Add Unexpected Dishes to Your Rosh Hashanah Table with These Tips from an Expert with the Jewish Food Society
For many Ashkenazi Jews (whose origins usually go back to Eastern Europe), the High Holidays mean sticking with traditional foods like apples and honey, round challah with raisins, matzah ball soup, brisket, and tzimmes. And although those foods are all delicious, you might be ready to add some new and unexpected accents to add to your holiday dinner table this year. If you're looking to spice up your Rosh Hashanah menu, you may be interested in exploring the foods and customs from Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews, who typically come from the Iberian Peninsula, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, North Africa, India, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. While all Jewish people share the tradition eating apples and honey, families hailing from places like Morocco, Mexico, and Tunisia have a whole menu of dishes that might be all new to you—and they're absolutely delicious.
We chatted with Naama Shefi, the executive director of the Jewish Food Society, a nonprofit organization in New York City dedicated to preserving Jewish food traditions from around the world, for information and ideas. "I love how each family (not even each community) has a holiday menu that is a direct reflection of the local food traditions in their origin (together with kosher and holiday rules), but also of their unique journey and circumstances," says Shefi. To prove her point, she shares the story of a woman who grew up in Poland and then moved to Veracruz, Mexico, before World War II. "Her traditional gefilte fish 'met' new ingredients, and in her family it's served warm (instead of cold), with red sauce and chiles. She also made a matzo ball soup for Rosh Hashanah with lime and fresh cilantro."
Sometimes, spicing things up simply requires learning about and being inspired by other cultures. An easy way to add a new twist to your Rosh Hashanah meal is to add a Sephardic Seder. (Yes, we know it's not Passover, but Sephardic Jews have a longstanding tradition to have a Seder on Rosh Hashanah as well.) Completely different than the Passover Seder, the Seder on Rosh Hashanah involves serving a series of foods that via their Hebrew names or taste hint at the hopes and blessings for the new year.
Beets, beet greens, or Swiss chard leaves symbolize the wish that our enemies disappear, says Shefi. "A few years ago we shared a Tunisian recipe for golden Swiss-chard and herb fritters by Renana Shvil, whose mother immigrated from Tunisia to Israel," says Shefi. "I now prepare it every year for the holiday and make it with fresh dill, parsley, or whatever looks good at the market. It's an easy recipe that everyone can design according to their taste and add to their holiday menu." Leek fritters are also popular in Sephardic cuisine, and leeks are another part of the Sephardic Seder. "My husband's grandmother, who was born in Izmir, Turkey, used to make them for the holiday," says Shefi.
Beans are another ingredient in the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder, and they symbolize a wish for prosperity and that our rights will multiply. "A few years ago, a family with Yemenite roots shared with us a recipe for Yemenite soup made with beef and white beans," says Shefi. "This year we will share a recipe of green beans in a sharp and sweet tomato sauce from a London-based family with roots in India and Baghdad."
The final part of the Rosh Hashanah Seder is a lamb, beef, or fish head, and Shefi says that some families eat beef cheeks to fulfill the wish, "May we be the head and not the tail." And if you're looking for a way to add a new dish to your meal before the start of the Yom Kippur fast, Shefi suggests this Moroccan lemon chicken, which involves making a velvety sauce from egg yolks and lemon juice.