When the Jewish High Holy Days approach, my mind trots out memories of the heavy, fatty, sometimes delicious, sometimes tasteless foods of my childhood. I haven't cooked these traditional foods for years, but a new cookbook, "Our Food: The Kosher Kitchen Updated" by Anita Hirsch (Doubleday, $25) could bring me back into the fold this Rosh Hashana (Sept. 16).
I remember dishes loaded with chicken fat and other high-cholesterol ingredients. But in this new cookbook, Ms. Hirsch, a health-conscious nutritionist in the test kitchen at Rodale Press, has reduced the fat, calories and sodium in traditional dishes and included a nutritional profile of each recipe.
"I do a lot of make-over recipes at Rodale," she explained. "The food guidelines are no sugar, little fat, no salt and fresh ingredients. Under this influence, I converted my own recipes."
My mother needed lessons from Ms. Hirsch. My mother rubbed the crusts of corn-rye bread with raw garlic and smeared the top with chicken fat. Or she topped bread with chopped liver made with one of the world's unhealthiest foods: "gribenes," made by rendering chicken fat, chicken skin and onions. True, Ms. Hirsch includes a recipe for chopped liver in her book but cautions readers to eat this high-cholesterol appetizer "only occasionally."
My sister and I used to beg for the "unborn" eggs, pure yolk, left inside freshly killed chickens. At the other extreme, Ms. Hirsch has worked out recipes using egg substitutes.
My mother's borscht and potato pancakes were served with sour cream, her salads with oil-only dressing. Ms. Hirsch, in contrast, cooks with reduced fat or nonfat dairy products and makes salad dressings with little or no oil.
Ms. Hirsch also prepares pot roast with lean cuts and cooks stews and soups ahead so fat congeals in the refrigerator and can be skimmed off.
The only beans I grew up with were chickpeas, which my mother fried in oil. Ms. Hirsch recognizes the importance of beans and includes recipes using them in soups, salads and main dishes.
And I remember my mother making gefilte fish -- an all-day affair that began with shopping for several different types of fish, lugging the hand meat grinder out of the closet, screwing it onto the kitchen table and forcing the raw fish and vegetables through the blades before shaping the ground mixture into balls for poaching. Ms. Hirsch's gefilte fish recipe is simplicity itself because it starts with poached fish fillets that can be mashed with a fork.
Food is as much a part of most Jewish holidays as religious observance. And since antiquity, Rosh Hashana has been a harvest festival-- a feast day. Seasonal vegetables such as squash, leeks, beets, carrots, onions, pumpkins and turnips are served. So are such seasonal fruits as plums, figs and especially pomegranates whose many seeds symbolize good deeds to be performed in the new year, according to some, and fertility according to others.
Honey is an important food on Rosh Hashana. It has long been associated with happiness and prosperity in many cultures and among Jews honey was a symbol of the Torah and peace. In the Book of Exodus, when God called on Moses to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians, he promised to lead them to "a land flowing with milk and honey."
Apples and bread dipped in honey symbolize the hope for a sweet life in the new year, as do honey cake, honey-coated teiglach and other sweets. There's even a meat dish, tzimmes, that is made with sweet potatoes, carrots, stew beef and brown sugar to express the same sentiment.
Though it is the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance and is called the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana is a happy holiday, full of optimism for the coming year. It is considered the anniversary of the creation and is the first day of the Jewish calendar.
On the other hand, Yom Kippur (Sept. 25) is the Day of Atonement, a fast day. Fasting symbolizes repentance and is a penance for sins. People hope to be inscribed in the Book of Life for the next year.
Jews in many parts of the world eat a not-too-spicy but substantial meal the evening before Yom Kippur to sustain them through the fast. Kreplach or matzo balls with chicken soup or chicken with rice are favorites among East European Jews. Ms. Hirsch lightens her matzo balls with egg whites in place of whole eggs and her cinnamon-spiked kreplach are filled with chicken or turkey rather than beef.
While traditions for "break-the-fast" meals vary, they often include herring, lox and bagels with cream cheese. But Ms. Hirsch's Aunt Anita always serves cold fruit kugel and the recipe for this intriguing noodle pudding made with light cream cheese, light sour cream and egg substitutes is also in the book.
Esther Levy published the first American Jewish cookbook, "The Jewish Cookery Book," in 1871, and Jewish cookbooks have been appearing ever since. But "Our Food" makes cooking kosher food easier with the use of the food processor and microwave oven and healthier with substitutions for high-fat ingredients in traditional recipes from Europe and the Middle East.
