Albondigas, or meatballs, are a mainstay of Sephardic cuisine. They come in sizes ranging from golf balls to cherries and may be rolled into round or flattened shapes. Chopped onions, garlic, roasted eggplant, fresh spinach, chopped leek and grated carrots have been mixed into meatballs for centuries. These ingredients served to season meat (or poultry) which was then fried or simmered in sauce. Moistened bread bound it all together and served as another way to make these delicious treats an economical choice.
When I learned that the southern Italians sometimes included currants and pignoli nuts in their meatballs, I was intrigued. Perhaps it’s my Galiciana roots but I liked the prospect of adding a little sweetness (and unexpected texture) to the meat mix. It seemed like a good jumping point for considering how to use honey in my meatballs for Rosh Hashanah.
My intention was to get this mix subtly sweet, with a nod to the symbolism of serving sweet foods to ensure a sweet New Year. I paired citrus with the fruity nectar to balance the sweetness and sparked the flavors with cracked pepper, cumin and turmeric. Tiny, moist currants and rich pignoli provide an unfamiliar twist. For guests who think that meatballs belong in tomato sauce, they will be surprised and delighted by the yin/yang of this mildly sweet and lemony simmer broth.
Because these meatballs are quite small they are a bit of work. Set aside a couple of hours in order to get the task done. It will be time well spent. And you can check another dish off your ‘to do” list by making them in advance and freezing them.
For the meatballs:
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion, grated
2 eggs, beaten
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
3 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup currants
½ cup pignoli (pine nuts)
½ cup canola oil for frying
For the sauce:
2 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients through turmeric. Mix gently with hands. Do not overmix.
Add currants and pignoli to meat mixture and combine.
Shape mixture into 1-1 ½” meatballs, wetting hands with water periodically to prevent the meat from sticking to fingers. Place meatballs on a couple of foil lined trays so they are all ready to fry at the same time.
Divide ½ cup of canola oil into 2 frying pans and heat on medium.
Add meatballs in a single layer until both pans are full but not crowded. Brown meatballs, turning them by using 2 spoons. They should be golden.
With a slotted spoon, remove meatballs when golden on all sides. Place meatballs on plates lined with paper towels so they may drain. Repeat until all meatballs are browned. You may want to save the browned pignoli and sprinkle them on meatballs when serving them.
Combine all ingredients for sauce and bring to low simmer. Taste to adjust for sweetness and salt.
Place all meatballs in sauce (It’s ok if they are not all submerged). Simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Remove meatballs from sauce, plate and serve with toothpicks. Sprinkle with browned pignoli and chopped fresh mint or parsley leaves. Drizzle sauce over the meatballs if you like.
Some of us are blessed with the “D” (designer) gene and well, some of us can cook. Let’s just say that when my BFF arrived for Thanksgiving last year she took one look at my “set’ table and shoo’ed me out of the dining room, telling me she would be glad to make it “all better.” Since I know I’m not the only one challenged in this way, I turned to some experts and asked them to help me out with some simple ideas to help readers get ready to set their holiday tables.
Here’s what we came up with.
Use those family heirlooms and consider moving it all outdoors.
If you have family silver or china, take it out and use it. Examine all of your pieces in advance and determine what needs to be polished. If you don’t have enough place settings, consider borrowing from your sister or a friend. Mixing patterns makes the tablescape more interesting anyway.
If you love the look stylist Lauren Kreter nailed here you may want to shop tag sales and consignment shops for odd pieces. She wasn’t concerned with a color scheme for the whole table; she simply wanted each dish to play nicely with others at the same setting.
If you yearn to dine al fresco and the weather allows, consider using folding tables (inexpensive to rent) and bring the celebration outside. Everybody loves to extend the summer and Rosh Hashanah often graces us with perfect weather.
After you decide to use your good china and flatware, mix in elements from natureso your table doesn’t look stiff and formal. We kept the white linens basic (read: inexpensive) and layered a topper of bright green moss over a burlap runner. Both can be purchased at craft stores.
When you handle burlap or moss it can shred and be messy. Just be brave, place them down once and build your setting around them. Note that we kept goblets and napkins basic, allowing the brightly colored china to star.
Incorporating gifts into your table setting will delight your guests. In keeping with the tradition of eating sweet foods on Rosh Hashanah, consider sharing single origin artisanal honeys with your guests. Mix and match flavors like wildflower, blueberry blossom and red currant so they can imagine flavor notes and trade with each other.
It’s OK to leave your dining table undressed!
For our second table, we decided to leave the dining table bare. If you have a protective coating on your wood surface (and don’t have little ones around the table) this allows the mellow tones of the wood to contrast with your crisp bright china.
Here, we coordinated family china with other mix and match plates with silver elements. Florist,Meg Greenberg, incorporated more silver elements by placing cascading bunches of crimson grapes and pale peach roses with honeysuckle vines tucked neatly into a silver basket she discovered while thrifting .
Want to assign seats and keep family rivals from creating a ruckus? Place pomegranates or apples onto each place setting and poke place cards into the fruit. That way, YOU determine who should sit next to that difficult cousin.
If you place your flower arrangement and it looks dwarfed by the length of your table, consider setting it into a tray to expand its perceived size. Fill the tray with edible elements (crab apples, pomegranates, walnuts, grapes, figs) that will tie it all together.
