Rosh Hashanah, which falls every year on the first and second days of the month of Tishrei, varies on the secular calendar. This year it begins at sundown, Wednesday, Sept. 8. While I would agree that a traditional braised brisket and carrot and sweet potato tzimmes may sound appetizing later in the fall, they are far less appealing when temperatures are still in the nineties at dinnertime. And with an abundance of great fresh produce in St. Louis, this Rosh Hashanah is the perfect time to tweak tradition and create a festive meal that reflects the season.
Whether you are new to farm-fresh produce or a regular at the weekly farmer's markets, you're in for a treat this year. To better understand the qualities that make locally grown foods special, I spoke with two St. Louis chefs who are committed to using them in their restaurants.
"It makes a huge difference," said Clara Moore, head chef at Local Harvest Café in south St. Louis. She says she uses local whenever it's available. She would challenge anyone to purchase, for example, a green pepper or a peach from the grocery store and taste them alongside a fresh-picked green pepper or peach fresh from a local farm.
"There's no comparison," she said. "Local farmers have smaller farms and can pay more attention to their crops. The food not only tastes better, it's nutritionally better for you. It's also better for the environment and our local economy. The money stays in our community rather than ending up with one of those huge conglomerates."
Brian Hardesty, head chef of Terrene Restaurant in the Central West End, is also a strong advocate of using fresh and local.
"Buying local benefits our economy and the farmers," Hardesty said. "And you have a relationship to what you're eating. So many of us don't know where our food comes from. For example, if you buy a chicken from a farmer in St. Charles, you can tell your family where that chicken came from and how it was raised. It is the reason that fresh, local chickens have so much more flavor."
Hardesty prepares the freshest produce, and does so simply. "If you shop seasonally and locally, you're going to get everything at its peak. Take for example a tomato. You don't have to do anything to that tomato to make it taste great. If it's at its peak you can eat it like an apple and it will be amazing."
So, with that in mind, here are some ideas for using foods from our local harvest to create a meal to worthy of Rosh Hashanah.
If your menu begins with a simple mixed green salad, enhance the flavors by tossing in a julienned Granny Smith apple, skin left on for added color and texture. Or "kick it up a notch," to quote Emeril Lagasse, and serve a watermelon and tomato salad instead. Toss the salad with a mild, honey sweetened vinaigrette and garnish it with fresh-snipped basil. The salad will titillate the taste buds and your guests will be impressed by your culinary prowess. And, the numerous tomato seeds will bring the promise of prosperity in the coming year.
I love using fresh vegetables as a vessel to hold various fillings. Take, for example, zucchini. I cut each zucchini in half, horizontally, and scoop out the centers leaving a half-inch shell. I season the shell and either steam it or bake it until it is just tender. Then it's ready to be stuffed. You can use orzo, rice, faro, cracked wheat, or couscous as the base of the filling. By adding assorted diced fresh vegetables, chopped dried fruits, cheese, if desired, fresh herbs and seasoning, you have created a beautiful dish that serves as both a vegetable and a starch.
Or, if you would rather serve potatoes, forego the standard baked or mashed variety and substitute this simple, yet flavorful dish with the great variety of potatoes available in abundance at the farmer's markets. Toss fingerling or new potatoes with olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs such a thyme, oregano, or rosemary. Then roast the potatoes in a hot oven. Ten minutes before they are done, toss in some fresh figs that have been halved and drizzled with honey. The combination is delicious and the dish is symbolic of our hope for a sweet and prosperous New Year.
Hmm, where to begin on the topic of dessert? If cake is your thing, one with lots of fresh apples is a great option. You can vary the flavor by using fresh fruit juice or your favorite fruit-flavored liqueur and even some orange or lemon zest. Or showcase fresh-picked apples by making an upside-down apple tart, which bakes with the crust on top and is served inverted. It will glisten from the caramel mixture that forms as the sugar and apple juice cook together.
Don't forget baked apples, stuffed with a mixture of raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, and some margarine or butter in a pan with a little apple juice. For a special treat, add some rum to the juice and include crumbs from your favorite cookies in the filling.
Fresh succulent figs are at their peak. I like to quarter my figs, leaving them attached at the bottom. You could dollop some fresh, ricotta cheese in the center and drizzle the figs with honey. Or you could roast the figs with orange juice and serve them, along with their luscious juices, over a scoop of ice cream. If you need to avoid dairy or require a pareve option, substitute a scoop of one of the delicious soy-free and dairy free coconut milk- based frozen desserts by Purely Decadent (available at Whole Foods Markets).
While it is impossible to accurately predict which local fruits and vegetables will be available the first two weeks of September, the folks at Thies Farm and various farmers at the Maplewood Farmer's Market gave me the following predictions: tomatoes, corn, summer squash, peppers, Brussels sprouts, hard squashes, potatoes, watermelon, fresh figs, assorted herbs, apples from the first of the season harvest and, perhaps, some peaches. As for fresh local honey, Sharon Gibbons of Gibbons Honey Farm in Rocheport, Mo. says the darker, full-flavored Goldenrod honey debuts Sept. 1. It can be purchased at Ladue Market and the Loop Market vendor, Long Acre Farm. The Vaad Hoeir has approved her honey products.
Fresh fruits and vegetables make any meal a treat. Judaism honors and celebrates the fruits of the earth. How appropriate it is, then, that we celebrate the New Year by incorporating local seasonal produce into our Rosh Hashanah feast.
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and delicious New Year.
Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of three. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a sampling of local markets:
• Thies Farm & Greenhouse, Inc.
3121 Creve Coeur Mill Road
St Louis - (314) 469-7559
or 4215 North Hanley Road
St Louis - (314) 429-5506
• Maplewood Farmer's Market (Wednesdays, 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.)
7260 Southwest Avenue
• Tower Grove Farmer's Market (Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.w) 4256 Magnolia Avenue, St Louis - (314) 772-3899
• Kirkwood Farmers' Market
Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday hours vary by vendor. )
150 East Argonne, St. Louis.
Contact: Meghan Whitley (314) 822-0084
• Clayton Farmer's Market
(Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. -12 p.m.)
282 Forsyth Boulevard
St. Louis - (314) 315-5001