How ‘Bout Them Apples?

Celebrity chef Mollie Katzen describes the inspiration behind her cooking, as well as new ways to incorporate apples into your holiday meals.

The Waldorf salad originated in the fanciest kitchen of the time, yet is a product of some of the most basic ingredients. The addition of apples is only one of many surprising ways you can include the fruit in unexpected recipes. Credit: Mollie Katzen.

The traditional foods we eat during Jewish holidays have been reflecting and celebrating each season since long before “seasonal produce” was even a thought, let alone a “trend.” (Let's not forget that once upon a time,  “seasonal” was all there was.) From the first figs at Purim time to the potatoes and onions (storage vegetables in the winter cellar, also “seasonal”) from which we make latkes for Hanukkah, local foods of the season are the heart and soul of Jewish cooking, and cause for celebration, no matter how modest the preparation.

Lucky for us, Rosh Hashanah comes in the fall—when early apples are beginning their long, happy autumn session. This is a great time of year to get truly creative with apples—beyond the usual (and lovely) ritual of dipping them in honey at the onset of the meal. And while Jewish food tends to be extremely subjective—with each family attached to its own notion of what constitutes the true cuisine (and of course, each family is right)—my goal here is to bend tradition in playful ways that break out just a little (or maybe a lot) from the expected.

With their unique ability to provide a delicious bridge between the sweet and savory, apples lend themselves to all sorts of culinary contexts. (If there is such a thing as a mediating food, apples would be it.) So let’s take that spirit of bringing disparate parts together, and steer this familiar food in some unusual directions for the Rosh Hashanah evening meal.

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Savory Apples Casserole

Sweet apples contrast beautifully with puckery sauerkraut, and the result is surprisingly harmonious. Both are traditional foods from Ashkenazic territory in northern and Eastern Europe, where it's common to pair cabbage-based dishes with fruit. Try this with an herby roasted chicken spiked with thyme and rosemary.

20 minutes to prepare, 45 minutes to bake; Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Note: use the slicing attachment of the food processor to cut the apples in seconds flat. (Just core them and feed into the machine.) Without cleaning the processor in between, switch to the grating attachment for the cheese.

1 Tbs. butter or canola oil

1 cup minced onion

2 tsp. dry mustard

1 32-oz. jar sauerkraut, rinsed and thoroughly drained

6 medium sized tart apples, thinly sliced (peeling optional)

2 Tbs. unbleached white flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

salt, cloves, nutmeg: a dash of each

2 Tbs. honey or brown sugar

?lb. medium-sharp cheddar, grated (optional)

½ cup fine bread crumbs

¾ cup minced walnuts

1) Preheat oven to 375°F. Have ready a 2-quart capacity casserole or an equivalent pan (9 x 13-inch).

2) Melt the butter or heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion and mustard and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the onion softens. Add the sauerkraut, and cook for about 5 more minutes. Set aside.

3) Toss together the apples, flour, and spices in a large bowl. Add honey or sugar and mix well.

4) Now for the fun part. Make the following pattern in the casserole or baking pan: a layer consisting of half the apples, then half the onion-sauerkraut, then half the optional cheese (or not). Repeat this pattern, using the other half of everything. Sprinkle the very top with bread crumbs and walnuts. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

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Curried Apple Soup

While tart fruit soups are very much a product of northern and Eastern Europe. I thought it would be fun and delicious to make an apple soup laced with curry spices, reflecting a mixture of cultures and geography. It’s Sephardi meets Ashkenazi. North meets south. And the color of this soup is stunning!

Preparation time: 30 minutes; Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 Tbs. canola or peanut oil

2 cups chopped onion

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger

1 ½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. dry mustard

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. ground cumin

½ tsp. ground cardamom

½ tsp. allspice

¼ tsp. cayenne

5 cups peeled, chopped tart apple

4 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Optional: 2 Tbs. brown sugar or honey

Possible Toppings:

Lightly toasted shredded coconut

Lightly toasted slivered almonds

A drizzle of yogurt

A few dried currants

1) Heat oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion, garlic ginger, and salt, and sauté over heat for about five minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.

