Simanim - Special Food As Signs For a Sweet and Healthy New Year
From the time I was a young child, I’ve known that Rosh Hashanah was associated with apples and honey, symbolizing sweetness for the coming New Year. My mother would make her special apple cake and always served her carrot tsimmis sweetened with honey, a big favorite in our family.
In addition to the traditional wine and challah, other special dishes are used as 'signs' for a good omen. Instead of dipping chunks of challah in salt, as we usually do, we dip the challah in honey. We also dip apple slices in honey and ask G-d that we be renewed for a sweet year.
For the traditional festive meal on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, there is a special ceremony for the blessing and eating of symbolic foods. These are called simanim meelta (significant omens) and are based on a Talmudic teaching. We say a short prayer about the symbolism of each of the following foods before we eat them. The special foods and what they symbolize are:
Apple dipped in honey (that we should have a good and sweet year – honey in general)
Fenugreek or carrots (that we should increase our merits)
Leeks or cabbage: (that our enemies be decimated)
Beets (that our adversaries be removed)
Dates (that our enemies be consumed)
Gourd (that the decree of our sentence should be torn asunder, and our merits be proclaimed to G-d)
Pomegranate (that our merits increase, as the seeds of the pomegranate)
Fish (that we should be fruitful and multiply)
Head of a fish or a sheep’s head (that we should be as a head and not a tail)
We also try to use foods whose names lend toward signs and omens. Carrots (gezer in Hebrew) are a popular item since in Hebrew, gezer, is the same word for carrot and a decree. So we request that G-d will withhold any evil gezer (decree).
My friend Helene Medjuck of Toronto likes to serve a whole smoked whitefish including the head and uses an olive for the eye. Her children and husband are not too thrilled with her food garnishing techniques, but Helene isn’t the least bit concerned. Her son Alexander was once at someone’s home where they served a sheep’s head and he said it was actually delicious!
Some people take a stalk of celery and some raisins and prior to eating them, they request of G-d to help them get a "raise in their salary."
Just as we try to eat special dishes on Rosh Hashanah, we refrain from other foods. Nuts are avoided because they have a tendency to lodge in the throat, thus making proper prayer difficult and also because they have the same numerical equivalent (in Hebrew) as sin, which we are trying to avoid. Some people won't use vinegar or mustard to avoid sour or sharp flavors.
To make Rosh Hashanah an even sweeter holiday, my friend Jayne Cohen, author "Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover's Treasury of Classics and Improvisations" (Wiley) and her daughter Alex always bring a fragrant honey back from every trip. This has become their own special Rosh Hashanah tradition.
Jayne Cohen writes in her book, “There is a world of difference between ordinary supermarket honey and an artisinal product. If you absolutely can't track down a special honey for Rosh Hashanah, make your plain honey more distinctive. Warm 1 cup honey in a small saucepan. Stir in sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, or mint; fresh sage leaves; or 2 teaspoons dried lavender. Cover and let steep for several hours. Then heating the honey first if necessary, strain it. Or beat into the honey a few drops of a flavoring extract such as strawberry, lemon, or even almond, or a spoonful of very reduced aromatic fruit juice (apple-raspberry, for example).”
Cohen further explains, “Rosh Hashanah celebrates the pun in the prayers recited at the evening meal over many of the symbolic foods. On this solemn holiday, blessings in Hebrew and the many languages of the Diaspora reflect a rather humorous tickling of words. Who cannot see the twinkling in the eyes of the sages as we, in a modern English adaptation, eat beets to "beat back our foes" and dates to "date this year as one of happiness and peace?" Leek in Hebrew is kartee, which sounds like the word yihartu, to cut off. So Sephardim eat leek patties to "cut off their enemies."
Here are some special dishes using the special symbolic foods to ensure you’ll have an especially sweet and healthy New Year!
Norene Gilletz is a cookbook author, cooking teacher and food consultant based in Toronto, Canada. Her latest book is NORENE’S HEALTHY KITCHEN: Eat YOUR Way to Good Health (Whitecap). For information about her cookbooks, cooking demonstrations and culinary services, call 416-226-2466 or visit her website at http://www.gourmania.com
JAYNE COHEN’S LEEK CROQUETTES FROM RHODES (Pareve)
The late Rachel Almeleh, a superlative New York home cook, gave Jayne Cohen this heirloom recipe for leek-potato croquette appetizers from her native Rhodes, Greece. The croquettes are dipped in egg just before frying, so they absorb very little oil. Unusually light and delicate, they make marvelous hors d'oeuvre and cocktail nibbles.
