It’s not your bubbie’s brisket

It’s not your bubbie’s brisket

Photo courtesy of Romi/
Photo courtesy of Romi/

With the approach of the holiday season, the thoughts of Jews around the world turn to the longstanding traditions of their ancestors: repentance, teshuvah and, of course, food.

But while the carnivores in our midst have no trouble finding recipes handed down from their mothers and bubbies for such delicacies as chicken soup, chopped liver and brisket, what’s a modern day vegan Jew to do?

The options for non-animal dishes are not as dire as one might think.

For a Rosh Hashanah meal, there are really two different tacks a vegan can take, according to Jeff Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg, an international organization that encourages and helps Jews to embrace plant-based diets. A vegan can try to replicate the look and taste of traditional meat-based dishes or simply serve a delicious plant-based meal that is festive in its own right.

Cohan recommends a non-meat version of brisket made out of seitan, a product derived from the protein portion of wheat that can have the texture of meat and readily absorbs flavors from seasonings.

“You can buy seitan at Whole Foods or the East End Food Co-op, or you can make it from scratch if you feel confident in the kitchen,” Cohan said. (Recipe for “brisket” follows.)

If the main course does not have to be brisket — or a mock version of it — Cohan suggests preparing a “meatloaf” made from seitan or nuts, or a smoky grilled tempeh (fermented soy beans) dish.

“Tempeh has a great texture, and you can make it taste like almost anything,” Cohan said.

Many tasty vegan recipes can be found on the website of Jewish Veg ( Cohan also recommends checking out one of the vegan cookbooks by Jewish author Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

Pittsburgh resident Annette Werner seeks out vegan versions of traditional foods for the holidays “that are not time intensive, but at the same time do not rely on processed food shortcuts.”

She recommends a vegan chopped “liver” recipe that she found on the website She garnished the dish with parsley and paprika, she said. (Recipe follows.)

“It was great — a tasty, whole-food, vegan alternative that can be served and enjoyed in the same way as the traditional animal version,” reported Werner. “In fact, vegan options are particularly fitting for a holiday that revolves around the Book of Life.” also has “straightforward” recipes for kasha, kugel and tzimmes, she said.

Not all vegan Jews feel compelled to serve traditional holiday foods on Rosh Hashanah.

“We eat a lot of brown rice,” said Stanley Beck of Monroeville. “If we have people over for Rosh Hashanah or Thanksgiving, we will ramp up the rice dish and add raisins, nuts and seeds, or mushrooms and chopped up carrots and celery. That makes it fancier than steamed brown rice.”

Beck noted that for strict vegans, honey — another traditional High Holiday food — is a problem because “it’s exploiting bees.”

Date honey provides an acceptable substitute so that vegans can still dip their apples for the promise of a sweet year. (Recipe follows.)

For those thinking about changing their diets for ethical reasons, Rosh Hashanah is a good time to begin, Cohan said.

“The new year is a very auspicious time to begin to make the transition to a plant-based diet,” Cohan said. “It’s a powerful time to make those positive spiritual changes.”

>>    Vegan Chopped “Liver”

    or Mocked Liver

        from HealthyGirlsKitchen;

    makes 4 cups, serves a crowd


1        17.6-ounce package steamed lentils from Trader Joe’s or 3 cups of water plus 1½ cups of dry lentils (should yield 3 cups cooked lentils)

1        large onion, diced

Vegetable broth for sautéing

1        cup walnuts

1        tablespoon red miso paste

1½ tablespoon low sodium Tamari or     low sodium soy sauce


If you don’t have access to Trader Joe’s precooked lentils, the first thing that you will need to do is cook your lentils. Place lentils and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer lentils for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain lentils. Place a sauté pan (nonstick is best) over medium-high heat and cover the bottom of the pan with vegetable broth. When broth is bubbling, add onion. Cook onion, stirring often, adding a bit more broth and lowering the heat as you go, until onion is translucent and very soft, about 20-30 minutes. By the end of the process, your heat should be on low and the onions will be soft and no liquid will be left. Place walnuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “s” blade. Pulse walnuts a few times until they are chopped. Add lentils, onions, red miso paste and Tamari or soy sauce and puree until smooth. Refrigerate for a few hours and serve.

>>    Date Syrup



1        cup dates

1½    cups water

1         teaspoon lemon juice (optional)


Blend all the ingredients in a blender until smooth. Keep the syrup in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

>>    Brisket: Peppercorn and

    Red Wine Braised



2        cups reserved “beef” seitan broth

3        tablespoons mixed whole peppercorns, crushed

3        tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1        tablespoon garlic powder

2        tablespoons olive oil

1        cup carrots, sliced

4        red potatoes, quartered

3        shallots, quartered

8        cloves garlic, peeled

¼        cup tomato paste

2        dried Turkish bay leaves

1½    teaspoon dried thyme

1½     teaspoon paprika

2        tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

2        cups kosher red wine

2        cups vital wheat gluten

2        cups water

1         teaspoon Better Than Bouillon No Beef Broth paste, not diluted in water

3½    tablespoons Mimic Creme

8        cups Better Than Bouillon No Beef Broth (8 tsp. paste diluted in water)

6        dried shitake mushrooms

1⁄8        cup tamari

1        portabella mushroom cap, chopped

2        tablespoons onion powder

2        bay leaves


Add the 8 cups of broth, the mushrooms, the tamari, the portabella cap, the onion powder and bay leaves to a large pot and bring to a boil. Now, it’s time to make homemade seitan. You are more than welcome to buy premade seitan at the grocery store and skip this next section. Homemade seitan: While it’s heating up, mix together the wheat gluten, the bouillon paste, the water and Mimic Creme in a stand mixer. Don’t over mix. The seitan should be soft, but should hold together in a large ball. Shape into one large “roast” shape, and drop into the boiling broth. Let it cook for one hour and 15 minutes. Using tongs, remove the “brisket” from the broth, and place in a colander to drain. Don’t throw away the broth. You need at least two cups for the braising process. Season drained “brisket” (or store-bought seitan) all over with salt and crushed peppercorns. In a shallow dish, with a spoon, combine flour and garlic powder. Roll brisket in flour mixture to coat. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add “brisket” and cook for five minutes on each side, or until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate or platter. Reduce heat to medium, and add the peeled garlic, carrots, potatoes, shallots, and rosemary, stirring often, until golden, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and stir to pick up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the tomato paste, paprika and add the bay leaves and thyme. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook rapidly, stirring often, until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour in the stock and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add the brisket. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 1½ hours. Transfer to a shallow casserole dish, slice and serve.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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