‘More Than Just Food’

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‘More Than Just Food’

Traditional foods, modern twists, set the table for High Holidays on the North Shore

While the rabbis prepare their sermons for the High Holy Days, many area families will be taking out old family recipes and gathering ingredients for the traditional dishes of chopped liver, matzah ball soup, brisket and other favorites passed on through generations.

While the traditional Rosh Hashanah meal usually features dishes laden with honey, raisins, carrots, and apples representing optimism for a sweet future and the break the fast meal after Yom Kippur is often equivalent to a glorified brunch, Jewish holiday meals are changing.

A round challah with raisins will probably have a central spot on your table, but instead of bubbe’s tzimmes, chock-full of sweet potatoes, carrots and prunes, today’s younger families are increasingly serving such dishes as grilled vegetables or ratatouille.

Larry Levine’s in Peabody, proudly billed as the only Kosher deli and meat market north of Boston and South of Montreal, offers such dishes as chicken marsala and chicken piccata. But the kreplach, brisket and gravy, matzah balls, and noodle and potato kugel are still the most popular.

Food plays a central role in Judaism, going back to the original sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem, said Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.

“The sacrifices,” he pointed out, “were an offering to G-d. The people took part in the meal offering along with the priests. As time went on, the meal and the food that accompanies prayer has become an integral part of our religion.”

Evan Madoff has been running Evan’s Deli in Marblehead for the past 18 years. And traditional holiday food – much of it based on recipes passed down by his grandmother and mother – still remains the core of his business. Still, he’s seeing a change in his customer’s requests, such as prepared foods.

“The younger generation prepared the traditional dishes to please their parents, but when the husband and wife are now working outside the home, many just don’t have the time or energy to do all the cooking,” Madoff said.

Levine, in Peabody, is also seeing an increased demand for prepared foods.

“Families still want the traditional dishes but they’re also requesting more complete dinners and new items,” Levine said. “But the secret ingredient in our recipes remains the same – love.”

When it comes to the break the fast after Yom Kippur, both men expect to stock up on what Jews have been noshing on for decades – bagels, lox, cream cheese, herring, kugel and lots of babka.

New this year are such dishes as Asian tuna salad and smoked trout.

Traditionally, some Jews break the Yom Kippur fast with a sweet cup of tea and a slice of babka. Nutritionists recommend starting slowly, even though you’re famished after a long fast.

Sephardic Jews, according to Nathan, also often serve eggs to break the fast as a symbol of life and hope.

The Jewish holiday meals are more than just food, writes Joan Nathan in “The Jewish Cookbook.”

“For Jews, foods have deep symbolic value. Each act of dining, from the preparation of food to the grace after meals, is carefully prescribed by Jewish law,” she writes. “Holidays are the last ties binding them to their family and their traditions.” Θ

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