The apple holiday

Dipping apple wedges in honey is a delightful custom, but why stop there? Fresh-picked apples are just coming into season, and they have many uses for festive menus.

bowl of apples 88 (photo credit: )
bowl of apples 88
(photo credit: )
These days, if there is one fruit you're likely to see in the shopping baskets of Jews everywhere, it's the apple - the fresh symbol of Rosh Hashana. Dipping apple wedges in honey is a delightful custom, but why stop there? Fresh-picked apples are just coming into season, and they have many uses for festive menus. Apples embellish entrees in many apple-growing areas of the world. Some people bake them whole, some saute them in wedges, and some stew them gently alongside meat or chicken. But don't think the fruit makes these dishes overly sweet. Apples vary greatly in sweetness. For savory dishes cooks can choose apples on the tart side, and use herbs, spices and onions to balance the fruit's sweetness. In Normandy in northern France, a region celebrated for its apple specialties, lightly caramelized sauteed apples enhance chicken, duck and meat dishes. Chefs complement such entrees with a sauce flavored with apple cider and the region's famous apple brandy, Calvados. Their neighbors in Belgium cook chickens with apples and beer. In England and in much of northern Europe, roast goose with apples is a traditional holiday dish. Darra Goldstein, author of A La Russe, stuffs the goose with chopped apples, which turn into a thick sauce for the bird, then serves it with sugared wedges of baked tart apples. These European ways of using apples are not so surprising. After all, we're used to Ashkenazi dishes like tzimmes, which include sweet elements. Yet apples are matched with meat and poultry even in the Middle East. Armenians make a simple apple accompaniment for turkey, according to Sonya Uvezian, author of The Cuisine of Armenia; they bake whole apples sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon in the bird's roasting juices. Persians are especially fond of fruit and use it enthusiastically in main dishes. They add sauteed apples and dried cherries to chicken or meat stewed with onions, cinnamon, saffron, sugar and lime juice. Afghans make a similar chicken-apple stew, wrote Helen Saberi, author of Afghan Food & Cookery, but spice it instead with ground ginger, cardamom and a touch of hot red pepper. Apples are a wonderful addition to stuffings for poultry. French cooks add sauteed apples to ground meat stuffings, along with fried onions, cloves and thyme. My friend Darina Allen, author of Irish Country Cooking, makes a potato and apple stuffing by mixing mashed potatoes with sauteed apples, onions, parsley and lemon balm (a herb). I like apples in bread stuffing with sauteed onions, sage and thyme, in rice stuffing with raisins and orange juice and in orzo (rice-shaped pasta) stuffing with toasted walnuts. You can get ahead in preparing stuffed chicken for your holiday dinner by cooking the stuffing in advance; for reasons of hygiene, do not stuff the chicken until just before you roast it. To make preparation more convenient, bake the stuffing in a separate dish, not inside the bird. Doing this enables you to cook the chicken in advance: roast it whole, then cut it in portions and heat it gently in the oven in a covered dish before serving, while reheating the stuffing in its covered casserole. The bird roasts more quickly without stuffing; besides, serving is much easier when no carving is needed. In the following Rosh Hashana entree, apples lend a delicately sweet accent to the orzo stuffing, and lightly sauteed apple wedges accompany the roasted bird. STUFFED CHICKEN WITH ORZO AND APPLES The savory stuffing is flavored with toasted nuts and citrus and can also be used to stuff zucchini. Serve chicken, stuffing and apples garnished with parsley sprigs. 1⁄2 cup walnut pieces 3 Tbsp. olive oil 1 large onion, finely chopped 11⁄2 cups orzo or riso (rice-shaped pasta) 3 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth or water 2 to 3 Tbsp. lemon or orange juice 2 tsp. grated lemon or orange rind 1⁄3 cup chopped parsley salt and freshly ground pepper 3 large tart apples a 1.6- to 1.8-kg chicken 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon Preheat oven to 175 C. Toast walnuts in oven about 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate to cool. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add onion and saute over medium heat, stirring often, for 7 minutes or until it begins to turn golden. Add orzo and cook over low heat, stirring, 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 14 minutes or until just tender. Fluff mixture with a fork to break up any lumps. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, lemon rind, walnuts and parsley and toss mixture. Peel 1 apple. Grate it on large holes of grater. With a fork, lightly stir grated apple into stuffing. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and more lemon juice if you like. Cool stuffing completely before spooning it into chicken. Preheat oven to 200 C. Sprinkle chicken with pepper. Spoon stuffing inside chicken, and spoon extra stuffing into a small baking dish; or, spoon all of stuffing into a baking dish. Set chicken on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast chicken, basting occasionally, for about 40 minutes. Cover dish of stuffing tightly and put it in the oven now. Roast chicken for about 20 more minutes or until juices come out clear when a skewer is inserted into thickest part of thigh, about 1 hour. If juices are pink, roast chicken a few more minutes. Peel remaining 2 apples. Core and cut them in eighths. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apples and saute about 3 minutes per side, or until nearly tender. Sprinkle lightly with half the cinnamon and saute 2 minutes. Turn pieces over, sprinkle with remaining cinnamon and saute 1 more minute or until tender and lightly browned; reduce heat if necessary so cinnamon doesn't burn. Transfer chicken to a carving board. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Carve chicken. Reheat apples if necessary. Serve chicken with apples and stuffing. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast and Faye's Levy's International Chicken Cookbook.