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A Rosh Hashanah Meal With Meaning

Recipes featuring the Talmud’s five ingredients for a sweet new year

Rachel Harkham
September 19, 2014
Photo by the author
Rosh Hashanah Beans n' Greens. Photo by the author
Photo by the author
Rosh Hashanah Beans n' Greens. Photo by the author

A Rosh Hashanah meal shared with family and friends is one of the first acts of the New Year, and it’s as positive and life affirming an act one can perform. After all, nothing says ‘We’re here, we made it through another year, L’Chaim!’ like a festive meal shared and savored with loved ones.

There are five foods the Talmud says we should eat on Rosh Hashanah to ensure a year of good fortune: gourds, black-eyed peas, leeks, beets, and dates. These foods all have names that are a play on words for a particular wish for the new year: For example, the Hebrew word for dates is tamar, which sounds like yitamu, which means ‘to be removed’—as in, remove our foes from our midst.

With these auspicious ingredients in mind I’ve put together a Rosh Hashanah menu sure to start the year off right. I’ve added a few familiar symbolic flavors as well, because you can’t have too much of a good (and delicious) thing.

To start: Pureed Beets and Mashed Butternut Squash Crostini. The two vegetables are prepared so that their inherent sweetness becomes the dish’s focal point; pureed (or alternately, mashed) to a smooth and thick consistency then spread atop crunchy crostini rounds. A layer of onion confit, hummus, or goat cheese provides a piquant contrast, and the tangy apple fennel salad served on the side will guarantee that the first bites of your New Year are loaded with exuberant flavor.

For the main course: Pomegranate Marmalade Fish. The pomegranate molasses is mixed with honey to create an irresistible sweet-sour taste profile.

On the side: The Leek and Black Eyed Peas side dish is a symbolic Jewish twist on the Southern staple Beans n’ Greens. It’s a healthy option with a subtle garlic overtone that plays nicely with the faint bitterness of the spinach, gentle sweetness of the leeks, and solid earthiness of the black eyed peas.

For dessert: Of course, the sweet tradition of apples and honey. In this Apple and Sticky Date Cake, chopped dates are tossed into the batter along with a fresh grated apple. Honey Cardamom Caramel Sauce is the perfect complement to this cozy autumnal dessert, the ever-so-slight bitterness of the caramel balances out the sweetness of the chopped dates. The cardamom adds a dash of exotic spice, and the honey? It’s unrepentantly sweet, for a sweet new year. (If you prefer to double down on the dates, use Silan (date syrup) in place of honey in the sauce)

Best wishes for a delicious new year.

Beets and Mashed Butternut Squash Crostini (P)

1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/4 – 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
2 large clove garlic, halved lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange baguette slices evenly on baking sheet, making sure not to overlap.

Brush olive oil lightly over the front and back of each slice. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Place in middle rack of oven, bake for 20 minutes. Rotating baking sheet at the 10-minute point.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool briefly. Once cooled, rub each crostini with the cut side of the halved garlic clove.

Onion Confit (P)
Makes 11/4 cups

2 tablespoon olive oil
3 medium onions (about 3 cups), peeled, cut in half, sliced into thin half-moons
Salt & pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 cup vegetable stock

Heat oil in a large frying pan, until it slides easily across pan. Add onion slices and stir so that each half-ring is coated in a thin sheen of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 25-30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring every so often, until onions are limp but not browned (they will be soft and light yellow).

Mix in vinegar, honey, and vegetable stock. Cook until most liquid has evaporated (approximately half an hour).

(May be stored covered in the fridge for up to a week. Also tastes great on sandwiches, salads, and with noodles.)

Mashed Butternut Squash (P)
Makes approx. 1 cup

1 small butternut squash (1 1/2 – 2 lbs. or 4 cups), peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place oven rack in top third of oven.

Toss squash in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread out evenly over greased baking tray. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the tip of a knife easily pierces through squash.

Allow to cool. Place in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, and mash with a fork or a potato masher, to a smooth consistency. Garnish with red pepper flakes, if you want a bit of a kick. Cover and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Can be made one day ahead.

Pureed Beets (P)
Makes approx. 1 cup

1 bunch of beets, (3-4) washed and trimmed of its stems
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Black pepper

Put the beets in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and let boil for 45-50 minutes, replenishing water as needed so that the beets are always covered. They are ready when a toothpick/skewer slides easily through them.

Drain and let cool, peel off skin. Coarsely chop beets and place in food processor or blender with red wine vinegar and process until smooth. Season with pepper. Cover and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Can be made one day ahead.

