup margarine or olive oil
1/2 cup date syrup (found in Mediterranean food stores) or honey
1/2 cup sweet red wine
3/4 tablespoon unsalted margarine (if desired)
Oranges, lemons and limes cut to eighths; 1 cup pitted dried fruit (apricots, prunes, etc.) for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In mixing bowl, work spice mix into softened margarine or olive oil. Liberally season inside of turkey with kosher salt and pepper. Massage turkey with spiced mixture inside and out, and between skin and flesh.

Fill turkey with prepared rice and close cavity with toothpicks or needle and thread.

In a bowl, mix date syrup and wine. Place turkey in baking pan. Baste with some of the date/wine sauce. Cover well with aluminum foil and place in hot oven.

Cook turkey for 3 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Remove foil and let brown for 30 minutes or until juices run clear.

Remove turkey from oven and let stand 20 minutes. Transfer juices from bottom of pan to small pot and reduce over medium flame. Add knob of margarine, if desired, to thicken.

Transfer turkey to serving dish. Pour gravy over turkey and garnish with citrus and dried fruits.

Makes 12 servings.

Festive Rice
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup canola oil
3 carrots, grated
1 handful each: white raisins; pine nuts; toasted, peeled pistachio nuts
Pinch salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups long grain rice, well rinsed
2 1/2 cups boiling water

Sauté onions in pan over medium-high heat until lightly golden brown. Add carrots and continue cooking for five minutes. Add remaining ingredients except rice and water; stir well. Fix seasoning to taste.

Add rice and continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add boiling water; bring to a strong boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until all liquids are absorbed (rice will not be fully cooked). Cool.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH PIE

(To simplify your Thanksgiving preparations, I replaced my homemade pie shell with a store-bought one.)

1 large butternut squash, cut into cubes
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, melted
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white/brown sugar
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
1 store-bought pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place squash cubes in pan. Cover with foil. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until softened. Mash butternut squash to smooth texture. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.

Pour into pie shell and bake for one hour.

Makes eight servings.

For more information about B-Shool, call (949) 705-6425.