Bitterest month is upon us, but it tastes so fine

Sometimes bitter is good.

Today’s recipes are inspired by the month of Cheshvan, which begins Saturday, Oct. 5. The eighth month on the Jewish calendar is sometimes written as Mar Cheshvan. One of the meanings for the Hebrew word “mar” is “bitter.” Since it follows the holiday-packed Tishrei, Cheshvan is considered a “bitter” month because of its lack of major religious festivals (except for the Ethiopian Jewish celebration of Sigd, which marks the receipt of the Torah).

Below are two recipes that use produce associated with fall and ingredients known for bitterness. Both work well as side dishes or as main courses when served on top of cooked grains or pasta.

The first tames the bitterness of Brussels sprouts by browning them and cooking them in a mustard sauce. The second uses the sharpness of horseradish (a traditional bitter herb, or maror, at the Passover  seder) to complement a cheesy cauliflower gratin.

Brussels Sprouts in Mustard Sauce

Serves 6

1    lb. Brussels sprouts

2    Tbs. oil

2    Tbs. minced garlic

1/4    tsp. salt

1/4    tsp. ground black pepper

1/4    tsp. grated nutmeg

1/2    cup water

1    Tbs. smooth Dijon mustard

1/2    cup white wine

1/4    tsp. sugar or to taste, optional

1/2    cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1    Tbs. olive oil

Slice sprout stems off and quarter lengthwise (top to bottom). Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic. Sauté until golden. Add sprouts, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Sauté on high heat, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are browned. Add water, cover and steam over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are almost cooked. (Add more water if needed.)

Mix mustard into wine until smooth. Stir into sprouts. Sauté, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are cooked and sauce thickened. Taste. Add sugar if needed. Correct seasonings. Stir in walnuts and olive oil.

Cauliflower Gratin

Serves 4-6

1    medium head cauliflower

1    Tbs. plus 1 Tbs. oil

1    Tbs. plus 2 Tbs. butter

1    cup chopped onion

1    Tbs. minced garlic

1/8    tsp. red pepper flakes

1/4    tsp. plus 1⁄4 tsp. salt

1/4    tsp. plus 1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

1    cup water

1    cup shelled green peas (see notes)

2    Tbs. flour

1    cup whole milk

1/2    cup shredded sharp cheddar

1/2    cup shredded asiago cheese

2-4 Tbs. bottled prepared white horseradish (see notes)

1⁄3    cup unseasoned bread crumbs

1/4    tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut cauliflower into 1-inch florets. Grease 8×8-inch pan with 1 Tbs. oil. Place 1 Tbs. oil and 1 Tbs. butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until butter is melted. Add onions. Sauté until softened. Add garlic. Sauté until golden. Add red pepper flakes and 1⁄4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Add cauliflower. Raise heat to high. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add water to pan, cover, and steam over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender but not fully cooked. (Add more water if needed.) Remove lid. Cook until dry. Stir in peas. Spread in baking dish.

Melt 2 Tbs. butter in saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Slowly whisk in milk. Add remaining salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-low. Whisk constantly until sauce thickens. Stir in cheese until melted. Stir in horseradish. Taste. Correct seasoning. Spread atop cauliflower. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and then paprika. Bake 30 minutes until top is golden and cauliflower is cooked through.

Notes: Use cooked fresh peas or frozen (do not defrost). Prepared horseradish sharpness varies. Add 1 Tbs. at a time, adding more as desired.


Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].