Essig Fleish and the Meaning of Life

Of all Rosh Hashana foods, this is the most significant, at least in my family tradition. It is only made once a year, and it requires plenty of time and patience. The name, derived from German, actually means “vinegared meat”, but there is no vinegar involved. It is rather sweet, especially in my grandmother’s interpretation, but there is also a sour note, provided by lemon juice or sour salt. Therefore, another name for it is Zis Und Zovar Fleish (Sweet and Sour Meat). Although there are many Essig Fleish recipes, I have not seen one like ours anywhere. I have tasted something very similar on two separate occasions, both times in Sephardic restaurants, and both of them had the same two out of three elements of my recipe present, and one missing. Oh, and both were made of lamb, rather than beef, which is what my grandmother had claimed it should’ve been but was never available.

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The first element is your basic beef stew. I supplement chuck roast by neck bones not only because I like bones much more than meat itself, but also because they add richness to the overall flavor.

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Onions are minced very fine and sauteed until you get a lightly golden creamy mess, almost a paste. That takes a couple of hours.

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Cube the meat and add it to the onions together with bones. Stir the whole thing, making sure meat is covered by sauteed onions.

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Once the meat is seared, losing most of its red color, add water to cover it, and reduce the heat to simmering. You’ll simmer it, stirring often and adding water, if needed, for another couple of hours, until the meat literally falls off the bones.


Only when the meat is fully cooked, you can add the stuff that gave it its name, sweet and sour: prune butter, tomato sauce, and lemon juice, supplemented by sugar or substitute.  “Ot azoy ist der leybn (this is how life is), – used to say my grandmother at this point, – and add with a sigh, – gamzeletoiveh!” The last word I couldn’t understand, and it didn’t even sound Yiddish to me. I’ve asked both grandparents, and all I got was “zein git“!  That was already encouraging, as it means “it’ll be good.” It made sense to me, as a child, to say first “this is how life is,” and then add something positive and optimistic. It gave me a good feeling!


Only as a teenager, studying illegally obtained books and gaining forbidden in communist Russia knowledge, did I learn about the legendary Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva who lived during the Roman occupation of Palestine and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  As Rabbi Akiva was on his way to the city of Betar to meet with the leader of Jewish insurrection, Bar Kochba, his old donkey collapsed and died. On foot, he didn’t make it to Betar before nightfall, so he had to camp out in the forest. His belongings, besides the poor dead donkey, consisted of a candle, to enable him to learn, and a rooster, to wake him up in time for the morning prayer.

Well, the donkey was dead already. The candle eventually burned down, and the rooster was eaten by a fox during the night. As a result, Rabbi Akiva overslept. It is when he woke up and found that the last of his meager possessions were gone, that he remember his teacher who used to say, “Gam ze le toivo” – and this is good.  When he finally made his way to Betar, he discovered that the city had been raided by the Romans during the night and all population killed, as a punishment for harboring the rebels. Had his donkey survived the trip, he would’ve made it to Betar and gotten killed. Had his candle not burned down, Roman soldiers might have found him in the forest. Had the rooster crowed at sunrise, he would’ve certainly been discovered and executed. Thus losing everything he owned turned out to have saved his life! No wonder the phrase became famous, eventually morphing into a word nobody understood but everyone repeated.

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Meanwhile,the meat is happily cooking, and we have to prepare the second element, the one missing in both restaurant renditions – tefteli. These are your ordinary meatballs, Beautiful People, and how they arrived into my grandmother’s Essig Fleish, I have no idea, but the combination works! Just mix some brown rice with ground meat (I use lean turkey) and a couple of eggs and form balls the size of ping-pong balls.

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Gently drop them into the simmering meat stew, making sure not to break them, and prepare the third and last element.

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This is when you want to get your kids involved: stuffing pitted dry prunes with walnuts. Granted, half of both will end up in their stomachs, but they’d be snacking on good stuff!

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Add the third element, stuffed prunes, to the first too, and simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes or so. Do not stir any more, but add enough water, if necessary. Adjust the taste by adding either more sweetener or more lemon juice.  I am cooking it in a huge cast iron pot with a rounded bottom that my grandmother brought back from Tashkent after the war. Uzbeki use them to make plov, and that’s why we kids dubbed it “Uzbekian” pot.  It is best for meat stews as nothing sticks to it.


This is life, zis und zovar, sweet and sour, like this stew, and everything eventually will be well, as per Rabbi Akiva and my grandmother.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy and sweet New Year, I am leaving you with another famous Rabbi Akiva’s saying:


The dissemination of all my holiday recipes to a wider audience has been made possible through a valiant effort of Esme, The Recipe Hunter, of, and her fantastic Recipe Exchange program. Thank you again, dear Esme, for performing this vitally important service for the community.