4 medium leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed, washed free of sand, white and pale green parts coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
1 medium-large russet (baking) potato or about 1/2 pound other nonwaxy potatoes, such as Yukon gold, scrubbed but left unpeeled
1 slice seedless rye, semolina, light sourdough, challah, or other flavorful bread, crust discarded, bread torn into pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
Olive or canola oil, for frying
Accompaniment: lemon quarters
Put the leeks and potato in a medium saucepan with enough cold salted water to cover them by 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil, and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the potato is tender. Drain the vegetables well. When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel it and force it through a ricer or a food mill fitted with the medium disk into a large bowl. Squeeze the leeks with your hands to extract all excess moisture. Place the leeks and the bread in a food processor, puree, and add it to the potato. Stir in the dill, salt and pepper to taste, and just enough of the beaten eggs (about 2 tablespoons) to form the mixture into 2-inch croquettes. Reserve the remaining eggs, covered and refrigerated. Cover the croquettes with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 25 minutes.
Place the reserved beaten eggs in a shallow bowl near the stove. In a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until hot but not smoking. Dip each croquette into the egg, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, then slip it gently into the hot oil. Fry the croquettes in batches, turning carefully once, until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Serve with the lemon quarters.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Cook's Note: These are also excellent on Passover, when leeks, symbolic of springtime as well as of the food eaten by the Pharaoh's pyramid-builders, are often served. Just replace the bread with an equal amount of plain or egg matzoh soaked in chicken or beef broth or water and squeezed dry.
JAYNE COHEN’S NORTH AFRICAN COOKED CARROT SALAD (Pareve)
The play of sweet cooked carrot and tangy dressing makes this easy traditional North African salad a favorite. Jayne likes to serve it Sephardi-style: that is, along with the appetizers, then left on the table during the rest of the meal, a welcome counterpoint to the panoply of rich Rosh Hashanah foods to follow.
For the Dressing:
About 3 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil
About 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, finely minced
About 1 teaspoon ground cumin, preferably freshly toasted and ground
About 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
About 1 teaspoon dried mint
About 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
1 pound sweet-tasting carrots, preferably organic and/or locally grown, scraped
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
1. Prepare the dressing: in a large bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika, mint, cinnamon, coriander, salt and pepper, and cayenne, if using, to taste.
2. You can cut the carrots into 1/2-inch rounds, on the diagonal – a common method – or, even better, take a few moments extra to cut them into thick matchsticks, so there is more surface area to drink in the dressing. To do this, use either the julienne blade of the food processor, a mandoline, or cut by hand, quartering the carrots lengthwise first, then slicing them into even sticks.
3. Cook the carrots in lightly salted boiling water until they are tender but still crisp. Drain them (the liquid would be a nice addition to vegetable stock), and while they are still warm, toss them with the dressing. For best taste, let the flavors marry for at least a couple of hours.
4. Taste and adjust the oil, lemon juice, or seasoning, if needed. Sprinkle with the parsley or cilantro just before serving.
Yield: 4 servings. Multiplies easily.
GEFILTE FISH LOAF
My friend June Jacobs is a cooking teacher, executive chef and cookbook author based in NYC (visit her at http://www.feastivals.com). June generously shared her recipe for this tasty gefilte fish loaf which she adapted from a recipe from Zell Schulman's book "Something Different for Passover." Because it contains carrots both as a garnish and in the fish mixture, it fulfills two simanim - carrots and fish.
June writes, “This is SO good - and easy, too! What a huge improvement over the jarred stuff! It’s perfect for Rosh Hashanah and is sure to impress your guests. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for a large crowd.”
(Originally from Zell Schulman and adapted by June Jacobs)
1/2 medium size green bell pepper cut into strips
1 small carrot, peeled & cut crosswise in thin circles
1 medium onion
1 medium sized carrot
1 pound skinless fillets of firm fleshed white fish (inland, use pike, whitefish, carp; coastal, use cod, haddock, whiting)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup matzo meal
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with a rectangle of wax paper cut to fit, then grease the paper. With the green pepper strips and carrot circles, make an attractive design on top of the paper.
