Lucky for us, Rosh Hashanah comes in the fall, just when early apples are beginning their long, happy autumn session. This is a great time of year to get truly creative with apples, beyond the usual (and lovely) ritual of dipping them in honey at the onset of the meal.
While Jewish food tends to be extremely subjective — with each family attached to its own notion of what constitutes the true cuisine — my goal here is to bend tradition in playful ways that break out just a little (or maybe a lot) from the expected.
With their ability to provide a delicious bridge between the sweet and savory, apples lend themselves to all sorts of culinary contexts. (If there is such a thing as a mediating food, apples would be it.) So let’s take that spirit of bringing disparate parts together, and steer this familiar food in some unusual directions for the Rosh Hashanah evening meal.
Savory Apples Casserole
Sweet apples contrast beautifully with puckery sauerkraut, and the result is surprisingly harmonious. Both are traditional foods from Ashkenazi territory in northern and Eastern Europe, where it’s common to pair cabbage-based dishes with fruit.
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 cup minced onion
2 tsps. dry mustard
1 jar (32 oz.) sauerkraut, rinsed and thoroughly drained
6 medium-sized tart apples, thinly sliced (peeling optional)
2 and 1⁄2 Tbsps. unbleached white flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
salt, cloves, nutmeg: a dash of each
2 Tbsps. honey or brown sugar
1⁄2 cup fine bread crumbs
3⁄4 cup minced walnuts
Preheat oven to 375˚. Have ready a 2-quart capacity casserole or an equivalent pan (9×13-inch).
Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion and mustard and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the onion softens. Add the sauerkraut, and cook for about 5 more minutes. Set aside.
Toss together the apples, flour and spices in a large bowl. Add honey or sugar and mix well.
Make the following pattern in the casserole or baking pan: a layer consisting of half the apples, then half the onion-sauerkraut. Repeat this pattern, using the other half of everything.
Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and walnuts. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6.
Curried Apple Soup
While tart fruit soups are very much a product of northern and Eastern Europe, I thought it would be fun and delicious to make an apple soup laced with curry spices, reflecting a mixture of cultures and geography. It’s Sephardi meets Ashkenazi, north meets south. And the color of this soup is stunning!
1 Tbsp. canola or peanut oil
2 cups onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsps. minced fresh ginger
1 and 1⁄2 tsp. salt
2 tsps. dry mustard
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄2 tsp. ground cardamom
1⁄2 tsp. allspice
1⁄4 tsp. cayenne
5 cups apples, peeled and chopped
4 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsps. brown sugar or honey (optional)
possible toppings: lightly toasted shredded coconut, lightly toasted slivered almonds or dried currants
Heat oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion, garlic, ginger and salt, and saute over heat for about five minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.
Add the spices, and saute another five minutes over medium heat.
Add apples, water, cinnamon sticks and lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down, mostly cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the apples are very tender. Remove from heat.
Take out the cinnamon sticks, and puree in a blender or food processor — bit by bit, so as not to splash yourself. Return the puree to the pot.
Add optional sweetening, and taste to adjust salt. Serve hot or cold, with or without some or all of the toppings. (Even though the toppings are fun and delicious, this soup is also wonderful just plain.)
Serves 4 to 6.
Mollie Katzen, with over 6 million books in print, is listed by The New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time.