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Scrumptious recipes that incorporate traditional holiday foods

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Halibut with leeks and olives (Yakir Levy photo)

When Faye Levy married her husband Yakir, the couple, who met in Israel in 1970 when they were both 17, blended their Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions.

Levy – the author of 23 cookbooks, including five on Jewish cooking (her latest is Healthy Eating for the Jewish Home) – says that traditions are what make the meals special, especially during the holidays.

Many Sephardim begin the meal with a seder, she says, with blessings over symbolic foods, such as leeks, carrots, pomegranates, dates, swiss chard, pumpkin and the ubiquitous apples and honey.

Those who serve fish do so after the seder. “Preparations differ,” says Levy, “Rather than gefilte fish, a Sephardi fish dish might have tomatoes, olives or peppers.”

Sephardic meals vary depending on where the family comes from. “Jews from Morocco, for example, have the custom of serving couscous with the traditional vegetables. My husband’s parents were from Yemen, and his mother prepared chicken or beef with cumin and turmeric. This was their Shabbat meal, as well,” she says.

Ashkenazic honey cake has been adopted by many Sephardim for the holiday dessert, she says. “I add dates to mine, as they are a traditional Sephardi favourite.”

Here are two of her Rosh Hashanah favourites.

Halibut With Leeks And Olives

This appetizer includes leeks and carrots, which are traditional Rosh Hashanah foods. It is made with green, rather than black, olives, because some Jews avoid black foods on the holiday. You can make the light vegetable stock in the recipe below, or use prepared vegetable or fish stock. Makes 4 appetizer servings.

  • 2 medium leeks (about 340 g)
  • 1 carrot (about 50 g), peeled, quartered and cut into thin slices (about 150 ml)
  • 4 Italian parsley stems (leaves reserved for chopping)
  • 60-67.5 ml (4-4½ tbsp) extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced (about 20 ml)
  • 750 g (1½ lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled (see note below)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme, or 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) dried, crumbled
  • 450 g (1 lb) halibut fillet, about 2.5-cm (1-inch) thick, cut into 4 pieces
  • pinch (1/8 tsp) hot red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
  • 75 ml (1/3 cup) pitted mild green olives, drained well
  • 22.5-30 ml (1½-2 tbsp) chopped Italian parsley (for sprinkling)

To make light vegetable stock, remove dark outer leaves and dark green tops of leeks and rinse them well. Cut into 2.5- or 5-cm (1- or 2-inch) slices and put in a medium saucepan. Add 60 ml (1/4 cup) diced carrots and the parsley stems and cover with water, about 750 ml (3 cups). Bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Strain stock.

Halve white and light green parts of leek lengthwise and rinse well. Cut leeks into thin slices, about 3 mm (1/8 inch)thick. (You will need about 625 ml.)

Heat 30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil in a sauté pan or deep, medium-size skillet (about 25-cm wide). Add the leek slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer leeks to a bowl.

Add 15 ml (1 tbsp) oil to skillet and heat briefly. Add remaining diced carrot. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes without letting it brown. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it is fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add 125 ml (1/2 cup) vegetable stock, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, or until carrot pieces are tender. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are tender and sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. If sauce becomes too thick, add 30-45 ml (2-3 tbsp) vegetable stock.

Add the fish pieces to the sauce, drizzle them with 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil and sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 3 minutes. Carefully turn them over, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and cook until they become opaque in centre, about 3 minutes (check with the point of a sharp knife). With a slotted spatula or fish slice, carefully transfer fish pieces to a plate.

Stir 60 ml (1/4 cup) of the leek mixture into the sauce. If you would like a thicker sauce, simmer it uncovered over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until thickened to taste. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprig. Stir in pepper flakes, if using, and olives, and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Drain any liquid from plate of fish into sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.

You can serve remaining leek mixture under, alongside or on top of the fish. Spoon sauce with olives over and around fish. If desired, drizzle fish with olive oil. If serving the leek mixture on top of the fish, spoon the sauce over fish first. Sprinkle the sauce with parsley. Serve at room temperature.

Note: To peel the tomatoes, bring a medium-size saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare a bowl of ice water. Core the tomatoes and slit the skin at the bottom of each tomato in an X. Put the tomatoes into the boiling water to cover and boil just until the tomato skin starts to pull away from the X, about 30 seconds. Transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Remove them from the cold water promptly and pull off the peel. Halve the tomatoes and squeeze out their juice and seeds. Then chop them. You should have 500 ml (2 cups) worth.

Apple Date Honey Cake

This cake contains no dairy products and thus is suitable for a kosher meal that includes meat. If you’re serving the cake at another occasion, you can serve it with sour cream. Serves 9-12.

Apple date honey cake (Yakir Levy photo)
  • 560 ml (2¼ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder
  • 3.75 ml (3/4 tsp) baking soda
  • 3.75 ml (3/4 tsp) ground cinnamon
  • pinch (1/8 tsp) ground cloves
  • 175 ml (3/4 cup) light olive oil or vegetable oil, divided
  • 250 ml (1 cup) dates, such as Deglet Noor, pitted, quartered lengthwise and diced small
  • 175 ml (3/4 cup) walnuts, chopped
  • 2 sweet-tart apples, such as Braeburn
  • 3 large eggs
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated (white) sugar
  • 75 ml (1/3 cup) light brown sugar
  • 175 ml (3/4 cup) honey
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) unsweetened applesauce
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) finely grated lemon zest

Heat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Lightly grease a 23-cm (9-inch) square pan, line it with parchment or wax paper and grease the paper.

Sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves into a bowl.

Add 15 ml (1 tbsp) of the oil to the diced dates and rub gently to separate them. Add the chopped walnuts and toss lightly with a fork to keep the dates in separate pieces.

Peel the apples and slice them about 2.5-mm (1/8-inch) thick. Cut the slices into 5-8 mm (1/4-1/3 inch) pieces.

Using a stand mixer or a hand-held mixer, beat the eggs lightly. Add the white and brown sugars and beat until smooth. Beat in the honey. Beat at high speed until the mixture is smooth and lightened in colour, about 3 minutes. Gradually beat in the remaining oil at low speed until blended.

With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture alternately with the applesauce, each in two batches. Add the lemon zest and mix it in thoroughly. Stir in the apple pieces and the walnut date mixture, mixing them in thoroughly.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan for about 15 minutes. Turn it out onto a rack and carefully peel off the paper. Cover it tightly when it is completely cool.

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