Have you ever noticed how many of the holidays we love the most are accompanied by special foods? After all, what's a celebration without something delicious?

When it comes to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (literally, "the head of the year"), one of the main celebratory recipes on family tables is braised brisket of beef. It traces back to home-style central European cooking, and favorite brisket recipes often combine traditional sweet and sour notes by including dried fruit and wine or even vinegar, as well as a hint of spice from the paprika you find in so Hungarian and Austrian kitchens.

The brisket recipe I share this year also adds a noteworthy American touch to Old Country traditions. Yes, there's sweetness, from tomatoes and dark-brown sugar. And the sour element is present in cider vinegar, whose acidity also helps to tenderize the meat. But I also include generous sprinkles of chili powder (I call for mild, but you could go for a hotter product if you know everyone at the table will like it) and an intriguing hint of cinnamon. The result may remind you of barbecue sauce -- and certainly open your eyes to the fact that American cooking is, after all, a melting pot of flavors and preparations from other cultures. Feel free to add your own favorite ingredients to the recipe, too; I know many people, for example, for whom a brisket is not a brisket unless you smother it with sliced onion before it starts cooking.

Speaking of the brisket, be sure to check with your market or butcher shop and order it well ahead of time; there can be a serious run on good briskets leading up to Rosh Hashanah. When you order yours, ask for what's known as a first cut or flat cut, the more rectangular, leaner portion of the muscle, rather than the more triangular-shaped, fattier second or point cut.

Read through the recipe and allow yourself enough time to cook the brisket before you plan to serve your Rosh Hashanah dinner (or any autumn or winter dinner). Fortunately, a braised brisket tastes all the better, and becomes even easier to carve, if you cook it the day before. Once it's fork tender, let the brisket cool and refrigerate it in its cooking liquid. Then, the next afternoon, skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface, carve the cold brisket, and then arrange the slices in a baking dish, add the sauce, cover with foil, and warm for half an hour or so in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven.

I wish you and your family a happy Rosh Hashanah, and delicious eating in the year ahead.

Sweet-and-Sour Braised Brisket Recipe

Serves 12

2 medium shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 teaspoons mild pure chili powder

4 teaspoons smoked paprika or mild Hungarian paprika

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 pounds first-cut (or flat-cut) brisket, trimmed of fat

14 ounces no-salt-added canned diced tomatoes

1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

Chopped Italian (flat-leafed) parsley, for garnish

In a small bowl, stir together the shallots, garlic, chili powder, paprika, cinnamon, oregano, and salt. Place the brisket in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Rub the seasoning mixture thoroughly into both sides of the meat. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and leave the brisket to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or as long as overnight.

About 4-1/2 hours before serving time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the plastic wrap from the baking pan, cover securely with aluminum foil, and bake the brisket for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a large blender or a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade, combine the tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Blend or process until smoothly pureed.

After 2 hours of cooking, carefully uncover the baking dish, lifting the foil away from you to avoid the steam. Pour the tomato mixture over the meat. Cover the dish with foil again and continue cooking in the oven for about 1-1/2 hours longer, basting with the pan juices every 30 minutes, until the meat is fork-tender.

Using large, sturdy spatulas or spoons, carefully remove the brisket from the sauce, transferring it to a cutting board; cover with aluminum foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, using a large spoon, carefully skim away and discard the fat floating on the surface of the sauce in the pan.

Uncover the brisket and, steadying it with a carving fork, use a large, sharp carving knife to cut the meat across the grain into slices about 1/4 inch thick, arranging the slices on a warm serving platter. Spoon the sauce from the baking dish over the meat, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.


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Sweet-and-Sour Braised Brisket

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