Faith Kramer's Baked Gefilte Fish with Libyan Flavors (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Faith Kramer's Baked Gefilte Fish with Libyan Flavors (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Rosh Hashanah brisket and gefilte, with eastern flavors

There is something about traditional High Holiday food. It seems every year people want the same standbys they grew up with, and I even get advance phone calls from guests “asking” (aka hoping to influence my Rosh Hashanah menu) if there will be brisket or homemade gefilte fish.

I get it. These special-occasion dishes are tasty reminders of times gone by and past Jewish holidays with loved ones.

This year, in a nod to tradition as well as creativity, I’m serving up a menu that puts a new spin on some classic dishes, keeping the essence but introducing new flavors and tastes. Some recipes add Middle Eastern, Near Eastern or North African Jewish elements to the usual American versions of Eastern European Jewish dishes. Others play with the concept of traditional holiday food.

I left it up to the cook to decide what cut of beef to use in the Braised Beef with Tamarind and Spices. Choose a brisket, a boneless chuck roast or boneless short ribs. The cooking process is the same for all; a brisket will take longer to cook, but it offers the richest flavor. Boneless short ribs (I like to serve them whole instead of sliced or shredded) can be cut from several sections of beef; look for meatier pieces without too much fat. Chuck roast will generally cook a little quicker and have a milder flavor.

The flavor of the beef comes from ingredients used by Syrian and other Near Eastern Jews, with tamarind for tartness and the warm and sharp tastes of cinnamon, cumin and allspice. As with all braised beef dishes, this recipe is best made a day ahead and reheated before serving. It can also be made weeks ahead and frozen.

Baked Gefilte Fish with Libyan Flavors

Serves 8 to 12

  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 medium yellow or red bell pepper
  • 1 or 2 fresh jalapeño or serrano chilies, or to taste (see notes)
  • 1 large stalk celery
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 lb. rockfish fillets
  • 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. sugar, or to taste
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • Oil for pan
  • 2 to 3 cups arugula, watercress or other greens, for serving
  • 8 to 12 olives, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut onion, garlic, carrot, bell pepper, chilies and celery into rough chunks. Add to work bowl of large food processor. Add parsley, juice and zest and process until finely chopped, scraping down as needed. Place vegetables in large bowl. Add rockfish to processor (work in batches if necessary) and process to a coarse paste. Add to bowl with vegetables.

Stir in (until well mixed) the salt, sugar, black pepper, paprika and turmeric. Thoroughly mix in eggs.

Heat 1 Tbs. oil in small fry pan. Take a tablespoon of the fish and fry in oil until cooked through, turning as needed. Taste for seasonings. Add more salt and or sugar to raw fish mixture as desired.

Oil an 8- or 9-by-12-inch baking pan that is 2½ to 3 inches deep. Evenly distribute fish mixture in pan, smoothing top. Bake for about 55 to 65 minutes, until fish is firm to the touch and beginning to pull away from sides of the pan. (While fish is baking, make below topping.)

Remove from oven and let cool (any liquid on top of the fish will be reabsorbed while it cools). Once cool, cut into 8 to 12 squares depending on desired serving size, or use a 3-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter. Serve at room temperature on platter or small individual plates with greens underneath. Place olive on top of each piece for garnish.

Notes: Seed chilies and use less to reduce spiciness of gefilte fish. Bottled horseradish or harissa (North African hot sauce) are good toppings. To make baked gefilte fish without a food processor, finely grate onions and carrots. Finely mince the other vegetables and fish. Proceed with recipe as directed above.

Make ahead: Gefilte fish can be made a day ahead and kept covered in baking pan in refrigerator. Cut into serving pieces and let come to room temperature before serving.

