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By Irene Sharon Hodes
Published in the Shiur Times Magazine, September 2008

On a recent trip to Tuscany, I visited a small family-owned vineyard. Surrounded by crusty breads and rustic cheeses, the smiling couple and their children shared their hard-earned creations: tart Chiantis, musky Grappas, and an inspired Vin Santo made from the most mature grapes of the season. But it was the dessert – a rare creamy white-blonde acacia honey – that I took home to Israel. Wandering the world, often desperately alone, all I thought at that moment was how perfect this particular honey would be months later on Rosh Hashana.

As a new olah finishing her first year here, and as a single woman rounding off the end of her 20s, I only now came to realize how important is the nature of structure. In our daily schedules, weekly traditions, foods, relationships, prayers, in the very execution of our lives, a solid structure is the plan, the roadmap. With it we are better able to achieve our milestones, experience our joys, and endure in times of hardship and sorrow. Without it, we are lost.

Having lived in seven countries, made and left dozens of friends, and changed careers, all too frequently, I have come to realize that living without structure is much like not having an identity. This continued absence has profoundly affected my quality of life since making aliyah, what I thought was fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Now that Rosh Hashana has arrived, my first here, the structure that is manifest in Jewish life has opened my eyes in a remarkable way. This is the time of year we take stock. When I did, I realized I overlooked another dream I had accomplished – graduating from culinary school. It’s been three months since graduation, and in the chaos of my unsettled life, I had forgotten how thrilling it was being in a professional kitchen every day.

Masquerading as vital sustenance, food is a physical manifestation of history, a deliciously important inheritance. Like a hidden code, the symbolism inherent in our recipes is a direct link to our ancestors. Bitter herbs at Pesach create a visceral connection to the hardships of our forefathers. Apples and honey at Rosh Hashana evoke the sincere prayers of our foremothers for a good and prosperous future, something we simultaneously pray for in tasting the sweetness.

As I ease myself into new concrete plans, I am strengthened by my Jewish heritage. For what else is tradition but a time tested standing structure? It is my hope that these recipes will inspire, sustain, revitalize, and sweeten your palate in envisioning the new year ahead. Me? I’ll be holding firm for the first time in a long time, savoring my “miele di acacia,” and with every drop, the memory of that perfect day, and the hope I had, even then, for a sweet new year.

Applesauce Cake

This first recipe came from Jamie Geller’s newest cookbook, Quick & Kosher, and it was a pleasant surprise. The book’s lackluster title (as well as the subtitle “Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing”) made me more than a little skeptical, but after reading the introduction, I couldn’t put the book down. Don’t get me wrong – after years of delving into complex gourmet cuisine, it’s doubtful Quick & Kosher will become the foundation of my kitchen. But with its fun no-nonsense approach, it’s certainly a book I would give to my friends, and definitely to my own mother (for whom I have to thank for honing my culinary skills, growing up in the absence of hers). The clever Mrs. Geller devised a strict and ingenious guideline: preparations for every recipe must be able to be done in under 15 minutes. She cuts some corners (occasional soup powders, canned goods, and frozen items), but the recipes are quite innovative, simple to execute, and pleasing to modern palates. The selection ranges from the traditional (classic chicken soup, stuffed peppers, challah kugel), to the fresh and multicultural (hot salmon salad, beef sukiyaki with noodles, curried coconut couscous). Her desserts are particularly mouth-watering, and this applesauce cake would be a welcome centerpiece on any Rosh Hashana table.

3 cups flour

1½ cups sugar

2/3 cup canola oil

1 (12 ounce / 340 gram) jar applesauce

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar

½ cup non-dairy whipped topping

  • Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C). Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) cake pan with non-stick baking spray.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, oil, applesauce, eggs, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.
  • Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
  • Bake at 350° F (180° C) for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of non-dairy whipped topping.

Fusion Taboule

An old Middle Eastern mainstay with a thoroughly modern twist, my take on taboule looks back in time as it looks forward. Perfect for the holidays at hand: the sweetness of apples, pomegranates, and honey mingles with the invigorating cilantro and ginger, all resting upon the foundation of the hearty, humble quinoa. Replacing the traditional bulgur wheat, this ancient and nutritious South American grain has become so popular, almost every café in Israel is experimenting with it. The ingredients come from every corner of the globe, and the resulting combination is a sincerely satisfying culinary experience.

1 onion, finely chopped

1 cup pre-rinsed quinoa

2 cups water

Large handfuls (4-6 stalks) each, roughly chopped, of fresh:

Mint

Cilantro

Parsley

¼ cup raisins

3 stalks green onion, chopped finely

1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic

1 apple, cored and diced

Seeds of 1 pomegranate

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

salt and pepper to taste

  • Heat a small amount of olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped onion. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add quinoa and continue to stir 1-2 minutes or until onions sweat and quinoa browns slightly. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce temperature, maintaining a simmer for 14-18 minutes. The quinoa is ready when the germ has unfurled to a tiny curl and has a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). Set aside and cool.
  • While quinoa is cooling, prepare the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, ginger, garlic, salt, and pepper.
  • Transfer cold quinoa to a large bowl and mix all other fruit and vegetable ingredients into it well. Add dressing and stir to coat the quinoa.
  • Adjust seasonings to taste by adding salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, a spoon of honey. Serve and enjoy!

Note : This recipe is very versatile. Apples and pomegranates can be replaced by halved grapes, plums, melons, or grapefruits, depending on the season.

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