Apple-Fennel Salad with Tangy Vinaigrette Dressing (P)
Yields 6-8 servings

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed of its fronds
2 apples, halved and cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 oz. lettuce greens of choice (arugula, baby spinach, frisee, romaine: all good choices)
Slice fennel bulb as thinly as possible. Toss in a large bowl or on a platter with apple slices and chopped lettuce/s. Drizzle with Tangy Honey Mustard Vinaigrette (below).
Tangy Honey Mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon sriracha or hot sauce (optional)
6-8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a jar or cruet shake together mustard, vinegar, honey, and hot sauce, if using, until combined. Pour in olive oil and shake well until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pomegranate Marmaladen Fish (P)
Yields 6-8 main course servings

Pomegranate Molasses, also known as Pomegranate Concentrate, can be found in Middle Eastern markets, and some kosher supermarkets and gourmet food Stores. I have included a recipe below if you’d like to make your own version from pomegranate juice. It keeps in the fridge for up to a year (!) and can be switched in for vinegar if you’d like to add Middle Eastern flavor to a recipe.

1 tablespoon Safflower or canola oil + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, medium dice
2 garlic cloves (1 tablespoon), coarsely chopped
1 small tomato, chopped or ½ cup diced canned tomatoes
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup vegetable stock
Salt & Pepper, to taste
2-3 lb. side of salmon or, other firm fleshed fish such as halibut
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet heat oils over medium high heat, add chopped onion and garlic until onion is golden around edges (2-3 minutes). Stir in chopped tomato to the mix, then add pomegranate molasses and honey.

Pour vegetable stock into the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the mixture thickens and has the consistency of marmalade.

Place salmon in a baking pan large enough to contain it. Season with salt and pepper. Cover exposed side thickly with pomegranate marmalade. Sprinkle brown sugar and red pepper flakes (if using) evenly over marmalade.

Cook in oven for 25-30 minutes, or until salmon is prepared to your preferred level of doneness.

This dish can be made ahead and reheated.

Pomegranate Molasses (P)
3 cups pomegranate juice
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan, heat to boiling. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 60 minutes, or until syrupy. If your molasses thickens too much while cooling, just add a little water to thin it out.

Rosh Hashanah Beans n’ Greens (P)
Yields 6-8 side servings

1 tablespoon safflower or canola oil
3 leeks, cleaned, ends trimmed, and chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
10 oz. spinach leaves (about 6 cups)
1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 15.5 oz. can black eyed peas, drained or 1 1/2 cups prepared black eyed peas
1/2 teaspoon each salt & pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add chopped leeks and garlic and sauté until the leeks are golden around edges (about 2-3 minutes). Fold in spinach leaves. Pour in vegetable stock and stir until spinach wilts.

Add black eyed peas to the mixture, season with salt and pepper. Cook until beans are heated through and most of liquid is dissolved.

Apple-Sticky Date Cake with Honey Cardamom Caramel Sauce (P)
Yields 6-8 generous servings.

Serve individual pieces of cake with warm Honey Cardamon Caramel Sauce spooned on top.

1 cup pitted dried dates, chopped
1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 apple, peeled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup coconut oil spread *, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place chopped dates in a small bowl. Dissolve baking soda into hot water, and then pour over the dates. Cover and set aside for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan.

Coarsely grate the peeled apple and add to the bowl containing the dates.

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside momentarily.

In a large bowl cream together coconut oil spread and sugar. Add eggs into batter one a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.

Starting with the flour mixture, and alternating with the apple-date mixture, mix into the batter with a wooden spoon in increments, ending with the flour mixture.

Pour into prepared baking pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown, and the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Honey Cardamom Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey or silan date syrup**
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium-sized heavy saucepan mix together sugar with honey or silan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes, it will bubble and froth and might be difficult to decipher the color of the caramel. A good way to ascertain the color is to drip a few drops onto a white background (parchment paper, white plate). It is ready for the next step when the mixture is a deep amber and smells like caramel.

Remove pan from the heat and carefully pour in the coconut milk, it will froth up. With a wooden spoon mix the caramel until a thick syrup results. Return to heat, but lower to a simmer. Add vanilla and cardamom, mix well. Stir in salt. Let simmer for an additional minute.

*Coconut Oil Spread can be found in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets and most health food stores.
**Silan can be found in some Kosher markets in the Israeli products section.

The Recipes

Apple-Sticky Date Cake with Honey Cardamom Caramel Sauce (P)

Beets and Mashed Butternut Squash Crostini (P)

Apple-Fennel Salad with Tangy Vinaigrette Dressing (P)

Pomegranate Marmaladen Fish

Rosh Hashanah Beans n’ Greens

Rosh Hashanah Beans n’ Greens

Rachel Harkham is the author of Get Cooking! A Jewish American Family Cookbook. You can find more of her recipes here.