TRADITION! ... ON A BUDGET
Feasting, symbolically and otherwise, is always an element of Jewish holidays, whether to break the fast after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, or to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, with a multi-course meal. By using simple ingredients and classic preparations for homemade versions of traditional dishes, it's possible to create large meals for family and guests on the smallest of budgets. These appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, and desserts all cost less than $4 a person, based on grocery prices from Walmart and price data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This classic appetizer is ideal comfort food for a high holiday meal. Substituting blueberries for a pure cheese filling pares the overall cost, especially when opting for frozen fruit. The crepe batter in a Martha Stewart Living recipe combines flour, eggs, butter, milk, and sugar. For a relatively cheap filling, combine 1 cup thawed frozen blueberries with 16 ounces softened cream cheese, one-half cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Yield: approximately 12 blintzes, or six servings. Cost: $1.60/person.
MATZO BALL SOUP
Traditionally this soup is made with homemade chicken stock, although a flavorful vegetarian version with homemade vegetable broth can be just as tasty. Store-bought broth easily costs triple the price of making your own, so stick with homemade to stay on budget. Simmer an onion, two carrots, two celery stalks, and a few cloves of garlic with fresh herbs such as parsley and dill in 1 gallon of water for about an hour. Discard the veggies and add salt. Making the matzo ball recipe from Food.com is as simple as combining matzo meal with eggs, oil, salt, and baking powder and simmering them to perfection. Serve two dumplings with the broth and sprinkle with chopped fresh dill. Yield: roughly 20 matzo balls, or 10 servings. Cost: 70 cents/person.
Traditional chopped liver is one of the benchmarks people use to decide whose house to go to for the holidays. While this old world indulgence can be pricey when purchased from a deli, home cooks can use the would-be-trash parts of chickens in the style of true peasant ingredients, which means the dish costs pennies to prepare. The humble components in the recipe at Epicurious include chicken livers, eggs, chicken fat, onions, and salt and pepper. Yield: one batch, or roughly six servings. Cost: $1.13/person.
It doesn't get more classic than brisket for Jewish holiday meals. This heartwarming comfort food is simple to prepare and works out to just a few dollars a person. The basic recipe provided by Epicurious combines celery, onions, and tomatoes; herbs and other seasonings; a 5-pound brisket; and the better part of a bottle of red wine. The long, slow oven braise tenderizes the meat, making every bite juicy and flavorful. Yield: 10 servings. Cost: $3.80/person.
Just like scrambled eggs, a simple roast chicken can be one of the most delicious, albeit oh-so-common, meals. Start with a cleaned, 4-pound chicken and generously rub with oil or margarine, then season with salt and pepper. Nestle the bird atop roughly cut vegetables, such as carrot, potato, and onion, and roast at 375 degrees to perfection. The crispy golden skin provides just the right textural contrast to the soft juicy flesh and moist veggies. Yield: four servings. Cost: $2.75/person.
For those who love spice-laden cuisine, Moroccan Jewish dishes, with their layers of complex flavors, belong on any high holiday menu. Because the dish is more about the spices, an inexpensive fish such as tilapia (about $1 for a 4-ounce serving) can be used. A Jewish Food Experience recipe starts with sautéeing peppers and tomatoes until soft, then mixing in garlic and spices such as paprika, turmeric, chili peppers, and cilantro to create a richly layered sauce. Seasoned fish filets are added to the simmering sauce. Yield: six servings. Cost: $2.17/serving.
There are infinite versions of kugel, but most fall into two basic categories: noodle-based and potato-based. The noodle version is the most typical as a side dish at high holiday meals. It sometimes serves as dessert when the recipe calls for sugar, cinnamon, applesauce or apples, vanilla, and the like. The common thread in kugel recipes posted at Allrecipes is the combination of egg noodles and eggs. A majority have a touch of sweetness and some contain dairy products. Tweaks are virtually unlimited, and cooks can choose sweet or savory, the latter calling for ingredients such as onions, spinach, and zucchini. Yield: one batch, or eight portions. Cost: $1.16/person.
This sweet and hearty stew of root vegetables and dried fruit is a stalwart of traditional Jewish cooking. Make this recipe super inexpensive by using a base of mostly sweet potatoes and carrots, and be sparing with pricier ingredients such as dried apricots and plums. The version posted on Taste of Home calls for 5 pounds of carrots/sweet potato, 12 ounces of dried fruit, and a mixture of orange juice, honey, sugar, and a few pats of butter (or margarine). Yield: 12 servings. Cost: 79 cents/person.
Quick, tasty, and inexpensive, couscous is an excellent party dish, especially when paired with Moroccan-themed entrées and sides. Combine 2 cups dry couscous with equal parts boiling salted water. Cover and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and season with olive oil, paprika, salt, and pepper. Toss with a handful of fresh herbs and some chopped red bell pepper and scallions. Yield: four servings. Cost: $2.03/person.
APPLES AND HONEY
Part of celebrating the Jewish New Year is indulging in the symbolic dessert of apples and honey. The apples are a symbol of life, and a key fruit of the autumn harvest. Apple slices are dipped in or topped with honey to symbolize and ensure a sweet new year. This simple tradition is as tasty as it is inexpensive. Just a few apple slices and a tablespoon or so of honey for each person at the table goes a long way. Cost: $1/person.
If straightforward apples and honey aren't quite fancy enough, a baked apple crumble is another way to work in the traditional ingredients and present a more elaborate, though equally frugal and delicious, dessert. Thinly slice six apples, toss with the juice of one lemon and one-half cup sugar, and pour into a pan. In a bowl, combine 1 cup oats with one-half cup flour, one-half stick butter or margarine, one-quarter cup sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon until crumbly. Top the apples with the crumble and drizzle with honey. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes and let cool before serving. Yield: eight servings. Cost: $1/person.
Jewish holidays typically combine food with symbolism, and dessert is no exception. These Sephardic cinnamon and sugar rings, courtesy of Chabad.org, symbolize the circle of life and human connectedness. The light and tasty crowd pleasers are also easy on the wallet. The recipe calls for standard ingredients, such as flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, eggs, oil, and an orange. Yield: 16 portions. Cost: 31 cents/person.