Spicy Pepper and Smashed Cherry Tomato Topping: Heat 3 Tbs. olive oil in fry pan. Sauté 2 cups thinly sliced onions (cut in half) over medium heat until softened and golden. Add 2 to 3 Tbs. thinly sliced garlic. Sauté until golden. Add 2 cups of thin yellow or red bell pepper strips cut in 1-inch sections. Sauté until softened. Add 2 cups small (less than 1 inch in diameter) cherry or grape tomatoes. Sauté a few minutes then smash down on cherry tomatoes with spatula until they break apart. Sprinkle in ¼ tsp. salt, ⅛ tsp. ground black pepper and ¼ to 1 tsp. ground cayenne red pepper (to taste). Sauté until vegetables are very soft. Stir in 2 cups water and 2 Tbs. tomato paste. Cook down, stirring often, until thickened. Stir in 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice. Taste, add more salt and or cayenne and ½ tsp. or so of sugar if needed. Serve warm or room temperature.

Notes on topping: Leave out or reduce cayenne from topping if a milder sauce is desired. Seed chilies and use less to reduce spiciness of gefilte fish. Chili and cayenne spiciness varies, so when in doubt, use less and add more after tasting. If desired, skip topping and use store-bought, bottled horseradish or harissa (North African hot sauce) instead. To make baked gefilte fish without a food processor, finely grate onions and carrots. Finely mince the other vegetables and fish. Proceed with recipe as directed above.

Braised Beef with Tamarind and Spices

Serves 8 to 10

  • Spice rub (see below), divided
  • 4 to 5 lbs. brisket, or boneless chuck roast, or boneless short ribs
  • 4 Tbs. oil, divided
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
  • 1½ cups carrot rounds (sliced ¼ inch thick)
  • 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes with liquid
  • ¼ cup plus 1 Tbs. tamarind paste or concentrate (see notes) plus more if needed
  • 3 Tbs. sugar plus more if needed
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • Salt, to taste, if needed
  • Ground black pepper, to taste, if needed
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. chopped parsley, for garnish

Have spice rub ready. Trim any excess (but not all) fat on meat. (Leave a ¼-inch cap of fat on brisket.) Sprinkle a quarter of the spice mixture on meat, rub on. Flip meat over and sprinkle other side with another quarter of the mixture and rub on meat.

Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear meat on both sides until browned. (If necessary, cut brisket in pieces to fit in pot.) Set meat aside.

Heat remaining oil in pot. Add onions. Sauté until softened. Add garlic. Sauté until golden. Add carrots, sauté for a moment and then add tomatoes with liquid, remaining spice rub, ¼ cup tamarind paste and sugar. Stir well and let cook for a few minutes. Return browned meat to the pot with any accumulated juices. Spoon sauce over top. Bring to a simmer. Cover and lower heat to keep at a simmer, stirring sauce and turning meat every 30 minutes until meat is extremely tender and can be pierced easily with a fork, about 2 to 4 hours (timing can vary greatly). Remove meat. Leave pot uncovered and stir in tomato paste and remaining tamarind, simmering for a few minutes. Bring to a low boil and let sauce cook uncovered until it reaches desired thickness. Taste. For a sweeter taste, add a teaspoon or so of sugar. For a tarter taste, add a teaspoon or so of tamarind paste. Add salt and black pepper as needed. Slice beef against the grain or shred. (Leave boneless short ribs whole if desired.) Reheat meat in sauce. Serve on platter garnished with some of the sauce and the parsley, passing extra sauce on the side.

Spice rub: Mix together 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. ground cayenne red pepper, ½ tsp. ground allspice, ¼ tsp. ground cloves.

Note: Choose a jarred tamarind paste or concentrate, available in some specialty food stores and Middle Eastern, Asian, Hispanic and Indian grocery stores.

Make ahead: This dish tastes best made ahead at least one day. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for longer storage. Store meat and sauce separately. Defrost if frozen. (If desired, skim some of the fat off cold sauce before reheating.) Reheat sauce covered on the stove until simmering. Add meat to sauce until warmed through.

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].