After I moved west, it took me a good five years to realize that if I wanted to celebrate the Jewish holidays, I was going to have to take some action. My husband is technically Jewish but grew up in a house with a Christmas tree and Easter baskets. He had no Jewish holiday traditions. I had only a few, all involving food. So I started inviting people, and cooking, and pretty soon we were hosting Passover seders and Rosh Hashanah dinners for 35 every year. Now I look forward to spending the holidays with the friends who have become my de facto extended family. The posse of kids, taller each year, runs around in the backyard until it's time to eat. Everyone brings a dish to lighten my load. It's not about religion - more culture and tradition and taking a break to enjoy one another's company.
This year Rosh Hashanah snuck up on me. I was traveling in New England for the weeks right before school started, and the holidays came very early this fall. A week before Rosh Hashanah, I realized I'd made no plans and invited no one. But here's what happens when you start the tradition: Everyone assumes it's happening, whether you say so or not. No one had made other plans. And despite the fact that school just started, the holiday fell on a weeknight, and I've been buried at work, we had a wonderful holiday dinner: traditional round challah, apples dipped in honey, fig salad, cabbage salad, tabbouleh, roast chicken, sweet potatoes, potato kugel, noodle kugel, and brisket braised in pomegranate juice.
Brisket is a relatively new addition to my Jewish holiday menus. I like beef as much as the next girl, but the pot roast my grandmother made for holiday meals never thrilled me. I think she used the Lipton onion soup mix method. I remember the meat being tender and salty. Really salty. That is not a pot roast I wish to recreate.
[On that topic - are pot roast and brisket the same thing? I've always assumed the terms were used interchangeably, although now I'm thinking brisket is the cut of meat, and pot roast refers to the method. Do you know? If so, please leave a comment below and enlighten me.]
In past years I've made fesenjan for Rosh Hashanah. Fesenjan is a traditional Persian stew of lamb or chicken simmered with pomegranate juice and thickened with ground walnuts. I use ground almond meal instead of walnuts and add a little cinnamon for warmth. Served over rice or couscous, this is one of my favorite holiday meals. But this year one guest had a nut allergy, so I had to improvise. I bought brisket instead of stew meat and married the pomegranate flavor of the fesenjan with the onion spirit of my grandma's pot roast. I crossed my fingers, said a little prayer, and cooked it in my new slow cooker instead of in the oven. In a word: delicious. This will definitely show up on my holiday table again.
Beef brisket with pomegranate sauce
- 1 quart pure pomegranate juice
- 1 5-lb flat cut brisket, cut into two pieces (to fit in the slow cooker)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 red onions, chopped
- 2 packets Savory Choice liquid beef broth concentrate, or two beef bouillon cubes
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
Meantime, heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Sprinkle the brisket with the salt and brown the meat well on both sides, one piece at a time. Place the browned brisket in the slow cooker. To the same hot skillet, add the olive oil and the onions. Saute about 5 minutes, until the onions are softened and starting to brown around the edges. Pour the onions into the slow cooker on top of the meat.
Now add the reduced pomegranate juice, beef broth concentrate, tomato paste, cumin, brown sugar and dried cranberries to the slow cooker. Use a wooden spoon to mix everything up just a little. Put on the top and cook on low for 8 hours, after which the meat will be fall-apart tender and the house will smell heavenly.
Remove the meat from the liquid and reserve on a plate. Pour the liquid into a saucepan, blend it smooth with an immersion blender, and reduce it by one-quarter to intensify the flavors. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed. Slice or shred the meat and serve with the sauce poured over.
A note about brisket: It is much easier to slice when cold. I cooked mine overnight the night before the holiday; finished the sauce, then put the meat and sauce in the refrigerator (separately) in the morning; sliced the meat when I got home from work; and reheated it with the sauce in the slow cooker before dinner. If you want to serve the meat shredded, however, it's not necessary to do it a day ahead.