2) Add the spices, and sauté another five minutes over medium heat.

3) Add apples, water, cinnamon sticks, and lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down, mostly cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the apples are very tender. Remove from heat.

4) Take out the cinnamon sticks, and purée in a blender or food processor—bit by bit, so as not to splash yourself. Return the purée to the pot.

5) Add optional sweetening, and taste to adjust salt. Serve hot or cold, with or without some or all of the toppings (Even though the toppings are fun and delicious, this soup is also wonderful just plain.)

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Waldorf Salad is a dish with status anxiety. Originally conceived in the kitchen of the fanciest hotel (at that time) in New York, yet made entirely from pedestrian ingredients, it puts an aristocratic face on a humble concept. The dish is the only one of the three to include milk products, so would either make for a great appetizer or vegetarian dish. It also includes honey in a few variations—providing an opportunity to use both traditional elements in a new way.

Four Waldorf Variations

I. Blue Moon

2 medium-sized tart apples, in chunks

2 perfectly ripe pears (any kind), sliced

1 stalk celery, minced

¼ cup (packed) raisins

2 to 3 Tbs. lemon juice

¾ cup chopped toasted walnuts

Dressing:

1 cup yogurt

3 to 4 Tbs. mayonnaise

?cup crumbled blue cheese

1 Tbs. honey (optional, to taste)

Combine all salad ingredients. Stir together dressing ingredients in a separate bowl, then pour over salad and gently mix.

II. California

3 medium-sized tart and/or sweet apples

2 navel oranges, sectioned

1 stalk celery, minced

¼ cup (packed) raisins or currants

1 cup sliced ripe mango or papaya (optional, if available) [for the top]

1 cup toasted cashew pieces [for the top]

Dressing:

1 cup yogurt

½ tsp. lemon rind

2 to 3 Tbs. lemon juice

1 ripe avocado, mashed

1 to 2 Tbs. honey (to taste)

Combine apples, oranges, celery, and raisins or currants. Purée together all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Combine apple mixture with dressing and mix well. Serve topped with slices of ripe mango or papaya (if you’re lucky enough to have some) and toasted cashews.

III. Waldorf Deluxe

3 medium-sized tart apples, in chunks

2 to 3 Tbs. lemon juice

1 stalk celery, minced

1 to 2 cups seedless grapes, whole or halved (optional)

1 cup diced cheddar

¼ cup (packed) minced dates

¾ cup chopped toasted pecans

Dressing: 1 cup yogurt

¼ cup mayonnaise

½ cup orange juice

½ tsp. grated orange rind

Combine salad ingredients. Whisk together dressing ingredients. Combine everything and mix well.

IV. Fruit & Vegetable Waldorf

3 medium-sized tart apples, in chunks

1 cup freshly chopped pineapple

1 navel orange, sectioned

1 stalk celery, minced

1 small carrot, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

¼ cup (packed) raisins or currants

½ to 1 cup chopped toasted almonds

Dressing:

1 cup yogurt

½ cup pineapple or orange juice (or a combination)

¼ tsp. cinnamon

a few dashes ground cardamom

Combine everything, and mix well.

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Each of these has what I like to call “real Jewish personality.” Jews in the Diaspora, wherever they landed, learned to use whatever ingredients were available to them and adapt while still maintaining some form of their customs. This often led to recipes that were essentially a collection of opposites. If Jewish culture is an embrace of contradiction, then each of these recipes—the casserole with its sweet and sour tastes, the soup with its northern and southern influences, and the salad with its humble yet aristocratic origins—is very Jewish to me.

An added benefit: You might just come away from the table with a deeper appreciation for God’s bounty, opening the door to fresh, optimistic perspectives. Or at the very least, you’ll have had a satisfying meal. And that’s a very Jewish thing, too.

Mollie Katzen (pictured above), with over 6 million books in print, is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. Largely credited with moving healthful vegetarian food from the "fringe" to the center of the American dinner plate, Ms. Katzen has been named by Health Magazineas one of "The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat." She is best known as the creator of the groundbreaking classics Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and has authored 15 cookbooks overall.

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