The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

September 5, 2012

Home cooking key to a relaxing Rosh Hashanah

JOPLIN, Mo. — Laura Frankel thinks about Rosh Hashanah in simple terms.

“A time for mom to shine,” says Frankel, executive chef at Spertus, a Jewish culture and learning center in Chicago. That’s because the Jewish new year, which is the first high holy day to occur each autumn, usually isn’t celebrated with the sort of big gathering you might have for a Passover seder, but rather a smaller, more contemplative meal with close family.

And though there are some traditional symbolic foods included -- such as a big round challah loaf to represent the continuing cycle of life, and apples dipped in honey to start off the new year on a sweet note -- Frankel says the meal most often is built around one of Mom’s comfort meals, such as a brisket or roast chicken.

As a result, Rosh Hashanah meals take on a special quality. Of course, sticking so close to home can bring challenges as well as comfort.

Consider giving mom a break

When the same tried and true recipes -- even beloved mom’s -- get trotted out year after year, the meal can start to feel tired, says Frankel. Not that this was the case while she was growing up in suburban Chicago.

“My mom is a wonderful woman, God love her,” says Frankel, “but not the greatest cook.”

Frankel says she learned to cook “for survival” since her family would be looking to her on the holidays to provide some culinary relief.

Today, besides being a chef and cookbook author, Frankel channels her culinary creativity into courses she teaches at Spertus to help home cooks break the kind of recipe rut that holidays like Rosh Hashanah can suffer. The classic, symbolic ingredients get their nod, but from fresh perspective.

So this year, as part of her offering “Shofar, So Good” (a play on the name of the ram’s horn that is blown during holiday services at the synagogue), Frankel will show attendees how to prepare honey-roasted chicken thighs nestled in a savory butternut squash and apple puree, as well as crispy julienned apple tempura, dusted with sugar and cinnamon.

But for some, the Rosh Hashanah meal will be inspired by a different family tradition that, while not their own, has been making families feel at home for over a century.

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