Soup’s On for the High Holy Days

The High Holy Days are a time for family and friends to come together for prayer, celebration and contemplation. 
September 22, 2022
Andrei Kravtsov/Getty Images

The High Holy Days are a time for family and friends to come together for prayer, celebration and contemplation. 

“As Jews, we have two new years, secular and religious, [so] I call Rosh Hashanah the new year of the heart,” Susan Barocas, a writer, cook, speaker and teacher told the Journal. “More than around January 1, I feel it’s a time to really think about who and where I am, how I want to improve myself [and] where I hope to be going.”

Barocas, who, along with Ladino singer Sarah Aroeste, is producing “SaVOR: A Sephardic Music & Food Experience” (launching January 2023), also feels the lovely anticipation of lots of cooking and gathering with others.

“I love doing the Yehi Ratzon Sephardic seder for Rosh Hashanah with its symbolic foods and making traditional dishes, including prasa kon tomat (leek with tomato) and apyo (celeriac with carrots, lemon and dill),” Barocas said. “Sopa de ajo fills all my senses and feeds my body and soul.”

Many would agree: no Jewish meal is complete without a nice bowl of soup.

Many would agree: no Jewish meal is complete without a nice bowl of soup.

Sopa de Ajo

Susan Barocas’ Sopa de Ajo (Garlic Chicken Soup)

3 medium leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
10 ounces (about 6 cups loosely packed)
cleaned fresh spinach, baby spinach or
3 heads (about 25 cloves) garlic, peeled
and sliced thinly lengthwise
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 cups chicken broth, homemade or
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
or 1/2 cup brown rice par-cooked until
soft but firm
Wedges of fresh lemon

Trim off the root end and remove 1 or 2 tough outer layers of each leek. Cut off just the darkest green top parts, remove the lighter green inside part and slice it and the rest of each leek into 1/4-inch rings. (Wash the trimmed parts and save for soup stock.) Place the leek pieces in a strainer and wash under cold water, using your hands to separate the rings of leek and stir to get all the dirt off. If the leeks are particularly dirty, set the strainer of leeks in a bowl of cool water for a few minutes, pull out without stirring up the water and rinse again. Shake off water and set aside to drain well.

Chop well-washed spinach or chard into about 2-inch pieces, dicing any thicker stems into small pieces.

In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Set aside about 1 cup of clean sliced leeks. Add the rest of the leeks to the hot oil, being careful in case any water left splatters. Turn the heat down to medium low and sauté the leeks until softened, about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and not letting them brown. Stir sliced garlic into the leeks and cook until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring a couple time so the garlic doesn’t brown.

Add the broth and bay leaves. Turn heat to medium high and bring to a boil. When the soup is boiling, stir in the rice. Let come back to a boil, then turn heat down to simmer and cover. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rice is soft and flavors are blended. 

While the soup simmers, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the reserved cup of leeks and cook until they turn crispy and golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside leeks in oil.

Take the bay leaves out of the soup, then stir in the chopped spinach or chard. Bring the soup back to a simmer and let cook just until the greens are soft, about 10 minutes for spinach, 15 minutes for chard. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. To serve, garnish each bowl with the crispy leeks, a drizzle of leek oil and a wedge of lemon. 

“While everyone usually sticks by the old standby of chicken soup at their holiday table, there’s no reason why your vegetarian guests can’t also enjoy a pre-entree soup,” Danny Corsun, founder of the Culinary Judaics Academy (CJA), told the Journal.

Corsun loves to make something that provides a vegetarian source of protein and is filling at the same time.

“This earthy lentil soup offers a heart healthy protein, veggies and tons of flavor, not to mention actual biblical significance, as it was lentils that Jacob used to trade for his brother Esau’s birthright,” Corsun said. “So, take that chicken soup!”

Culinary Judaics Academy’s Vegetarian Lentil Soup 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup carrots, large diced
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 medium-large cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Pepper to taste
1 pound rinsed lentils (either red or green
work great)
1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 quarts of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin
1 Bay leaf
3 cups rinsed and thinly sliced spinach

Place the olive oil into a large soup pot and set over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add in garlic and sauté for another 1 minute or until soft (make sure you do not burn the garlic as it will result in a bitter flavor).

Once the leek mixture is ready, mix in the lentils, toasting them for about a minute. Then, add the tomatoes, stock, coriander, cumin, bay leaf and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 30 minutes. 

Remove bay leaf and then, using a stick blender, puree to your preferred consistency. If the soup is too thick, you may add another cup of stock. As to how much to blend, CJA likes it on the rustic side with some whole veggies here and there. Once blended, add in spinach and stir. Taste for seasoning and then serve immediately with some yummy challah for dipping/dunking. 

Be prepared, you may have some chicken soup folks opting out when given this option.

Shana Tova! 

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