Makes 40 to 50 balls
2 eggs or egg substitute
1 egg white
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
about 2 cups unbleached flour
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup boiling water
Beat eggs and egg whites together. Add sugar, oil and ginger. Knead in enough flour to make a soft dough. (Start with 1 cup flour and add more as needed.) Knead in raisins and nuts, adding more flour if necessary. With your hands, take about 2 teaspoons of dough and roll each into a ball.
To make syrup, bring sugar and honey to a boil in a deep, very heavy pot. Turn heat to low, keeping mixture boiling as slowly as possible. Carefully drop dough balls one at a time into boiling mixture. When all are in, cover and cook. Do not uncover for 1/2 hour and then raise cover only high enough to peek in. When top layer of teiglach have become brown, turn mixture very carefully with a wooden spoon, bringing the bottom balls up to the top. Cook until all balls are golden brown and sound hollow when stirred with the spoon. Test by breaking one open. It should be crisp and dry inside, not soft. Sprinkle ginger into mixture and stir carefully.
Just before turning off the heat, add boiling water and stir. Allow to cool slightly and while still warm, pour into jars. When jars are cold, cover and store in refrigerator. Will keep at least 1 month.
If desired, balls can be piled on a platter into a pyramid and decorated with candied cherries and nut halves. If you do that, omit final 1/2 cup water.
Makes 12 to 16
1/4 pound ground turkey or chicken
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
dash of finely ground fresh black pepper
dash of cinnamon
1 egg or egg substitute, beaten
2/3 cup flour
1 to 2 tablespoons water, if necessary
6 cups chicken stock or water
Combine meat with onion, pepper and cinnamon and set aside.
To make dough, combine egg and flour. Add water if necessary to hold dough together. Knead with oiled hands until elastic. Roll out on a lightly floured board until it is about 1/4 -inch thick. Cut dough into 2-inch squares. Place about 1 teaspoon filling in center of each square. Fold dough into a triangle. Press the edges firmly together with the fingers. Placing a little water on the edges of the dough before sealing will help them stick together. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Bring stock to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart pot. Drop kreplach, one at a time, into the stock, lower heat and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Kreplach can be served in the stock as a soup, drained and served on a plate or placed under a broiler until brown.
Note: Kreplach can also be filled with mashed potatoes.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 pound lean beef cut in 1-inch cubes
2 cups water
6 carrots, peeled and sliced, or 12 baby carrots
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 pound prunes with pits
1/2 cup brown sugar
Heat oil in a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven and add onion. Saute on low for 10 minutes until softened. Add beef and brown on all sides. Add water, bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, cover and cook 1 hour. Add carrots, sweet potatoes, prunes and sugar. Cover and cook 1 hour or until meat is very tender and vegetables are sweet and very soft.
Kale and white bean soup
3/4 cup dried white or Michigan beans (2 cups cooked)
3 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
8 ounces kale, washed and coarsely chopped, leaves only
1 tablespoon fresh dill
freshly ground black pepper
Soak beans in boiling water to cover for 1 hour in a covered 3-quart pot. Drain and add the 3 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook at a slow boil until beans are tender, about 1 hour.
Heat oil in a 4-quart pot. Saute onion, garlic, celery and carrot on low until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add bay leaf and 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and cook 20 minutes. Add drained cooked beans, kale and dill. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Sprinkle with pepper.
According to Ms. Hirsch, part of the following recipe was inadvertently omitted when it was printed in her cookbook. This is the complete recipe.
Sun-dried tomato and bow-tie pasta salad
Serves 6 6 unsalted sun-dried tomatoes, quartered, or 2 medium fresh tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups fresh bread cubes
8 ounces dry bow-tie pasta
2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted
basil leaves for garnish
Combine tomatoes, vinegar and chopped basil and set aside. Heat oil and margarine in a skillet, saute garlic until softened, add bread cubes and cook until brown.
Cook pasta in boiling water for 9 minutes or according to $H package directions. Add cabbage and cook another minute. Drain. Toss pasta and cabbage with tomato mixture, bread cubes and almonds. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve immediately.
Aunt Anita's cold fruit kugel
8 ounces light cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 pound butter or margarine, at room temperature
8 ounces light sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs or egg substitute
2 15-ounce cans mandarin oranges in juice, drained
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple in juice, drained
1 16-ounce can dark pitted cherries, drained
1/2 pound fine egg noodles, cooked
cinnamon and sugar for topping
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Process cream cheese, butter, sour )) cream, sugar, vanilla and eggs in a blender until well combined. Pour into a bowl and add 1 can mandarin oranges, the pineapple, cherries and noodles. Combine well. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Arrange second can of mandarin oranges over the top in rows. Bake 45 minutes until golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.