Monday Morning Cooking Club: Recipes for a sweet Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)

Lamb tagine from 'It's Always About the Food'.
Lamb tagine from 'It's Always About the Food'.  Photo: Alan Benson

It's an exciting and delicious time for those of us celebrating Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) this week. This festival has great religious and cultural significance to many, but we – the Monday Morning Cooking Club girls – as always, focus on the other important aspect of Jewish festivals – the food. The two questions on everyone's lips are ''What are you cooking this year?'' and ''How moist is your honey cake?'' As the title of our new book proclaims, it is always about the food. And it's especially about the honey cake.

We celebrate for two days, which translates into (at least) two feasts, tables groaning with food, surrounded by family and friends. Some gather for a dinner on ''new year's eve'' and a lunch the next day, others do two dinners but skip the lunches, and some even do two dinners, two lunches plus honey cake breaks during the daylight hours. Whatever we do, however we celebrate, the food lures us to the table to sit together and have time to talk, to laugh, to argue and to celebrate another year.

The food we eat is often symbolic. Honey is the number one ingredient at Rosh Hashanah to ensure that the coming year is sweet. We start the meal with apples dipped in honey and end with honey cake. And it doesn't stop there. We eat the traditional plaited bread, challah, studded with sultanas and specially shaped into a round loaf to represent the circle of life.

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 Photo: Alan Benson

Here is a feast to shower love on friends and family, whether you are celebrating Jewish New Year, or not.

Lamb tagine with dates

A dish of celebration – Ronit often prepares this tagine for weddings and parties. The cinnamon is a sign of abundance and warmth, while the ginger balances the sweetness and adds more depth. It is a layered and complex dish, and reheats brilliantly.

2 onions, roughly chopped

80ml (⅓ cup) olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon extra

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

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1 tbsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground black pepper

1.2 kg boneless lamb shoulder, cubed

410ml (1 ⅔ cups) water or beef stock (broth)

1 tbsp coconut or raw sugar

pinch of saffron threads

sea salt and ground black pepper

2 tbsp lemon juice

150g medjool (fresh) dates, pitted and halved

½ preserved lemon

40 g (½ cup) flaked or slivered almonds coriander leaves, to garnish

couscous, to serve

1. In a large heavy-based deep frying pan or heavy-based flameproof casserole dish over medium heat, saute the onion in the oil for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the ginger, cinnamon, cumin and pepper and stir for about one minute, or until fragrant. Increase the heat to high, add the lamb and, tossing from time to time, brown on all sides.

2. Add the water (or stock), sugar, saffron and one teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking.

3. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the dates on top, cover and simmer for a further 10 minutes, or until the dates are plump.

4. Meanwhile, rinse the preserved lemon under cold water, remove and discard the membrane and pulp, then cut into thin strips and add to the lamb. Mix gently and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the lamb is fork-tender.

5. Heat the extra olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat and add the almonds. Cook for two minutes, stirring often, until golden, then immediately tip onto a plate to prevent burning. Serve the lamb tagine on a bed of couscous, sprinkled with the almonds and coriander.

Serves 6

Ronit Robbaz

Rice pilaf from from 'It's Always About the Food'.

Rice pilaf from from It's Always About the Food. Photo: Alan Benson

Israeli rice pilaf

75g dried vermicelli noodles

60ml (¼ cup) olive oil

440g (2 cups) basmati or long grain rice

1 litre (4 cups) chicken stock (broth)

1 tsp sea salt

1 onion, roughly chopped

40g (¼ cup) pine nuts

40g (¼ cup) currants or sultanas (golden raisins)

1. Break up the vermicelli noodles into short pieces, about 4 cm (1½ inches) long.

2. In a large, preferably non-stick, saucepan, heat half of the oil over medium heat and cook the vermicelli, watching carefully, for a minute or two or until they turn brown; take care, as they burn easily. Add the rice and saute for a few minutes until it becomes opaque.

3. Add the stock and salt, bring to the boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, undisturbed, for 20 minutes.

4. While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan and saute the onion for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Add the pine nuts and currants (or sultanas), tossing to toast them lightly. Remove from the heat. Turn the cooked rice onto a serving platter and fluff with a fork. Top with the onion, pine nuts and currants (or sultanas).

Serves 8 as a side dish

Gloria Jacobson Pink

Honey cake from It's Always About the Food.

Honey cake from It's Always About the Food. Photo: Alan Benson

Gina's hair-raising honey cake

This cake was first published in 2011 in Monday Morning Cooking Club – the food, the stories, the sisterhood. It is, without a doubt, the best, most moist and delicious honey cake around.

Its name came from the time when our friend Gina was avidly pouring the mixtures into the mixing bowl and got too close – her hair got caught around the whisking beaters, which pulled half of it out! We all laugh every time we make the cake, and every time we share the recipe with friends we tell the story and laugh again.

This cake is best made at least one day ahead and wrapped in foil after it has been removed from the tin.

185 ml (¾ cup) hot tap water

Dry mixture

115g (¾ cup) plain flour

115g (¾ cup) self-raising flour

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

20g (1½ tbsp) cocoa powder

Wet mixture

2 eggs

170g (¾ cup) castor sugar

90ml (⅓ cup plus 2 tsp) vegetable oil

250g honey

dash of vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.

2. Grease a ring cake tin. It is best to use a tin without a removable base, as the mixture is liquid and may leak.

3. For the dry mixture, sift the dry ingredients together into a bowl.

4. For the wet mixture, in a separate large bowl (or electric mixer bowl), mix the wet ingredients together until well combined.

5. Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture, alternating with the hot water. Beat until the batter is smooth.

6. Pour into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool before turning out of the tin.

Serves 6-8

The Monday Morning Cooking Club's third book, It's Always About the Food, is available now.