2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process onion, then carrot, until finely minced. Remove to bowl. Process fish until very finely minced. Be sure to use the pulse method for all the above. If your food processor is large enough, put the onion and carrot back in the bowl to complete the assembly. Otherwise, assemble the whole mixture in the bowl. Add the egg, oil, water, matzo meal, parsley, salt and pepper, and mix until very well combined.
3. Gently spoon some of the fish mixture around and over the vegetable design in the pan, being careful not to disturb your design. Press it into place, leaving no air spaces. Add remaining fish mixture, spreading evenly. Cover the fish mixture with another rectangle of waxed paper which has been greased on the side facing the loaf.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 50 minutes, or until loaf is firm. Remove from the oven and let stand about 10 minutes. Peel off the waxed paper on top, then run a knife around and let stand about 10 minutes. Invert the loaf onto a serving dish, and lift off the pan. You may need to carefully peel off the second sheet of waxed paper.
5. You may serve the loaf warm or chilled (with horseradish on the side.)
Yield: 8 servings.
Jamie’s Spiced Gefilte Fish
For a quick twist on preparing a frozen gefilte fish loaf, try Jamie Geller’s Spiced Gefilte Fish. Jamie says, “This recipe is so good I chose it for the cover of my cookbook ‘Quick and Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing.’ The original recipe comes from my recipe tester Joy’s father-in-law. The colder the fish the better, I think. About half an hour before the meal, slice and arrange the fish on a platter and keep it chilling in the refrigerator until just before serving.”
Prep: 7 minutes
Cook: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Chill: 4 hours
1 (22-ounce) loaf frozen gefilte fish
1 (10-ounce) bag frozen chopped onions
1 (1-pound) bag frozen crinkle cut carrots
2 stalks fresh celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed or 1 sprig fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley flakes or 2 sprigs fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
8 to 10 capers
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups water
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with onions, carrots and celery.
3. Rinse frozen gefilte loaf under water to remove parchment wrapper and place in loaf pan.
4. Sprinkle dill weed, parsley, celery seed, thyme, allspice, capers, salt and pepper evenly over fish. Pour water in loaf pan around sides of fish and cover with foil.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
6. Transfer fish and vegetables to a sealable container, cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours.
7. Slice and serve with vegetables.
Yield: 8 servings.
NORENE’S POMEGRANATE CHICKEN
According to ancient lore, the amount of seeds in the pomegranate is exactly the same number (613) as the mitzvot (commandments/good deeds) found in the Torah. If you're curious, count away! This fragrant dish also contains honey, carrots, and apricots – traditional foods served with hope for a sweet and fruitful New Year. Source: Norene’s Healthy Kitchen
2 medium onions, sliced
2 cups baby carrots (or 2 cups peeled and sliced regular carrots)
2 whole chickens (3 1/2 lb each), cut into pieces
1 tsp dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dried whole apricots, loosely packed
1 cup pitted whole prunes, loosely packed
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 cup pomegranate juice (or juice of 1 pomegranate)
2 cloves garlic (about 2 tsp minced)
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
1. Spray a large roasting pan with cooking spray. Scatter the onions and carrots in the bottom of the pan. Rinse the chicken well and pat dry with paper towels. Trim the excess fat. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables and sprinkle – under the skin and on top – with thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Tuck the apricots and prunes between the chicken pieces.
2. Whisk the ingredients for the marinade together in a bowl. (If using the juice of a whole pomegranate, reserve some of the seeds for garnish.) Pour over the chicken and sprinkle with paprika. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or for as long as 2 days.
3. When the chicken is marinated, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cook the chicken, covered, for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Uncover and cook for 30 minutes longer, basting occasionally, or until the skin is golden. Remove the pan and let cool before refrigerating overnight.
4. About 30 minutes before serving, remove and discard any congealed fat from the chicken. Reheat, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Transfer the heated chicken to a large serving platter and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.
Yield: 12 servings. Keeps for up to 3 days in the refrigerator; reheats well. Freezes well for up to 4 months.
* One pomegranate contains about 3/4 cup seeds and yields 1/2 cup juice.
