Jewish holy day perfect for local, seasonal eating

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You may not think of Jewish cooking as trendsetting, but it has been focused on seasonal recipes sporting local ingredients since long before farmers markets became the darling of the foodie scene. And the Jewish New Year meal, served at Rosh Hashana, is a perfect example of this unintended hipness.

While the foods of this holiday are most often acknowledged for their emblematic value — think apples and honey to represent a sweet year to come — they also are intentionally seasonal for both the symbolic and practical reasons of wanting to celebrate the hope of new beginnings by using what you have on hand in late summer and early fall.

So Rosh Hashana turns out to be the perfect opportunity to serve a local, in-season meal while fully embracing the spirit of the holiday.

Traditionally, foods are chosen that are both sweet and round. Round foods represent the circle of life that continues with the new year, says Leah Koenig, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident and author of “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook.”

Jewish cooks wrap that symbolism around foods that are available to them during the autumn harvest season, such as squash, beets and apples, she said.

Certain foods, such as sour and bitter ingredients such as vinegars or even certain kinds of nuts, are avoided so as not to let these harsh flavors characterize the coming year.

Laura Frankel, author of various cookbooks including “Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes,” is taking a local, seasonal holiday meal even further. She is holding a “Rosh Hashana Boot Camp” cooking class in Chicago at Spertus, a Jewish culture and learning center, where she is the executive chef.

“I just want to get people out of the rut of making the standard brisket and honey cake for the holidays,” she says.

“There’s so much available at this time of year that you can tie in with the symbolism of Rosh Hashana,” says Frankel, who uses the arrival of pomegranates in the market to tell her when she needs to start planning her menus for the holidays.

This year Frankel is doing some culinary riffing with local Concord grapes. When Jews came to this country, they needed to make ceremonial wine, so they started to use Concord grapes, an exclusively American variety. She points out that they would harvest the grapes in the fall to make wine that would be ready for Passover in the spring.

Instead, she takes the fresh grapes, which she gets from local farms, and infuses them into her harvest-themed Rosh Hashana menus.

“They’re seedy, so people tend not to eat them as a table grape, but they have an incredibly delicious, musty flavor that’s great to cook with.”

She’ll be showing boot camp attendees how to make chicken and turkey with a Concord grape and honey glaze, a beautiful purple sorbet infused with honey and lemon zest and a festive spritzer made by blending a sparkling white wine with Concord grapes (recipes available on Cheflauraskosher.com).

Honey-Thyme Glazed Chickens with Cider Gravy have a sweet autumnal flavor that can be tailored to any region by using a local wildflower honey and a cider made with heirloom apples.

The Baby Spinach Salad features a dressing made with pomegranate molasses, which can usually be found in the international section of many larger markets.

Honey-Thyme Glazed Chickens with Cider Gravy

Start to finish: 2 hours 15 minutes (30 minutes active); Servings: 10

2 whole chickens (4 to 5 pounds each), giblets discarded

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

4 teaspoons dried thyme, divided

1 large yellow onion, quartered

¾ cup dry white wine

¾ cup water

4 tablespoons butter

½ cup honey

1½ cups apple cider, divided

2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided

2 cups chicken broth

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Heat the oven to 425 F and set the oven rack is in the middle of the oven.

Pat the chickens dry with paper towels and rub with 1 tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle the inside and outside with salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon each of the thyme. Stuff each chicken with two onion quarters. Tuck the wings behind the back and tie the legs together with kitchen twine.

Arrange the chickens, breast side down, on a V-rack set inside a roasting pan. Roast until the chickens are golden, about 45 minutes. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and carefully, using paper towels, flip the chickens.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 F. Pour the wine and water into the roasting pan. Return the roasting pan to the oven and roast until the thigh meat registers 165 to 170 F, about one hour. If the pan dries out, add more water ½ cup at a time.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and remaining 2 teaspoons of thyme. Melt the butter and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Add the honey and ½ cup of the apple cider, then simmer until the glaze has thickened and reduced a bit, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and set aside.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven and brush the chickens evenly with a thick layer of the glaze (you’ll have some remaining to brush on later) and continue to roast until the glaze is golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chickens to a cutting board, brush with the remaining glaze and let rest for 15 minutes before cutting (do not clean the roasting pan).

Whisk ½ cup of the broth and flour in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

Set the roasting pan over two burners on medium-high heat. Add the remaining cider and bring to a boil. Cook, scraping up the browned bits from the pan, until the liquid is reduced by about half, about five minutes. Add the remaining 2½ cups of broth. Increase the heat to high and return to a boil, whisking often. Boil until the liquid is reduced by about half, five to seven minutes.

Whisk the reserved flour-broth mixture into the pan. Boil, whisking constantly, until the gravy is thickened, one to three minutes. Remove from heat and pour the gravy through a fine sieve into a large measuring cup (discard the solids). Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the chicken with cider gravy for passing.

Baby Spinach Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

Start to finish: 15 minutes; Servings: 10

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

¼ teaspoon chopped lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

10 ounces baby spinach, large stems removed

2 small Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced

2 small red onions, sliced into very thin rings

½ cup crumbled goat cheese

Seeds of 1 pomegranate (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon zest, lemon juice and honey. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Divide spinach evenly between six salad plates. Arrange the avocado slices and red onion rings over each salad. Sprinkle each with goat cheese. Whisk the dressing to recombine and drizzle over each salad. Top with pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve immediately.