Cooking for the “Other” High Holy Days

Posted on September 16, 2020

When it comes to recipes and food features for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah gets all the love – recipes for honey cake, apple strudel and so on. But all of our holidays have special foods that are traditionally associated with them. For example, during Sukkot, which has its roots in agricultural festivals, Jews in many parts of the world will prepare fruit and vegetable dishes for the meals eaten in the sukkah. Many are embellished with pomegranate seeds, which symbolize abundance and good fortune. My cousin once prepared for me a beautiful spinach salad with orange sections, walnuts and pomegranate seeds. In Ashkenazi countries, Jews often eat chicken soup with kreplach on the last day of Sukkot, as it’s thought that kindness will cover, as the kreplach dough does the filling, any strict judgment of misdeeds.

Even Yom Kippur, a holiday you might not think is too food-oriented, features special dishes for the meals before and after the fast. In both the Ashkenazi and Sephardim worlds, chicken is a common pre-fast food. This is rooted in the custom of kapparot, an ancient “scapegoat” ritual involving a chicken. Thus, the pre-fast meal typically starts with chicken soup, with kreplach or matzo balls for Ashkenazim, and perhaps chicken and lemon soup in Sephardic cultures. This is often followed by a chicken dish and rice. The meal to break the fast is, of course, more festive. A traditional Ashkenazi meal is chopped herring, chicken soup with mandlen, carrot tzimmes, roast chicken with stuffing, sponge cake, teiglach (a honey pastry) and fresh fruit. Sephardim break the fast with a cold drink, such as lemonade or apricot juice, followed by small savory and sweet pastries and anise-flavored breads, served with tea. In many communities worldwide, the break-fast meal is a dairy one.

Hungry now? Here are a few recipes to whet your appetite for the many festive meals ahead.


Chicken and Okra Stew

This is a simple and tasty stew made with okra, chicken, carrots and North African spices. It’s a delicious one-pot meal that is perfect for the Yom Kippur pre-fast meal.

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

4 large chicken thighs, bone in, skin on (about 1½ lbs.)

1 medium onion, sliced

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

2 tsp. garlic minced

1 lb. fresh okra, cut into ¼ -inch pieces, tops discarded

2 c. low sodium chicken broth, or more if needed

1¾ c. diced tomatoes, or 1 can

3 T. tomato paste

¾ tsp. paprika

¾ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. cumin

¼ tsp. turmeric

Pinch cayenne

1/3 c. chopped cilantro, divided (or substitute flat leaf parsley)

Sprinkle chicken thighs lightly with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan with high walls over medium heat until hot. Place the chicken thighs into the hot oil, skin side down, and turn heat to medium high. Brown the thighs for about 10 minutes, flipping once halfway through, until thighs are browned on both sides and skin is golden and crisp. Remove the thighs from the pan. Do not drain the fat or juices from the pan.

Add the sliced onion to the pan and sauté for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the carrots and sauté them for 2-3 more minutes until the onion starts to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more until fragrant.

Add ½ cup chicken broth to the pan, stirring and scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan as the mixture cooks. Add 1½ cups more broth to the pan along with the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and 3 tablespoons of the chopped cilantro or parsley. Be careful when adding the cayenne, as it’s extremely spicy. One-quarter teaspoon is enough to give the stew a slight kick. Stir the mixture and bring to a boil. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper to the pot. Stir all the ingredients, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Put chicken thighs back in the sauté pan and ladle sauce and carrots over them. Cover the pot, vented on one side, and let the stew simmer for 45 minutes, occasionally basting the thighs with sauce, until the chicken is tender. Uncover the pot and remove chicken thighs and skin. Stir the sliced okra into the sauce, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cover again, letting the okra cook for 15-20 more minutes until tender. Meanwhile, cut the chicken meat from the bones in thick shreds, discarding bones, skin and excess fat. (If you prefer, you can keep the chicken pieces whole instead of shredding them; be sure to discard the skin before serving.)

Stir the sliced chicken back into the pot with the okra as it cooks. If the stew seems too dry, add a little chicken broth to rehydrate. Let the mixture simmer until the okra is softened and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro. Serve stew over cooked quinoa or brown rice.


Fig Soufflé

This elegant, lovely but simple dessert is perfect for your Sukkot table. The figs, honey and lemon juice are festive and delicious!

10 medium fresh figs, peeled and pureed to produce one cup (or 10 dried figs, soaked in water and pureed)

2 egg yolks

10 T. sugar

4 egg whites

1 T. honey

2 T. lemon juice, preferably fresh

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter six ¾-cup soufflé dishes or a 4-cup soufflé mold.

Whisk the egg yolks and 5 tablespoons of the sugar until the mixture lightens in color. In another bowl, beat the egg whites and 2 tablespoons of the sugar to soft peaks. Then add 3 tablespoons of sugar and beat to firm peaks.

Mix 4 tablespoons of the fig purée into the yolk mixture, and then, in thirds, fold in the whites.

Fill the soufflé cups or mold three-quarters full and bake for 10-12 minutes. DO NOT open the oven door during this time. While the soufflé is baking, add the honey and lemon juice to the rest of the fig purée. Serve the soufflé in its dish, pouring the sauce over the top.

Source: The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, by Joan Nathan

Originally published in the September-October 2020 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.