Fall is a special time in the Jewish community because it is full of holidays. Rosh Hashanah kicks off this holiday season. It translates to Head of the Year, or the Jewish New Year. The celebration is centered around food! Guest Blogger and Wine Guide Leah Johnson chatted with fellow Wine Guide Samantha Bloch and her chef husband Matt Bloch (a black jacket recipient on Season 4 of Hell’s Kitchen) to get their favorite recipes and wine pairings for Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah History
Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the universe. The Jewish community observes this with the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) as part of the day’s services and of course special foods. Many of the foods are on the sweeter side to represent the desire for a sweet year. It’s also common to have a round challah with raisins rather than the traditional braided loaf. Fish and ram heads were once displayed on the Rosh Hashanah table. Today, however, it’s more common to find a fish dish! During my conversation with Samantha and Matt, we learned that traditions vary family to family so I decided to share some of the traditional dishes each of us enjoy during our holiday celebrations, and how they’re unique.
Apples & Honey
Samantha and Matt both say that apples and honey is the Rosh Hashanah dish that is a must. In fact, it might be the most popular adornment to the holiday table because it’s a simple food that embodies the wish for a sweet new year. Our wine pick for apples and honey is an equally sweet wine. We all agreed that a semi-sweet white like our Beeline, Muscat of Alexandria would be perfect.
Many would associate this with Passover, but for Matt and his family this homemade version graces their Rosh Hashanah table to represent the fish head. I was eager to get Matt’s secret recipe, but in true chef fashion was told “I don’t really use measurements or a recipe.” However, I was able to get the ingredient list! Matt uses a mixture of tilapia, pike, and carp that are finely chopped (think food processor) with onions and carrot. Matt adds in some salt and fresh fish stock made with the bones of the fish used—and then a splash of dry white wine. We love that part! I recommend our Steeple Street, Chardonnay, which features toasty apple and pineapple flavors with a rich and creamy mouthfeel.
Our two families differ on the main dish served at Rosh Hashanah. My family serves roasted chicken for Rosh Hashanah, but for Samantha and Matt the centerpiece is brisket. Matt suggests using the sous vide method for brisket (a low temperature slow cooking method where the meat is bagged and cooked in a water bath). He cooks his brisket for 50 hours to achieve the most tender meat! If you’re like me and don’t have the equipment needed for sous vide, Matt suggest low and slow in the oven after pan searing to lock in flavor. Chef tip: Put liquid in the bottom of your pan (red wine and water are perfect) with the meat on a rack not touching the liquid. After the sear, rub the brisket with some tomato paste. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic to the liquid, then cover the roasting pan and cook until just before done. Take it out, cool and slice the brisket. Return the slices to the liquid and cook to warm up. Matt uses the cooking liquid to make a gravy by pureeing it all up with the veggies, straining, and thickening with a rue (or corn starch slurry for a gluten-free option). This dish is best served with a Cabernet Sauvignon and this year Samantha and Matt are serving our Rayado as a way to also honor our late Wine Guide and friend Rebecca Nadler, who lost her battle with breast cancer in November 2019. One dollar from every bottle of Rayado sold benefits Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
This is another family tradition-specific category. Kugel is a traditional noodle casserole-type dish made with cheeses and sugar so it tends to be sweet. You would think that is right up the alley of Rosh Hashanah with the sweetness, however for those who keep kosher, there is no mixing of meat and dairy which would exclude this from a holiday table. Samantha’s family has a savory answer to keep the kugel at the holiday table. It’s a Salt and Pepper Kugel recipe passed down from her aunt’s grandmother. Both Samantha and Matt mentioned many times how preparing the holiday meal keeps them connected to their families through the recipes used. The best part is you can pair this with the wines being served with your meal without concern.
Salt and Pepper Kugel Recipe
- 2 bags of fine noodles
- 16 eggs
- 4 tablespoons of melted butter
- 1 teaspoon of pepper
- Salt, about a palm full
- 1 tablespoon of Crisco in the bottom of the pan
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cook noodles and then combine with remaining ingredients. Then, add the mixture to your Crisco coated pan, 13 x 9 size pan is best. Cook for one hour.
Beets are traditional for Rosh Hashanah, but not always featured. Matt shared with me his favorite way to prepare them—wipe the whole beet down after removing the greens. Place in a bowl and cover with olive oil and kosher salt. Individually wrap each beet in foil and roast at 350 degrees until fork tender. He mentioned that if you want to get fancy and really pull in the holiday, make a pomegranate and raspberry sauce to drizzle over the top. Pomegranates check another traditional food box and the sauce is super easy: puree the fruits with white wine vinegar, drizzling in oil to emulsify. Add some honey for extra sweetness. We think pairing this beet dish with a peppery Syrah like our Activist will perfectly balance the sweetness.
There are many foods we love sharing to symbolize the New Year. I hope you enjoyed learning about some of our favorites. We send you best wishes for a sweet, healthy new year! L’shanah tovah u’metukah (to a good and sweet year)!
*Leah tells us that while some people of the Jewish faith purchase only Kosher wine, others choose non-Kosher wine for their holiday. Please note that Traveling Vineyard wine is not Kosher.