Bagels with a schmear, kugel, whitefish salad, cured herring: To many Jews in America, that’s the standard lineup for a buffet at the end of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of the year, which begins at sundown Sept. 22.
After 24-plus hours of prayer and contemplation, without food or drink or even a good tooth scrubbing, a meal crafted with a tender stomach and sodium recovery in mind becomes a blessing for all.
With a more global nod to tradition, though, they could augment the break-fast’s restorative powers. Sephardic Jews (of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent) integrate energy-boosting, digestive and medicinal herbs and seeds into their break-fast noshes and dishes. Warm, sweet drinks and a spread of confections are followed by soups and heavier meals, such as Indian chicken curry with basmati rice and North African couscous with beef and quinces.
Moroccans start with a sweet bite or drink and might have a shot of arak, an anise-y digestif, or biscotti-like fennel cookies with quince jam and sweetened herbal tea before they sit down to harira, traditionally a meat-based, legume-rich soup most famously served to break the fast during Ramadan. Turkish and Bulgarian Jewish communities make what’s known as dulce de membrillo, or sweet quince paste.
Indian Jews have adapted dishes for the occasion from their Hindu neighbors. The 2,000-year-old B’nai Israel Indian Jewish community, originally from in and around Mumbai, breaks the fast with classic, deep-fried, laminated pastries filled with coconut, almond, pistachios and semolina. Such hand pies are made during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights celebration, during the fall.
Yemeni Jews’ break-fast rituals begin with caffeinated white coffee and hawaij, a spice blend akin to garam masala that the coffee grounds are boiled with, much like Turkish coffee.
The Yemeni Jews then move on to a little-known dairy soup or savory porridge, made with buttermilk or sour cream, thickened with flour and garnished with schug, a spicy, chimichurri-like condiment made of hot peppers, coriander and garlic.
Hailing from the same region are the Persian Jews, who break the fast with crushed ice in orange flower water or rose syrup. The confection is similar to Asian shaved ice, but it’s topped with matchsticks of apples for the Jewish holiday. (It’s also similar to the traditional Persian falooda, a slushy drink made with flavored simple syrup, ice and vermicelli noodles.) Greek and Turkish Jewish communities take the time to make a chilled melon-seed-and-almond-milk drink for their break-fast; it involves soaking, crushing and straining the ingredients through cheesecloth.
Italian and Libyan Jews serve bulo, a sweet yeast raisin bread, with tea. It is similar to the more aromatic, baking powder-based Tunisian bulo, made with fennel and orange zest. It perfumes the house as it bakes.
One of the more widely shared foods of the Jewish High Holidays (and the Jewish festivals of Purim and Simchat Torah) is savory, not sweet: kreplach, aka Jewish tortellini. Roman blogger Jasmine Guetta writes in Italian on her site, Labna -- Amore in cucina, of how her grandmother’s handwritten recipes came to Rome as many Libyan Jews were fleeing their country in 1967. Guetta’s mother now uses leftover Rosh Hashanah brisket for the pasta filling; she freezes the kreplach, to be cooked and served in a glistening, golden chicken broth at the Yom Kippur break-fast.
In her 1996 “The Book of Jewish Food,” Egyptian-born Claudia Roden wrote that Jews were making pasta in the ghettos of Germany through contact with their brethren in Italy, with whom they had trade and rabbinical connections, in the early 14th century.
Ashkenazi and Sephardic weave and intersect in Roden’s story of how sweetened cheese-filled pasta reached Polish Jewry: “Pasta came to Poland as a result of Italian presence at the royal courts and also by way of Central Asia. That may be why the cheese kreplach, sauced with sour cream, owes more to Turkish-Mongolian manti with yogurt poured over than to Italian ravioli or cappelletti.”
Making kreplach takes time, and holiday-appropriate contemplation. The rhythmic kneading, rolling and shaping of this curious, water-free dough is meditative. Kreplach’s charms become apparent with the rolling of dough that must be paper-thin, in keeping the work surface well floured.
With enough practice, one can avoid possible mishaps in the folding and pinching required to form the small dumplings. With patience, you can create small works of art.
Yet even meat-filled kreplach are light enough to serve at a break-fast -- and they’re much more elegant than bagels.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large celery ribs, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large beefsteak tomato, diced
1/2 cup plain tomato sauce
Packed 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Packed 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried green lentils, rinsed and drained
About 2 1/2 cups canned, no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed and drained (from two 15-ounce cans)
4 to 5 cups water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt, or more as needed
1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooked vermicelli noodles, for serving (optional)
1 large lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, celery and garlic; cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables have softened and the onion is on its way to translucent, then stir in the tomato. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the tomato sauce, cilantro, parsley, lentils and chickpeas, stirring to incorporate.
Pour in 4 cups of the water; add the salt, cumin (to taste), turmeric and pepper (to taste), stirring to mix well. Increase the heat to medium-high; once the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low. If it seems too thick, add some or all of the remaining cup of water. Cover and cook for about 50 minutes or until the lentils are tender and silky, stirring occasionally. Taste, and add salt as needed.
Serve hot, with warm vermicelli noodles, if using, and lemon wedges.
A generous 4 cups (1.1 pounds) flour
Rounded 3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
4 ounces blanched or skinless slivered almonds, ground (may substitute skinless hazelnuts, ground)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup golden raisins
Makes one loaf.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 4-by-11-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, sesame seeds, ground almonds and fennel seed in a mixing bowl.
Add the eggs, oil, orange zest and juice, vanilla extract and raisins, using a spatula to gently fold them just until incorporated; do not over-mix. The mixture will look like a dry muffin batter or a super-sticky dough.
Moisten your hands with a little water, then use your hands to shape the dough into a long loaf that fits in the pan. Bake for 25 minutes, then turn it front to back and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. A cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
Cool completely before serving or storing.
Serve with quince jam (recipe follows).
5 cups water, or as needed
2 cups sugar
Juice of 1 large lemon
4 large quinces (about 2 pounds total)
Two 3 1/2-inch cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
Makes 2 1/2 half-pints.
Combine the water, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan.
Peel and core the quinces, then cut them into very thin slices. Stir them into the liquid-sugar mixture, then add the cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a vigorous boil over high heat, which will create foam; this is okay. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the mixture has become pink and the liquid has reduced by more than half, to a syrupy consistency. Add a little water if the mixture seems too thick before the fruit has softened. Discard the cinnamon and cloves. Use a potato masher to help break down the fruit, if needed.
Cool, then divide among the jars; the pectin from the fruit will help set the syrup. Seal and refrigerate for up to several weeks.
Persian Rose Syrup Slushies with Apples (Falooda)
FOR THE SIMPLE SYRUP:
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons rose syrup, plus more for drizzling (see note)
FOR THE SLUSHIES:
1 sweet apple, such as Fuji and Gala
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Serves two to four.
For the simple syrup: Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the rose syrup. The yield is about 4 3/4 cups. Cool, then pour into ice cube trays and freeze until firm.
For the slushies: Just before serving, grate the apple (skin-on) or cut into matchsticks; place in a medium bowl. Immediately toss with the lemon juice to keep the apple from discoloring.
Place the simple syrup ice cubes in a blender; pulse just long enough to break them down into a shaved ice/slushie consistency. Scoop into individual dessert cups, then top each portion with some of the apple. Drizzle with a little rose syrup; serve right away.
Note: Rose syrup (not rosewater) is available at Middle Eastern markets, liquor stores and some gourmet purveyors online.