Breaking the Fast With Appetizers

Breaking the Fast With Appetizers

By Beverly Levitt

Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset.

At sunset on Wednesday, Oct. 12, the traditional sounding of the shofar will signal the end of the 10-day holy period starting the year 5777, from Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s Day) through Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

On this holiest of days, Jews around the world will fast from sunset on Erev Yom Kippur to sunset on Yom Kippur. According to tradition, divine judgment is rendered on each person’s life.

That is why we optimistically greet each other l’shana tova tikatevu: “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.”

Photo by Julie Siegel An assortment of appetizers provides a traditional light but filling respite from the Yom Kippur fast.
Photo by Julie Siegel
An assortment of appetizers provides a traditional light but filling respite from the Yom Kippur fast.

As we join family and friends in synagogue, wearing white to symbolize purity and innocence, we reflect upon our deeds the past year and make resolutions to improve ourselves in the upcoming year.

The idea of fasting is that it brings hunger pangs, which make us acutely aware of how difficult it is to face our frailties.

The prophet Isaiah declared that the fast is acceptable to G-d only if it leads to good deeds in the upcoming year. Therefore, this day of restraint is not only geared toward introspection and self-examination; it is a time to assess our place in the world, as well as a time to pray for world peace.

The new year is a symbol of renewal and optimism. We are all given another chance to do it right this time. That is why, when the last call of the shofar is blown — one long note sounding eerily like a human cry — spontaneous laughter and shouts of joy usher forth as people wish one another the ultimate greeting for a bright future: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

And we know it is just a matter of moments until we can break our 25-hour fast and eat.

Many people attend break-the-fast dinners at synagogues or kosher restaurants. But there’s nothing as warm and comforting as walking home to a special meal lovingly prepared by the matriarchs of the family. It’s a wonderful way to start the year.

My favorite sight after fasting is the ceremonial table laden with forshpeisse: delicious, traditional appetizers that have been passed down from generation to generation (l’dor vador).

As part of my tribute to my ancestors, I prepare everything the day before, the old-fashioned way. But if food processors, blenders and electric grinders beckon, they will save time and effort.

The break-the-fast meal is traditionally dairy.

Grandma Fradel’s Pickled Herring

Eating pickled or smoked fish to break the fast was started in the old country by our great-grandmothers, who told us we needed lots of salt to replenish our bodies after fasting. Schmaltz herring may be found in kosher fish markets.

2 schmaltz herring, filleted, with skin intact

2 onions, sliced thin

1 cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup water

1-2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 bay leaves

3-4 tablespoons sour cream (optional)

1 tablespoon whole pickling spice

12 peppercorns

6 lemons, sliced thin with seeds removed

Soak the herring in water overnight. Cut into 1½-inch pieces. Place the herring into a quart jar in layers, alternating with the onions. Bring to a quick boil the vinegar, water and sugar, then cool until lukewarm. Add the liquid to the jar with bay leaves, spices, lemon slices and sour cream. Store in the refrigerator a day or two before serving.

Easy Sardine Spread

It is important to get high-quality sardines for this dish.

2 tins (4 ounces each) sardine fillets, mashed

2 tablespoons sweet red onion, grated

2 hard-boiled eggs, grated

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon red wine

½ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced

1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced

Pinch of kosher salt and pepper

Combine the ingredients and serve with crackers, challah, or fresh vegetables, such as cucumber, celery, jicama, tomatoes or Chinese peas.

Holiday Vegetarian Pate

1/3 cup shallots, minced

3 plump garlic cloves, minced

Olive oil for frying

1 cup mushrooms

1 cup green beans, halved

¼ cup celery, sliced

¼ cup Italian parsley

¼ cup chives

1 cup toasted whole-wheat bread crumbs

2 hard-boiled eggs, grated

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon brandy

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Slowly sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, green beans, celery and parsley and sauté 5 minutes more or until the vegetables are crisp but tender. Add the remaining ingredients; mix thoroughly. Turn the mixture into a food processor and puree until you like the consistency. Serves 6.

Chopped Eggs and Onions

Eggs symbolize renewal and are included in many holiday menus.

1 Spanish onion, chopped

½ cup red peppers, chopped

8 hard-boiled eggs

½ cup chives

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) or olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Sauté onions and peppers until golden. Remove to a chopping bowl. Add eggs, chives, salt, pepper, mustard, and schmaltz or olive oil; chop until smooth but still chunky. Serve with rye bread, romaine lettuce leaves or endive. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Aunt Dorothy’s Salmon Mousse

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

¼ cup white wine

½ cup boiling water

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 tablespoon onion, grated

½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

½ teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1½ pounds wild fresh salmon, skinned and boned, or 12 ounces canned wild Alaskan sockeye salmon

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons fresh dill

In a medium bowl, sprinkle gelatin over wine. Let stand 5 minutes. Add boiling water and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. When cool, add mayonnaise, lemon juice, onion, Tabasco sauce, paprika and salt. Stir to mix well. Set the bowl in a large bowl of ice cubes until the mixture reaches the consistency of whipped egg whites, about 10 minutes.

Lightly grease a 4-cup mold. Gently flake the salmon with a fork. Place the salmon and half the cream in a blender or food processor and blend to a puree consistency. Beat the remaining cream until stiff with a wire whisk. Fold the salmon puree and dill into the slightly thickened gelatin mixture. Turn into the prepared mold. Refrigerate until well chilled and firm. Unmold onto a plate and let sit in a refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving.

Pomegranates and Almonds

This simple but delicious dessert is traditional in North Africa at Yom Kippur. Rosebuds, rose and orange-flower water are available at Middle Eastern stores.

2 pomegranates

1 cup blanched almonds, cut in half

¼ cup honey

4 drops orange-flower or rose water

Dried rosebuds or rose petals to decorate

Break open the pomegranates and carefully remove the sacs enclosing the juice and seeds. Discard all white parts of the fruit. Place the pomegranate seeds into bowl. Carefully stir in the almonds, honey, and orange-flower or rose water, taking care not to break the sacs. Place the mixture in crystal bowl. Sprinkle with rosebuds or petals and serve chilled. Serves 4.


1½ cups blanched almonds

6 cups warm water

½ cup granulated sugar (or to taste)

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2-3 drops almond extract (optional)

Put almonds and water into a blender and process for several minutes or until the almonds have been ground as finely as possible. Pour the mixture through 3 or 4 layers of cheesecloth into a saucepan. When the liquid has passed through the cloth, gather up the corners and squeeze out any remaining liquid. Add sugar and cardamom. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened and flavors blended. Taste and adjust the flavors. Let the liquid cool slightly, then add almond extract if desired. Makes 1 gallon. Serve warm or cold.

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