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Archive for October, 2011

The Meal Before…

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The ”High Holy Days,” as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have come to be known, are referred to in Hebrew as the “Yomin Noraim” – Days of Awe. I like the word “awe.” Encapsulated in three short letters are all the reverence, astonishment, solemnity and grandeur that is associated with standing in judgment before the Creator. Feeling true “awe” is not unlike a moment-of-truth, an epiphany, an “ah-ha” experience…the catharsis of realizing who you really are and how you fit into the greater scheme of things. As such, we each experience due apprehension as Yom Kippur approaches, knowing we have much to answer for both individually and collectively as a People.

Strangely, despite obvious trepidation, the meal preceding the holiest fast of the year is considered to be a festive, joyous meal. Just as it wouldn’t occur to me to have a lavish banquet prior to a court sentencing, the seudat ha-mafseket (last meal before fasting) seems a bit counter-intuitive, no? But here’s where practical meets spiritual: the practical need to satiate and strengthen ourselves before a day of fasting and prayer is met with the spiritual joy and gladness derived from a chance at forgiveness, of starting anew with a clean slate. That hope, that opportunity is enough to infuse a festive spirit into an otherwise serious time.

And so we prepare our menus just the same way. Practically, we minimize the spiciness, reduce the saltiness and prepare foods that are filling, yet easily digested. Spiritually, we set the table with our finest and create an atmosphere of holiday. Were I born of Hungarian roots, I’d imagine myself walking into my would-be Hungarian bubbie’s kitchen, only to be met with a homey dish of Chicken Paprikash before the fast. It just seems like the right thing to have. Also mashed potatoes (I’m all about mashed potatoes before a fast): comforting, nourishing, and fit for a feast. In that alternate Jewish-Hungarian universe, here’s how she’d prepare it…

Chicken Paprikash

Traditionally this dish is made with sweet Hungarian paprika (or sometimes a mix of sweet and hot paprika). Using smoked paprika adds a smoky element of flavor – be sure to look for the highest quality paprika you can find.

8 chicken leg quarters
1½ tsp. Kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 large or 3 medium onions, sliced (about 4 cups)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. flour
½ cup white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season chicken with ¾ tsp. salt and a good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch Oven or large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Brown chicken quarters, about 2-3 minutes per side, turning once. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add onions, garlic, and bell pepper to the pot. Sauté until onions are translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes. Season with remaining salt, more black pepper and paprika. Stir to blend and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle in flour. Stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add wine and stir to blend. Return chicken to the pot. Spoon liquid over chicken quarters, cover and transfer to preheated oven.

Bake covered, for 1¼ -1½ hours. Serve hot over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.