The Sweet Traditions of High Holidays Foods


The High Holidays mark a time of traditions, both new and old, that infuse themselves into these tasty recipes.

Much of the symbolism and tradition of the High Holidays is embodied by the foods we eat. On Rosh Hashanah, for example, we have honey for a “Sweet New Year,” pomegranates so our “merits will be counted as many as the seeds of the pomegranate,” celery for a “raise in celery” (Ok, that’s a fun one our family added. Get it? Celery … salary … ) and other special foods described as simanim. There is also tradition in cooking the way our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did, adding meaning and continuity to our preparations and holiday meals.

In our home, for Rosh Ha­shanah, we make traditional round challot and specifically sweet recipes. It’s a time when our extended family gets together to celebrate the New Year.

Although over the years nearly all of the Yom Tov meals have slowly shifted to our home, we would still have the pre- and post-Yom Kippur meals at my parents’ house. There would always be homemade kreplach and golden, clear, pure chicken soup made with pounds of boiled chicken that would comprise the pre-fast meal. It was a source of pride for my parents to make a meal that was steeped in tradition with recipes that had been handed down for generations.

After the fast we would always go to my parents’ house for a break-fast meal consisting of round challot, sliced melon, borscht with potatoes and sour cream, and Break-Fast Fish. The fish was made in advance and was the highlight of the meal. Flavorful, melt-in-your mouth fish covered with rich sauce and aromatic sautéed vegetables. Even the picky eaters in the family couldn’t resist Bubbie & Zaide’s fish. It made the conclusion of fasting somehow better for all of us.

Sadly, when my father (z”l) passed away two-and-a-half-years ago, the ritual of having the meals at my parents’ house transitioned to our home. We were now charged with carrying on the traditions that my father and mother (ad meah v’esrim) had instilled in us.

I hope that you will enjoy some of my holiday recipes, both new and old. May your families be blessed so that through the holiday foods you are able to enhance the traditions that make our Jewish holidays special and meaningful. Have a happy and healthy New Year!

Festive Sweet Stuffed Chicken Breasts
I use a mandolin to thinly slice the apples and potatoes. If you don’t have a mandolin, use a very sharp knife and slice the apples and potatoes as thinly as possible.

2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 extra large Vidalia onion, diced
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
1⁄4 lb. turkey pastrami, thinly sliced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 large apple, or 3 small, peeled and very thinly sliced
1  cup dried apricots, diced
1 cup dates, diced
nonstick vegetable spray
1⁄2 cup sweet, sparkling white wine (like Moscato)
1 cup date syrup or date honey
1 cup apricot preserves
1⁄4 cup chopped apricots
1⁄4 cup chopped dates

Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick vegetable spray. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until the onions are soft and slightly cara­melized. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

On a large cutting board place one of the chicken breasts cut side up. Place a slice of pastrami on one side of the breast. Top with a layer of sweet potato, apple, caramelized onion, diced apricots and diced dates.

Carefully stretch the other side of the chicken breast over the filling layers and place in the prepared casserole dish. Repeat with the remaining butterflied chicken breasts. You will have stuffing ingredients left over.

Set them aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the date syrup and the apricot preserves. Spoon over the stuffed chicken breasts. Sprinkle the 1⁄4 cup chopped apricots and 1⁄4 cup chopped dates over the sauce. Bake for 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through, occasionally spooning sauce over the chicken.

While the chicken is baking, add the remaining stuffing ingredients to the remaining cara­melized onions in the skillet. Add the 1⁄2 cup sparkling white wine to the pan and sauté over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed and the fruit and vegetables are soft.

Arrange the additional vegetables on a large platter and set the baked chicken on top. Spoon the pan syrup on top of the chicken. Serve warm. You can also serve this chicken sliced into 11⁄2-inch pieces and arranged on top of the additional stuffing vegetables.

Serves 6 to 8.

Pomegranate Chicken
Filled with lots of tiny seeds, we say a special Yehi Ratzon blessing — “… she’nirbeh ze’chu’yos k’rimon … that our merits increase like (the seeds of) a pomegranate.”

2 chickens (3.25 lbs. each), cut into eighths, skin removed
2 cups pomegranate syrup
1 cup pure pomegranate juice
1⁄2 cup honey
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1⁄4 tsp. black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. ground thyme
nonstick vegetable spray
2 Tbsps. corn starch
fresh pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)

Combine the pomegranate syrup, pomegranate juice, honey, garlic, pepper and thyme in a medium bowl. Stir until thoroughly combined. Place chicken bone side up in a large casserole or in an extra large ziplock bag. Pour marinade over chicken. Cover with plastic wrap or seal bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375˚ or 350˚ convection.

Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then spray with nonstick vegetable spray. Remove chicken from marinade, reserving remaining marinade. Place chicken bone side up on the prepared baking sheet. Spoon a small amount of marinade over the chicken, reserving the remaining marinade. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Turn chicken bone side down, and bake for an additional 30 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

While chicken is baking, place marinade in a 4-quart saucepan.  Add the corn starch and stir until starch is completely dissolved with no remaining lumps. Cook over medium heat until sauce thickens, around 20 minutes.

Place baked chicken on a serving platter and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serve warm.

Serves 4 to 8.

Honeyed Beets
These are perfect for the beet blessing of Yehi ratzon of sheyistalku oyveinu.

2 medium beets (about 11⁄4 lbs.)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1⁄2-cup)
2 Tbsps. margarine
2 Tbsps. honey
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
kosher salt to taste
1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. snipped parsley

To prepare the beets: Cut off all but 2 inches of beet tops. Wash beets and leave whole with root ends attached.

Heat 6 cups of water, 1 tablespoon vinegar (to preserve color) and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling. Add beets. Cover and heat to boiling; reduce heat.  Boil until tender, 40 to 50 minutes; drain. Run cold water over beets; slip off skins and remove root ends. Cut into shoestring pieces.

Cook and stir onion in margarine in a large pot over medium heat until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in beets, honey, lemon juice, salt and cinnamon. Heat, stirring occasionally until beets are hot, about 5 minutes; sprinkle with parsley.

Serves 8 to 10.

“Break-Fast” Fish

2 extra large onions, diced (around 5 to 6 cups)
3 large stalks celery, thinly sliced (around 2 cups)
3 large carrots, diced (around 2 to2 1⁄2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
11⁄2 lbs. white mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
2  lbs. fish, whiting or pollack, de-boned and skinless
1⁄2 cup bread crumbs
3 Tbsps. margarine
nonstick vegetable spray
1 jar (24 to 26 oz.) pasta sauce with mushrooms

In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are soft and the onions are slightly caramelized. Add the mushrooms and sauté until most of the liquid is evaporated and the mushrooms are soft. Set aside.

Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick spray. Place fish in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the fish. Dot the margarine over the fish. Broil on medium heat for 5 minutes until the margarine is melted and the bread crumbs are slightly browned.

Change the temperature of the oven to 350˚.

Spoon the pasta sauce over the broiled fish. Evenly top with the sautéed vegetables. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6.

Chicagoan Sharon Matten is a freelance pastry chef, kosher food writer, electrical engineer, wife and mom (not in order of importance!). Find Sharon at: or email: [email protected] com.


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