The Rosh Hashanah Seder
Symbolic Foods and Why We Eat Them, With Recipes
As Rosh Hashana approaches, the preparations begin. And at my home, that's an understatement. Getting clothes in order, setting up the seating chart at the synagogue, taking haircuts, you name it! All of these things must be done. And of course, I'm thinking through my menus for the holidays. Naturally, food for such festive meals should be both special, and appropriate to the occasion. But more than that, in a holiday so rich in meaning, it is my pleasure to imbue each dish on my table with the flavor of the Simanim, the symbols of our hopes and prayers for the New Year. At the Rosh Hashana meal we eat foods that are symbolic of our wishes for the coming year.
Most Rosh Hashanah Machzorim have a service for the Simanim, to be celebrated upon return from synagogue on the first night of the holiday. Various symbolic foods are eaten and a short prayer (a יהי רצון - Yehi Ratzon - May it be Your will) that alludes to the symbolism is recited. The Simanim(symbolic) foods vary from minhag to minhag (custom to custom). I have used the foods from the Balkan Ladino Jews of Greece, my husband's minhag. For the Seder of the Simanim, it is important to use the foods in their most easily recognizable form, like the Lady Apple Cordials. However, eating plain pumpkin or leek is not really an option in our house, so we use the recipes here to make the Seder more enjoyable.
When our Simanim Seder is done, we always begin our meal with a special salad I make for us called a Simanim Salad where I bring together all the Simanim from the Seder. Many of the dishes I make for the Seder go on to become part of the meal, like the Lubiya and the leek patties. Some dishes that I make contain elements of the Simanim like the typical Rosh Hashanah dessert, Honey Cake. But however we do them, the most important thing about the Simanim is making our Yehi Ratzones wholeheartedly, deliciously and joyfully. L'shana tova U'metuka! Anyada Buena! A Sweet, Healthy and Happy New Year to you and yours.
(c) 2008 Debby Segura. Debby Segura holds an AB in Design from UCLA. She designs dinnerware and she teaches and writes about cooking. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children. Visit her at www.debbysegura.com
The first Siman, symbol, of our Seder is the Date, for which no recipe is really necessary. Each person eats two dates after making the Bracha and the Yehi Ratzon (some make the blessing on the apple). I try to find fresh dates for the first date, and Medjool dates for the second.
Note: We eat dates in the hopes that our enemies will be destroyed. Dates in Hebrew are תמר, a similar root to consume – שיתמו. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון on dates as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שיתמו שונאינו
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that our enemies be consumed
Lady Apple Cordials
18 Lady Apples (or other variety of small apple)
18 cubes of brown sugar, or more
Scrub each apple until clean and residue-free. With the small end of a melon scoop, remove the stem and seeds of the apple, being careful not to scoop through the bottom of the fruit. If you like, with a paring knife or a vegetable peeler, peel away a narrow border of skin around the rim of the opening. Insert a cube or two of brown sugar into the hollow of each apple. Place the apples in a shallow casserole dish and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. The apples should be soft to the touch yet still retain their form. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Each apple cup should contain the melted brown sugar. My kids used to "click" their apples together, to toast each other L'chaim, before drinking them down!
Note: We eat apples with honey or sugar in the hopes that we will have a sweet new year, just as the apples and honey are sweet. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון on apples, dipped in honey (or sugar), as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שתחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You renew for us a good and a sweet year
Leek Patties with Meat
6 large leeks, roots and dark greens removed
1 pound ground veal, beef, turkey thigh or chicken breast
4 eggs, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white or cayenne pepper
canola oil for frying
Wash leeks well to remove sand. Mince. Place leeks in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and cook until very tender, about 30 minutes. Drain. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Cool.
Combine the leeks with the meat, 3 eggs, salt and pepper and form into small, tablespoon-sized patties. Beat remaining egg. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium flame. Dip each patty first in egg, then in matza meal. Fry in the hot oil unti golden brown on both sides. Taste the first patty and correct seasoning if necessary. Fry the remaining patties and drain them on paper towels. Serve hot, plain or with lemon slices.
Note: We eat leeks in the hopes that our enemies will be destroyed. The Hebrew word for leeks is "Karsi," which sounds like “kares”, to be destroyed. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון on leeks as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שיכרתו שונאינו
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that our enemies be decimated
Lubiya (Black-eyed Peas with Veal)
16 oz. package dried black-eyed peas
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 pounds boneless veal shin, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Dash ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 Cup minced Italian parsley
Sort and clean black-eyed peas well. Soak in cool water for two hours. Drain. Cover with two inches of water and bring to a gentle boil in large, heavy soup pot. Cover pot and reduce heat to allow the peas to simmer for about an hour until the peas are no longer hard, adding more water if necessary to maintain the 2" coverage. Reserve with their water in a large bowl.
In the soup pot, heat oil and saute the garlic until fragrant. Add veal and saute until browned. Add cooked peas with their water, allspice, cinnamon, oregano and paprika. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook 45 minutes until tender. Salt to taste and add parsley. Simmer another ten minutes. Serve with steamed Basmati rice.
