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.
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.
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.
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.
POTATO CHIPS WITH FRESH SALMON ROE AND YUZU CRÈME FRAÎCHE
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.
- 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.
- 2 medium-sized German Butterball Potatoes, sliced 1/16th-inch thin on a mandoline and held in water*
- Rice bran oil for frying
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.
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.
- 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.
“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.
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.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND YUKON GOLD POTATO GRATIN
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.