Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Local as I Wanna Be

Happy New Year Edition!

My wife (and I) make some pretty good briskets, but we were not really ready for something heavy this New Year. This was not your Bubbie's holiday meal. We designed a Rosh Hashanah meal awash in traditions though. Moreover, it was exceedingly local. In fact, our ample supplies of vegetables steered us more towards Sephardic type foods. I have pictures that I will post soon.

Apples dipped in honey - Start with a classic, from all branches of Jew. We used Macoun apples from Nicholl's farm, a firm apple with some, but not an overwhelming, tartness. The honey came from an Mennotite farm-store in Indiana.

Green olives, round challah w/raisins from Prairie Bread Kitchen in Oak Park - After coffee, my most excepted food is the olive, and at least a few times a week, olives grace our table as a nibble, a relish, sometimes even a contraband vegetable. Sephardic tradition is that no "black" foods are eaten on Rosh Hashanah including black olives and eggplants. Instead, it is traditional to eat green olives. Ours came from Italy via Caputo's (my wife likes the giant Italian kind, not the more bitter Middle-Eastern variety). Of course Askenazic Jews often end up with dark raisins in their challah, like we did.

A riff on Claudia Roden's black-eye pea salad with Sandhill Organic heirloom tomatoes (an Egyptian Jewish New Year special, echoed in Low Country traditions) - The closest thing I could find to black-eye peas at the Oak Park Farmer's Market before the holiday were Genesis Grower's crowder peas. Still, before I could nab, another person bought out her whole stock. Instead, we used Genesis Grower's fresh cranberry beans from our CSA box dressed in a garlic vinaigrette, augmented with those tomatoes.

Libyan spicy fish, using Whole Foods Great Lakes whitefish - This dish shows up in many Jewish cookbooks. It's more of a Shabbat dish than a Rosh Hashanah dish, where spicy foods are supposed to give sway to sweet. What the hey. Very good. Very simple. The fish is poached in lemon juice, garlic, hot peppers and tomato paste (guess the non-local). So good that my getting to be fish lovin' older daughter ate.

Wild rice with pomegranate - Originally we were going to make couscous, a traditional holiday meal for both Jews and non-Jews in Morocco. Instead, when we were in the couscous aisle, my wife saw some wild, Minnesota wild rice (as compared to cultivated). It made our meal that much more local and certainly more interesting (as the kidz would say). Pomegranates are highly traditional for any Jews that can get their hands on them, this time of year. First of all, one is supposed to eat a "new food" at Rosh Hashanah, and pomegranates are usually just coming into season. Second, the pomegranates are supposed to have 613 seeds, corresponding to the number of mitvah or commandments in the Torah. They do make an ideal garnish for the wild rice, the vivid magenta against the drab brown and the sweet against the bitter.

It was supposed to be seven vegetables steamed with the couscous. We switched to seven roasted vegetables (carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, zuke, cauliflower, red pepper; and turnip; all local). Seven being a lucky number. Carrots, especially are associated with the Jewish New Year in European traditions, being one of the few available vegetables. There's something Yiddish there about it's name and coins too.

Beef-leek patties - Using more of our cow (at this point, we've made a very decent dent in the supply of burger). Leeks are yet another traditional vegetable associated with Rosh Hashanah. Like the Libyan fish, this recipe shows up in a lot of Sephardic Jewish cook books. It is a holiday item, also popular on Passover (when another crop of leeks has arisen). The recipes call for a dish 3/4th leek and 1/4th meat and binding. We made them a lot more meaty.

Swiss chard w/caramelized onion and raisins. Chard is one more traditional vegetable (there are seven in Sephardic Jewish tradition, and chard is also very much in season at this time). As I noted above, the Rosh Hashanah meal is supposed to be filled with sweets, for a sweet year. Typical, we made the onions sweet by long cooking, then we made the dish even sweeter by adding raisins (only golden!). I will say that the Sandhill chard needed all that help, it was a put hair on your chest kinda veg.

Finally, my wife made the Bee Sting cake from the Chicago Tribune Magazine. The recipe was not set out to satisfy the need for honey cakes, but it certainly did a good job at it. - The bee stinger cake came out quite nicely, even in a 10 inch spring form instead of the required 9. The recipe called for stuffing the cake with flavored whip cream. My wife asked if I wanted that. At first, I said no, why bother, let's just throw the cream on top. Then, I noticed how pretty the top was, so I said can you stuff. Stuffing did not work so hot, the cake, being so honey-infused, crumbled a bit. She used the whipped cream to hide the cracks. So, it was still very good but no longer as pretty.

L'Shana Tova. May your meals in the coming year be as local as you want them to be.