Note: We eat black-eyed peas in the hopes that our merits increase and we are purified. This custom to eat black-eyed peas is more Baghdadi. Peas are eaten as a symbol of abundance and fruitfulness (Rubiah – וביאר)
The יהי רצון is listed as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שירבו זכויותנו ותלבוינו
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that our merits increase and that You purify us
Borekas De Calabaza (Pumpkin Turnovers)
Adapted from Sephardic Holiday Cooking by Gilda Angel
Makes 3 dozen
1 can (16 ounces) cooked pumpkin
1 egg, beaten (reserve 2 tablespoons to brush tops of borekas before baking)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 375. In medium bowl, combine filling ingredients and set aside. (Be sure to set aside 2 tablespoons beaten egg.) In a large bowl, combine oil, water, salt and cinnamon. Add flour, 2 cups at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add final ½ cup flour only if necessary, to make dough slightly softer that pie dough.
Form dough into balls about 2 inches in diameter. With rolling pin, roll each into 4-inch circle. Place scant tablespoon of filling near center of each circle. Fold circle in half, sealing edges by pressing your fingers or fork tines.
Combine reserved beaten egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush boreka tops with egg wash. If desired, sprinkle with a mixture of ½ teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheets at 375 for 20-25 minutes.
Note: We eat gourds (the family to which pumpkins belong) in the hopes that any evil decree against us will be destroyed and our merits proclaimed (rendering a favorable judgment). The Hebrew word for gourd is קרע (k’ra), which is also the word for ‘tear/rip’ and sounds like the word for ‘read/proclaim’ – קרא. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון for gourd as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שיקרע גזר דיננו ויקראו לפניך זכויותינו
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that the decree of our sentence be torn asunder; and may our merits be proclaimed before You.
For Pomegranate we generally each eat a handful of pomegranate seeds. The trick about getting the seeds out of a pomegranate is this: cut the fruit in half. Fill your sink, or a very large bowl, with water. Take the seeds out of the fruit under the water to avoid getting covered in pomegranate juice. If, however, you cannot find fresh pomegranates where you live, you can still make a pomegranate granita. It's kind of a fun idea. Maybe people will think of it as a "palette cleanser" between dishes! It's easy. Just pour pomegranate juice into a shallow glass container or Pyrex pan and freeze it for about 2 hours. Rake the frozen part with a fork until fluffy and repeat until the whole thing is shaved pink ice. Place it in an airtight container to store until just before serving. Serve in small bowls (or in Moroccan tea glasses!) with tiny spoons.
Note: We eat pomegranate in the hopes that our merits will be many and God will see that we desire to fulfill His commandments. Pomegranates are known for their plentiful seeds, which are said to add up to 613. We eat the pomegranate and show our desire to fulfill the 613 mitzvot. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון for pomegranates as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שנרבה זכויות כרמון
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that our merits increase as [the seeds of] a pomegranate.
serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer
One 2 ½ pound whitefish, head reserved, bones, skin, tail and membrane removed
½ minced white onion
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 lemon, 2 limes, 1 black olive and 1 red pepper,
Gently flake the fish into bite-sized pieces. Add the minced onion, lemon juice and mayonnaise and gently combine, being careful not to mash the fish pieces into a paste.
On an oval serving platter, mold the fish salad into a long oval with pointed ends. Using the garnish ingredients, use a cut lemon to create the tail. Wrap the head in plastic wrap and place the wrapped head onto the front of the salad oval. Use lime segments to form the upper and lower fins of the fish. Use two long, thin curls of red pepper to visually separate the head from the tail of the fish.
Note: We eat fish in the hopes that we will be fruitful this year. Fish are a symbol of abundance and fertility. When eating the fish we ask God to bless us with both. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון for fish as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שנפרה ונרבה כדגים
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that we be fruitful and multiply like fish.
New Year Simanim Salad
1 large head of butter lettuce
1 bunch of tender spinach leaves (Spinach is another version of Lubiya, symbol of a purified heart)
Seeds of ½ a pomegranate, all rind and white membrane gently removed
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ yellow apple, cleaned, cored and cut into ½" chunks (skin on)
½ red apple, cleaned, cored and cut into ½" chunks (skin on)
8 pitted dried dates, cut into ¼" rings
In a 350 degree oven, toast pumpkin seeds until some begin to plump, about 10 minutes. Reserve.
Thoroughly clean and dry lettuce and spinach leaves and tear into bite-size pieces.
HONEY LEEK VINAIGRETTE
¼ cup Canola oil
2 T white vinegar
1 T minced leek (white part only)
2 T Honey
1 t Dijon mustard
½ t salt
¼ t garlic powder
Pinch of Cayenne pepper
Combine until emulsified. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before using, and up to 5 days.
Arrange leaves and most of the seeds, dates and apples in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette just before serving. Place remaining seeds apples and dates on top of the salad as a garnish.
Note: In the Machzor Ori Ve'yish'i (by Rabbi Moises Benzaquen) it states that although ‘silka’ is usually identified as beets, Keter Shem Tov says it refers to spinach. The word סילוק means remove and expresses our wish that this year our enemies are "removed". The Artscroll machzor lists the יהי רצון for beets as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה' אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שיסתלקו שונאינו
May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that our adversaries be removed.