  • 2 lbs chuck roast combined with neck or rib bones
  • 1 lb ground lean meat or turkey
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (1/2 cup uncooked)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 large or 3 medium onions
  • 1 /2 cup pitted dry prunes
  • 1/2 cup walnut quarters
  • 1 cup Prune Butter (Lekvar) or any other thick dark jam
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon sour salt
  • Sugar or substitute to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Finely mince onions, saute until lightly golden and creamy.
  • Add cubed meat and bones. Mix. Sear meat, add water to cover meat and bones, reduce heat to simmering. Simmer,stirring often, until meat is fully cooked and very tender. Add water if necessary.
  • Add prune butter, tomato sauce, lemon juice, sweetener. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well, add water, bring to boil, reduce to simmering. Adjust sweetener and seasoning, if needed.
  • Mix ground meat with brown rice and eggs, Form balls the size of ping-pong balls. Gently place balls into simmering stew.
  • Stuff prunes with walnuts. Add to pot. Cover, simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Do not stir, otherwise you might break the meatballs.





44 Comments Add yours

  1. Dolly – this one to be released at midnight (Vancouver, Canada) time tonight.
    Thanks for all your support, and all the best to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much – you are the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wish I knew how to use emoticons,but I have to resort to words: love and blessings!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Easy. I can help you with it later on.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you – when you and I both take a deep breath after this holiday marathon.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. All good – Have a wonderful time Dolly.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’ll still send you two more holiday dessert recipes, but if you can’t squeeze them in, don’t worry! You’ve gone above and beyond doing service to the community.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Send Dolly, send them I will do my best. If you can send them tonight then I can still get them in tonight, because I will be only be back again on Sunday evening

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sherrie says:

    Wow, the photos are just to die for. I can’t even imagine how fantastic this must taste!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It is a taste of heaven; that’s why we only make it once a year.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tali says:

    Sounds like a wonderful dish! It reminds me a little of a Morrocan dish I once ate.
    Chag Sameach!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, we had it in Moroccan restaurants both times. Shana Tova u’Metuka!


  4. This recipe is a work of art and a labor of love. Just reading about it, I can feel it. G’mar tov!🍎🍯

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, same to you! K’siva v’Chasima Toiva!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And to the entire Klal Isroel!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am just so worried as reports are coming in – with the crowds attending the funeral in Jerusalem, it’s such a dangerous situation in terms of terrorist acts Has v’Sholom!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. True. When all else fails, emunah is the answer.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovey says:

    How are you so amazing? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think I am, really! But thank you just the same!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lovey says:

        I think you are wonderful 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much,dear Esme! I am sending all kinds of blessings your way!


  6. Reblogged this on koolkosherkitchen and commented:

    The high pint of this holiday feast is the main course traditionally made for Rosh Hashana in my family. Read on to find out the significance of this complex and meaningful stew. Enjoy!


  7. Laura M. Bailey says:

    I do so love your recipes but your stories and commentary are the heart and soul of it. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Laura; you made my day!


  8. weggieboy says:

    Oh my! This is the most interesting recipe I have ever seen! I couldn’t make it unless I wanted to eat it for days on end, but there is one little detail I can make (and eat for my own good!) and that’s the walnut-stuffed prunes. I think I’d like it with pecans, too, though the astringency of the walnuts probably works better with the concentrated sweetness of the prunes. Figs might work well stuffed this way, too. Yum! Lucky family that gets this served this meaty recipe, Dolly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Doug, for your kind comment! Walnuts are called “kings of the nuts” in Hebrew, so there must be a reason for it. Walnut-stuffed prunes are also very good with sour cream (in my case, Tofutti non-dairy sour cream) and some fresh mint leaves. Don’t know about figs, but dates are usually stuffed with almonds, in my daughter-in-law’s Moroccan way. I should try stuffing figs – thank you for the idea.


      1. weggieboy says:

        Both sound tasty and would satisfy that desire for a sweet (but healthy) treat!


      2. I am glad you like the idea, Doug. Enjoy!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. weggieboy says:

        You are an inspiration, Dolly. I like the way you substitute and improvise, something the best of cooks and chefs do routinely to good effect!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You are too sweet, dear friend!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. That sounds really tasty, too! I should try the walnuts first, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Doug. Please let me know how you like it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. weggieboy says:

        I’ll try to remember since I don’t have any on hand at the moment.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. A beautiful story. Happy New Year, Dolly! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Anna! Many blessings to you!

      Liked by 1 person

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