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Joan Nathan Answers Your Rosh Hashanah Questions

In preparation for Rosh Hashanah, we collected your cooking questions for Joan Nathan. Joan is the author of numerous successful cookbooks, such as “Jewish Cooking in America” and her most recent “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.” The former served as the inspiration for Joan’s PBS cooking show, “Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan,” which was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2000.

Cooking for Rosh Hashanah is not always easy, and we received several excellent questions for our expert. Joan has answered the six best questions below!


  1. “Hi Joan, With all the hectic preparations (in our case two days of Rosh Hashanah back to back with Shabbat!) we concentrate so much on what to cook for the holiday that sometimes we forget that our families have to eat in the afternoon before the holiday begins! Any suggestions on something that’s easy to prepare and healthy, and will hold them over until the night time festivities?” – from Sara of “Creative Jewish Mom
  2. Joan Nathan of "Jewish Cooking in America"Sara, I am confronted with the same problem. This year I am making a chicken salad from the chicken from my soup, putting a little mayonaise, celery, coconut flakes, and curry. We will see who eats it. I also might make pasta with pesto and the last green beans of summer from our garden. I can make it in advance with a nice salad and there it is. Hope this helps.

  3. “Hello, I would like to know if your Rosh Hashanah meal has changed since your childhood to reflect the changing times. For example the use of olive oil instead of margarine or incorporating the symbolic foods in nontraditional ways. Shana Tov, Sarah” – from Sarah of “Food Bridge”
  4. Joan Nathan of "Jewish Cooking in America"Sarah,
    Yes it has changed a bit. Of course olive oil instead of pareve margarine in cooking, more vegetables and fewer kugels, and crisps instead of pies for desserts. I like to incorporate the fall season into my food and of course also incorporate all the foods I have learned about and loved when interviewing people. But I do like to still have tradition in my holiday meals. So for Rosh Hashanah, for example, my chicken soup might change by having some carrots from my garden floating in it with matzo balls with fresh ginger in them. But the basic taste will be there. We may try different kinds of local honey for dipping our local apples. My salads are always North African. This time roasted pepper and carrot for prosperity. My challah is always the same, but I make it. My mother bought it. The chicken might vary each year for Rosh Hashanah eve. The day of Rosh Hashanah we do tashlich in a stream behind our house. And Rosh Hashanah evening we will have brisket and this year the kugel with it will be Alsatian bread kugel with the last rhubarb from my garden instead of the usual plum and pear kugel of Alsace. Desserts will be my family’s plum tarte and traditional Jewish Apple Cake. So I guess we incorporate the new and the very old!
    Shana Tova. – Joan

  5. “How do you strike a happy balance between people wanting all the old standards, pot roast, tsimmes, potato kugel or whatever you have at your house, and the desire to mix things up a bit?” – from Karen Beck
  6. Joan Nathan of "Jewish Cooking in America"Karen,
    As you can see from the answer to Sarah, I mix things up a bit as you say but also keeping health in mind. I do not make all the dishes everyone likes. I leave lots for Shabbat dinners. We can’t eat all the good dishes at once in the Jewish repertoire! And I am one person! Hope this helps. – Joan

  7. “Is there a way to help families that are vegetarian but still want to respect our traditions as well? Can you recommend or help us with resources? Thank You. Shana Tovah.” - from Wingedangelflies
  8. Joan Nathan of "Jewish Cooking in America"Absolutely. For starters there is a very good vegetarian broth in my Quiches, Kugels and Couscous or just use Miso and float your matzo balls in it. We always think of meat as a centerpiece but look at Asian food. There is no centerpiece so pick out your favorite Jewish vegetarian dishes — there are loads and you will have a wonderful meal. All my books are loaded with them. Shana Tova!

  9. “Why do many recipes call for unsalted butter, then add salt? Is there much of a difference between salted and unsalted butter?” - from Nancy
  10. Joan Nathan of "Jewish Cooking in America"Nancy,
    I like to use unsalted butter for baking and salted butter for everything else. You always want some salt in whatever you are cooking so when I make a crust or cookies with unsalted butter I add a pinch of salt. Anything else you have to add salt so why not use salted.

  11. “Hello Joan – I’m not Jewish – but used to do hair in So. California and had many Jewish bosses and friends who fed me. I loved Kugel, and recently found a recipe in a magazine – but – it’s made with brown rise. Isn’t it supposed to be made with noodles?” – from Sharon Lee
  12. Joan Nathan of "Jewish Cooking in America"Sharon,
    Kugel which is a kind of casserole really can be made with anything. The original kugels were more like bread puddings and originated in Alsace Lorraine and Southern Germany. You can see modern versions in New Orleans where many Alsatians went. This was basically a dish made with leftover bread, eggs, fruit of the season if available like pears and prunes and even onions. Then eventually people used leftover noodles, potatoes, and even rice. I love kugel so look at any of my books and you’ll find them, both savory and unsavory, but I do not believe I have any with rice! – Joan Nathan

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