Last week, I was welcoming you to Fall. This week, I’m wondering why Summer is still with us? Lingering like an annoying party guest who doesn’t get the hint that the hostess is ready for her guests to depart so she can sit down and enjoy her quiet house. Yes Summer, you’ve overstayed your welcome and it’s time to go!
On Monday afternoon, as my family took a post-synagogue nap, I went out on my daily neighborhood walk. I debated whether or not listening to a podcast on Rosh Hashanah was appropriate, and in the end, I decided to bring along my headphones. I chose to flood my ears with a podcast interview with Leah Koenig, the celebrated food writer and author of several Jewish-themed cookbooks. I figured that her subject matter would be appropriate for the holiday #AmIRight? I won’t get into the details of the interview, as only one really stuck with me from Monday until now. Leah quoted another (unnamed) food writer and declared “a recipe without a story is just calories”. I love that quote, it resonates so deeply with me.
So let me tell you about today’s recipe, and although it’s not the greatest food story, it will have to suffice. This tapenade recipe has been the backbone of my Rosh Hashanah celebration for many years. I created the recipe when I lived in NYC and hosted my in-laws for the holiday - the pièce de résistance of that meal was my first-ever homemade challah - but this tapenade was served alongside. From NYC, this delicious spread came to my home in Boston, where I welcomed family and friends into our home during the glorious New England Fall many times to celebrate the holiday. Now, almost a dozen years of living in Baltimore. My tapenade found its place on my family’s Rosh Hashanah table, along with my homemade challah, as the 3 of us had a casual (yet meaningful) dinner together on Sunday evening. At first, I felt badly about the smallness of our gathering, that I hadn’t included guests around my family’s table. But once I tasted the tapenade, I was able to remember years past, the faces of the people that joined us for our holiday meal, the conversations that we shared. The tapenade brought me back to my past and will be carried along into the future.
Not much of a story, I know. But this tapenade has been part of my holiday table for 15 years and has become a tradition. Food traditions are powerful, they are the basis of many religious observances and can be the ties that hold a family together. What are the stories of the food that you serve to your family or associate with a holiday? These are the pieces to carry along from generation to generation, these are the stories that we all remember. Delicious stories.
Most people consider apples and honey to be the quintessential symbols of the holiday - of sweetness in the new year. For me, figs are a better representation of the fullness and wholeness, the sweetness of life. When paired with contrasting ingredients and flavors, they taste even better than on their own. This tapenade (really a fancy word for a rustic chunky spread) is so simple to put together and tastes even better the longer it sits, making it the perfect recipe to prepare for a party or a holiday feast. The ingredients are basic and the taste is heavenly. I serve it alongside my homemade challah, sometimes with a schmear of goat cheese, and always with a glass of wine. Later in the evening, Port is the natural accompaniment for the tapenade. It also is a wonderful addition to a bowl of plain yogurt or spooned on top of a bowl of plain rice, quinoa, or even oatmeal. Endless possibilities.
Wishing you a relaxing weekend, full of delicious food, health & wellness.
Rustic Fig-Olive-Walnut Tapenade
Ingredients: (use organic whenever possible)
1 C dried figs, chopped
1/3 C water
1/3 C kalamata olives, pitted & chopped
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T capers, drained & chopped
3/4 C walnuts, toasted & chopped
1 1/2 t fresh thyme, chopped
sea salt & freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Combine figs and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until all of the liquid is absorbed by the figs, approximately 7 minutes. Transfer figs to a mixing bowl.
Add the olives, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, capers, 1/2 C toasted chopped walnuts and thyme to the bowl with the figs. Toss gently to combine. Taste for seasoning, add salt & pepper to desired taste.
When ready to serve, transfer mixture to a small serving bowl and garnish with remaining 1/4 C toasted chopped walnuts.
Recipe yields 6-8 servings
Can be made 3 days in advance of serving. Cover and chill until ready to serve, then bring to room temperature for best taste.
For a nut-free option, substitute pepitas or sunflower seeds for the walnuts.