While looking for more ways to use the silver theme, we rummaged through my sideboard and found chunky napkin rings we threaded with white linen napkins. We even found a little extra room to tuck in some olive wood honey dippers. More searching revealed an oval silver dish.
Instead of placing the hand rolled beeswax tapers (wouldn’t you love to receive those?) at each place setting as a gift, they looked better piled into that dish, adding interest to that end of the tablescape.
Your “every day” stuff is ok!
Finally, we wanted to show how to use your everyday porcelain or ceramic dishes and stainless flatware on a holiday table. It’s fairly easy to create a holiday look, especially if your dishes are basic white.
Here, we searched for a starting point to inspire us. We found this gold rimmed, antique china bowl that I had tucked away from my Mom’s collection of such things. While we oooh’ed and aaah’ed over the brilliant green and generous shape, we were inspired to bring it all outside again and connect it to the green tones in the landscape.
Finding simple, solid napkins that connect to the color of your object of inspiration is an easy way to brighten the table. Sticking with the honey and apples theme was a natural so we piled the heirloom bowl with bright green local apples and snipped off the rose heads to fill in around them. Pile it all in there so it makes a strong statement, without spending a lot of bucks.
If you can find objects around your home, like these tall 1950’s iced tea glasses (and their caddy) see how they work into your plan. By taking your everyday ware and mixing in one or two unique items, you can easily set a beautiful table that honors the importance of the day.
Tu Bishvat is the perfect holiday for locavores, school kids and home cooks, alike. It’s a fruit-focsued holiday with plenty of room for creative cooking and connecting more deeply with the land as Spring approaches.
School kids love the field trips to plant trees while home cooks and chefs dream up new ideas for integrating the seven edible species mentioned in the Torah:
When M. returned from a quick trip to visit his parents in Israel, he brought back a tightly wrapped disc of plump, moist figs in his backpack. I immediately turned to Mollie Katzen’s latest vegetarian book The Heart of the Plate for inspiration on how to integrate these beauties into a dish where figs would be the stars while I stay true to eating within the growing season here in the Northeast.
5-6 ripe figs (dried are fine)
1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon or lime
3 ounces parmesan cheese
1 loaf ciabatta or sourdough baguette (fresh or day-old)
1 large or 2 small bunches lacinato kale (1/2 pound total)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch thick slices
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
lemon or lime wedges
Stem the figs and slice them lengthwise into about 5 wedges apiece. Place them in a medium dish and sprinkle with lemon or line juice. Toss gently to coat and set aside.
Shave strips of parmesan from the block of cheese, using a sturdy vegetable peeler. Lovely cheese ribbons will ensue. Set aside.
Slice the bread into approximately a dozen thin (as in almost see-through) slices. Larger slices from ciabatta can be halved for easier handling and consumption. Set aside.
Hold each kale leaf by the stem and use a very sharp knife to release the leaf from the stem (it's OK to leave the narrow part of the stem that blends into the leaf farther up).
Make a pile of leaves, roll them tightly, and cut crosswise into thin strips. Transfer to a large bowl of cold water and swish around to clean. Spin very dry and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.
Place a large deep skillet over medium heat for about a minute. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the onion and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt.
Cook, stirring and/or shaking the pan a little, for 2-3 minutes, until the onion becomes shiny and is still this side of tender.
Transfer the hot onion to the kale in the bowl and stir everything around for a bit, then return the entire bowlful of kale-plus-onion to the pan. Stir-fry quickly - for just a minute or so - over medium-high heat until the kale turns an even deeper shade of green and wilts slightly.
Return it all to the bowl, tossing in the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. You can add some of the parmesan ribbons at this point, if you like them to melt in slightly.
Remove the pan from the heat, wait a minute or two, then add the vinegar to the pan (stand back - it will sizzle), swirl it around, and pour what's left of it onto the kale. (It will most likely evaporate.)
Without bothering to clean the pan, return it to the stove over medium heat. Wait another minute, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.
Add the bread slices in a single layer and grill on each side until lightly golden and perfectly crisp.
Transfer the toasts to the kale, along with the figs and all their juice.
Toss quickly (no need to get things uniform), adding the remaining cheese and walnuts as you go.
Serve right away, passing a pepper mill over the salad and offering wedges of lemon or lime to be squeezed over the figs.
This warming lentil soup is thick and robust with bold flavors from artfully balanced spices. It’s even better after the first day and it freezes well, too.
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 6 oz. package beef-flavored Facon, trimmed of fat and minced (optional)
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 14 ounce can of peeled, chopped tomatoes
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups green or red lentil, rinsed and examined for unwanted particles.
chopped parsley or cilantro for serving
Sautee onions until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook lightly for another 3-4 minutes. Add carrots, celery and canned tomatoes to pot. Bring to a low simmer.
Add all spices, adjusting to taste. Add vegetable or chicken stock, holding back 1-2 cups if you prefer thicker soup.
Add cooked Facon and lentils and simmer for 1.5 hours, stirring periodically. Add more stock as the lentil break down and thicken, if you prefer a looser soup.
Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with fresh parsley, dill or cilantro. Stay warm and enjoy!