Food is important to Jews (and that’s putting it lightly). With each bite of everyday cultural food or holiday meals, Jews get the opportunity to connect with centuries-old traditions and celebrate our beautiful community.
But, as the Jewish community prepares for the upcoming High Holiday season, especially their menus, not all of us will be celebrating 5782 with apples and honey, honey cake and brisket.
In fact, there’s much, much more to Rosh Hashanah cuisine than those foods. Jews from all over the world, from all kinds of cultural backgrounds, have their own dishes for celebrating Rosh Hashanah, all delicious and packed with both flavor and meaning.
Let’s take some time to appreciate (and eat!) them.
Couscous with seven vegetables
For Moroccan and other North African Jews, couscous with seven vegetables is a traditional Rosh Hashanah dish, imbued with symbolism.
The seven vegetables (in this recipe they are onions, carrots, squash, zucchini, turnips, tomatoes and chickpeas, but can be any variation of late summer vegetables) are supposed to bring luck for the coming new year. Additionally, the numerous grains of couscous represent a new year with countless blessings.
As you can imagine, this dish is overflowing with spice. With flavor profiles from cinnamon, paprika, ginger, cayenne and the North African spice blend ras el-hanout, the couscous and vegetables will guarantee anyone a floral and fragrant 5782.
Find the recipe here.
Mini almond and grape crostatas
In Cuba, the Gregorian new year is marked by eating 12 grapes (one for each month) at midnight.
While this tradition isn’t rooted in Jewish culture — the practice may have been instituted in Spain when grape growers had a surplus of fruit — that doesn’t mean it can’t be now.
Cuban Jewish chef Jennifer Stempel’s mini almond and grape crostatas speak to both her identities and might just be the perfect Rosh Hashanah pastry. (And if you’re wondering, yes, one serving does include 12 whole grapes!)
Find the recipe here.
Pomegranates are an important part of Jewish culture, representing life, fertility and the 613 commandments.
However, it seems to be Georgian Jews (the country, not the state) who have mastered taking the fruit and transforming it into cuisine. The prime example of this is the Georgian tradition of cooking chicken in pomegranate juice or molasses for Rosh Hashanah.
Instead of separating flavor profiles, this slow-cooked dish infuses the already richly flavored chicken with a sweet and juicy tang. Beyond the deliciousness, Georgian pomegranate chicken also reflects the multiculturalism of Georgian Jewish culture, with ingredients like the pomegranate molasses and tamarind demonstrating Persian Jewish and Asian influence, respectively.
You can find the full recipe here.
Syrian seder fare
For Ashkenazi Jews, seders only happen once a year at Passover. But for Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, the first seder of the Jewish year is held during Rosh Hashanah!
During the meal, participants say blessings over and then, of course, eat foods like beets (for protection against enemies), pomegranate (for good luck), beans (to increase merits), and part of an animal’s head (to finish the year on top). The Rosh Hashanah seder has been around since Jews lived in the Babylonian Empire — in fact, the blessings over the food were originally written in Aramaic.
Syrian Jewish chef Alicia Assa’s go-to Rosh Hashanah meal incorporates these symbolic ingredients across multiple dishes. These include stuffed vegetables in a sweet, fruity sauce, Iranian rice with orange peel and pomegranate, and string beans in tomato sauce.
Find the stuffed vegetable recipe here.
Persian upside-down cake
Another symbolic food served at a Rosh Hashanah seder are dates, which we bless, asking, “May it be your will, God, that enmity will end.”
For a Persian-inspired Rosh Hashanah dessert, Iranian Jewish chef Tannaz Sassooni combines dates with cardamom and rosewater into a delicious upside-down cake.
As Sassooni notes, “It’s a moist and aromatic dessert that pairs perfectly with a glass of amber-colored Persian tea.”
If this cake can’t end hostilities for the new year, surely nothing else can.
Find the recipe here.
In Tunisia, tfina pkaila reigns supreme at the Rosh Hashanah table.
This hearty stew is made by slow cooking spinach, though it can also be made with chard, beet greens or melloukhia, a North African green. The long simmering process boils the green down into its earthy essence, which is then combined with beans and beef shank, and finally served over couscous. Yum!
While Tunisian Jews eat tfina pkaila all year round, this dish may also hold emblematic significance for the new year. During the Rosh Hashanah seder, greens represent a prayer that our enemies may retreat.
You can read more here.