Feast at Rosh Hashanah on foods filled with symbolism

On Sunday, at sundown, Jews will begin the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, which marks the start of the Jewish New Year.

The shofar, a trumpet fashioned from a ram’s horn, will be blown, a reminder to repent for the past year’s sins. The first fruits of the year will be celebrated. Fresh apple slices are dipped in honey to ensure a sweet new year. Some people break open a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility and perhaps unlimited possibilities, to share it with others.

Rosh Hashanah, celebrated for two days, also “begins a 10-day period of transition, concentrated introspection, prayer and inner transformation leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement,” writes Rabbi Gil Marks, in “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.”

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Judgment, is the most solemn of the High Holy Days. Jews fast, reflect and attend synagogue services. For some, it’s also a day to remember loved ones, now departed, at a service called Yizkor.

Conversely, Rosh Hashanah, also known as the head of the year, is a day for joy and feasting. Mr. Marks notes that it’s the holiday with the most symbolic foods. These foods are eaten for luck, to make certain that we look forward and not backward. Some eat fish, as a hope for abundance and fertility. Challahs are round instead of long loaves, and they’re often studded with fruit. Pieces are broken off and dipped in honey. It’s a sweet custom.

Two new books on Jewish food will help to make this occasion even more joyous for you and your family. Both are beautifully photographed and contain fresh twists on favorites.

Amelia Saltsman begins her stunning book, “The Seasonal Jewish Table,” with the fall holidays, at the New Year. Other dishes perfect for early fall include Roasted Autumn Fruit; Pure and Simple Brisket; and Matboucha. Matboucha is a Moroccan tomato-chili preparation know as a “salad cuite” or cooked salad. Thick and savory, it’s often served on a mezza platter. What a great use for those last garden tomatoes. If you put it in a skillet and cook eggs in it, it becomes another dish, popular in Israel called shashuka.

Kim Kushner’s book, “The New Kosher,” has a more standard organization, basically from soups to “Favorite Sweets.” There are striking photos and a selection of intriguing salads, including Shredded Romaine with Seeds and Sweet Onion Vinaigrette. Ms. Kushner’s One-Pot Chicken Soup with Seasonal Vegetables is a must for cooler weather. If the newly planted radishes take hold in the garden, next up will be Addictive Pickled Carrots and Radishes with Indian Spices.

Either of these books would be a perfect holiday gift for your host or yourself. The following recipes could be made ahead, so having the family over for Rosh Hashanah will be stress-free and joyful.

Happy Holidays!

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Aunt Sarah’s Honey and Apple Cake

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Honey and apples are the quintessential symbol of Rosh Hashanah. The slices are dipped into honey and eaten to celebrate the first fruits and the sweetness of the new year. I didn’t have dark honey, so I used a flavorful local one with excellent results. The author also suggests using caramelized honey, “a byproduct from heating honeycomb to extract all the honey,” which may be available from a local source.

1 cup mild oil, such as grapeseed, safflower or avocado, plus more for the pan (I used canola oil)

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup dark honey, such as chestnut or buckwheat

1 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

3/4 pound tart apples (about 2 large), such as Granny Smith, peeled, halved, cored and grated on large holes of a box grater (I used Ginger Gold apples)

1 cup hot brewed black coffee

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. 

In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves. In very large bowl, using wooden spoon, beat together honey, oil, sugar, eggs and grated apples until well mixed. Add flour mixture in three batches alternating with coffee, beginning and ending with flour mixture, stirring after each addition until batter is smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with moist crumbs), about 35 minutes for loaf pans and 50 to 55 minutes for the Bundt pan. Let cool completely in pan(s) on a wire rack. Unmold, wrap and store overnight at room temperature before serving.

Makes 1 Bundt cake or 2 loaf cakes, 12 to 16 servings.

— Adapted from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition” by Amelia Saltsman (Sterling, 2015, $29.95).

Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato Tzimmes

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Cookbook author Amelia Saltsman writes, "Tzimmes is an Eastern European stew of carrots and/or sweet potatoes and prunes traditionally cooked with beef flanken, often sweetened with brown or white sugar and sometimes thickened with flour. In Yiddish, the word tzimmes means "a big fuss," probably because of all the work required to make the old-style dish. This version couldn't be easier."

6 to 8 oranges

1 lemon

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks, halved if carrots are fat

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in bite-size chunks

1 pound shallots (about 8 large), peeled and quartered

1/2 to 3/4 pound dried plums or pitted prunes (vary depending on how sweet and fruity you want the dish), snipped in half

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white or black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest in large strips from 2 oranges and the lemon. Juice oranges to yield 2½ cups juice. Reserve lemon for another use.

Place carrots, sweet potatoes, shallots, prunes and citrus zests in roasting pan large enough to hold all in more or less a single layer. Toss with oil to coat evenly, season with salt and pepper, and pour juice over all.

Roast, turning vegetables once or twice, until tender and browned in places and most juice is absorbed, about 1¼ hours. For a saucier finished dish, add another ½ to 1 cup juice during last 20 minutes of cooking, until slightly thickened. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

— Adapted from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition” by Amelia Saltsman (Sterling, 2015, $29.95).

Lentil Soup with Carrots, Lemon and Greens

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During Rosh Hashanah, carrots are symbolic because they are sweet. Cut into rounds, they resemble gold coins. This soup is even better if made ahead; it freezes well.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 yellow onions, diced

3 medium carrots, peeled and diced or cut into rounds

2 ribs celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 cup brown or pink lentils, picked over and rinsed

1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice (I used 1 ½ cups chopped fresh tomatoes)

8 cups water or vegetable or chicken stock 

1 lemon, scrubbed and sliced, seeds removed

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon sweet paprika (optional)

2 handfuls of kale, spinach or other greens, torn into small pieces

In large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder until well combined.

Add lentils, tomatoes, water (or broth) and lemon slices; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium, cover partially, and cook until lentils are tender not mushy, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove from heat and discard lemon slices, if desired. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in paprika, if using. Add kale and cover tightly just long enough to wilt kale. Serve hot.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

— Adapted from “The New Kosher: Simple Recipes to Savor & Share” by Kim Kushner (Weldon Owen, 2015, $35).

Lime and Sesame-Soy Chicken

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Good hot or at room temperature, this super-flavorful and easy chicken dish can be doubled for a bigger crowd.

1 chicken, about 3½ pounds cut into 8–10 pieces, or 8–10 bone-in chicken pieces of your choice, about 3 pounds, skin on or boneless

1 tablespoon onion powder

Juice of 2 limes

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons peach or apricot preserves

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Place chicken in large bowl and sprinkle with onion powder. Add lime juice, soy sauce and preserves and use your hands to combine well, coating each piece evenly. Add bay leaves and sprinkle sesame seeds evenly over. Cover and marinate at room temperature 30 minutes or in the fridge up to 24 hours. Discard bay leaves before cooking.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange chicken in a single layer in roasting pan and add any marinade. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes. Turn pieces over, baste and roast until cooked through, 10 to 20 minutes longer. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Adapted from “The New Kosher: Simple Recipes to Savor & Share” by Kim Kushner (Weldon Owen, 2015, $35).


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