Going gluten-free for Rosh Hashanah

Sweet Potato Kugel

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

A traditional Rosh Hashanah meal is highlighted by chewy challah, light-as-air matzah balls, rich noodle kugel, and, of course, an array of delicious cakes, cookies, and chocolates. I can’t wait. 

However, for those with Celiac disease or an allergic reaction to gluten, these traditional holiday foods are cause for concern. Medical science has identified gluten (which is the composite of two proteins found in wheat, rye, and triticale) as the source of a variety of painful and sometimes life-threatening gastrointestinal symptoms.

Celiac disease afflicts one in every 133 people, with symptoms ranging from weight loss, constipation, fatigue, and bloating. Interestingly, researchers have found that the disease is more common among Jews of Ashkenazi heritage. For others without the disease, a sensitivity to gluten can cause some of those same symptoms. Additionally, people with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, claim to feel better when avoiding gluten.

Jennifer Robins, who lives in the Washington D.C. area, is one of those people. The blogger behind predominantlypaleo.com, and co-author of “The New Yiddish Kitchen: Gluten-Free and Paleo Kosher Recipes for the Holidays and Every Day,” Robins was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, an autoimmune disorder, following the birth of her two children. In an effort to avoid over-medicating, she began researching healing diets, most of which avoided gluten, refined sugar, and dairy products. I spoke with her last week by phone.

“I started my own blog as a journal of my learning and cooking experiences,” she said. “Every bite of food can either help or hurt. What do you need out of that bite of food? That was what I asked myself.”


Along with co-author Simone Miller, Robins searched for Jewish holiday recipes to share on their blogs. As she discovered, there wasn’t much out there. 

“We became passionately inspired to re-create some childhood (and adulthood) favorites,” they write in the introduction to their book. “We wanted to take the traditional holiday delights, as well as everyday Jewish staples, and make them edible again for those with food restrictions like ours.” 

Over the past few years, I have been teaching paleo and gluten-free classes at the Kitchen Conservatory. Many of my students have embraced a gluten-free lifestyle. Some do so to address specific health concerns. Others cite an effort to maximize energy for fitness training. And some see it as a sensible way to lose weight. I would bet there are a few people in your family or on your holiday guest list who share some of these same concerns or goals. 

The recipes in “The New Yiddish Kitchen” are easy to follow, and most of the ingredients are available in St. Louis in supermarkets and health food stores. While many components of your meal may already be gluten-free (such as chicken soup, roast chicken, or brisket), enhancing your menu with a few delicious gluten-free options is certain to make your festive meal memorable for everyone.

Here are a few gluten-free recipes to try, including one for a challah that my dear friend Carol Rubin has brilliantly modified from the recipe in “The New Yiddish Kitchen” by (1) finding good substitutes for two of the harder-to-find ingredients, and (2) perfecting a method for baking a festive challah in a standard spring-form pan.

Shanah Tovah.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]