* No pomegranates? Substitute either bottled pomegranate or cranberry juice. If desired, sprinkle with toasted pumpkin or sesame seeds at serving time.
NORENE’S ROASTED BEET SALAD
Roast and Boast! Roasting beets enhances the flavor, producing beets that are moist and tender. You can’t “beet” that! Boiling only lessens their flavor—once you try roasting, you won't prepare them any other way. Source: Norene’s Healthy Kitchen
2 lb (1 kg) fresh beets
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onions
3 Tbsp orange juice (preferably fresh)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub the beets well and then trim the stems and roots to within 1 inch. Spray a large piece of heavy-duty foil with cooking spray. Place the beets in the center and wrap tightly, pinching the edges of foil together. Bake for about 1 to 11/4 hours or until tender. (Beets are done when a metal skewer glides easily through them.)
2. When fully roasted, remove from the oven, carefully open up the foil packet and let the beets stand until cool enough to handle. Using paper towels, rub off the skins and then cut the beets into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Arrange the beet slices on a platter and scatter with the onion slices.
3. Whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, mustard, and honey in a small bowl. Drizzle the mixture over the beets and onions, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 servings. Keeps for up to 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator.
• Beet Me Up, Scotty! Choose fresh beets that are roughly the same size for even cooking. Large beets tend to be tough, so small-to-medium-sized are best, about 4 oz (125 g) each.
• Buffet Beauty: For a beautiful presentation, use both red and golden beets. Arrange them in separate piles on a platter so that the colors don’t bleed into each other. If golden beets aren’t available, alternate the beets with orange slices.
NORENE’S APPLES ‘N HONEY CAKE
This high, moist cake is ideal for the Jewish High Holidays because it combines three traditional ingredients—apples, carrot, and honey. A food processor helps speed up preparation. If you don’t have a large food processor, see Chef’s Secret below. This cake is much lower in carbs than a traditional honey cake and has the added benefit of soluble fiber from the apples and carrot. Source: Norene's Healthy Kitchen
3 large eggs (or 2 large eggs plus 2 egg whites)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup honey
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract or brandy
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold tea (green tea is a great choice)
1/4 cup orange juice (preferably fresh)
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and grated (about 1 cup grated)
1 medium carrot, grated (about 1/2 cup grated)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 12-cup fluted tube pan with cooking spray.
2. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the eggs, oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla extract for 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth and creamy. Don’t insert the pusher into the feed tube while processing.
3. Add the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt to the processor bowl. Then add the tea and orange juice and process with several on/off pulses, just until combined. Add the grated apples and carrot and process with several quick on/off pulses, until combined.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes before inverting the pan and unmolding the cake onto a serving plate.
Yield: 20 servings. Freezes well for up to 3 months.
Too much batter? If there’s too much batter to fit in your processor, process the eggs, oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla extract for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the dry ingredients, tea and orange juice to the bowl; mix just until blended. Stir in the grated apples and carrot and bake as directed.
ESTEE KAFRA’S POMEGRANATE PISTACHIO ICE CREAM
Estee Kafra is the author of Kosher cookbook, “Spice it Right” (Hamodia Treasures ) which will be released in mid-November. She shared this fantastic recipe with me which is sure to impress the guests at your Rosh Hashanah table. This is just one of the 140 fabulous recipes in her new cookbook and I’m thrilled to share this with you.
This pretty dessert is a delicious conclusion to any meal. The recipe uses the pomegranate’s bright color to enliven the ice cream, elevating it from ordinary to special. Estee Kafra often makes this ice cream for Rosh Hashanah, when we have a custom to eat pomegranates.
Estee explained to me that since some people’s minhag is not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah, toasted slivered almonds can be substituted for the pistachios. The numerical value of nuts (egoz) equals the numerical value of “chet” which means “sin.” Estee told me that almonds are called shkedim in Hebrew, which has a different numerical value. If you prefer, you can omit them.
2 small pareve dessert whips
3 egg yolks
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup soy milk
Less than 1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla sugar
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, shelled
1. In an electric mixer, whip the dessert whips until doubled in volume. Add yolks, sugar, soy milk, maple syrup and vanilla sugar.
2. Blend until smooth and creamy.
3. Mix in pomegranate arils and pistachio nuts by hand, folding them into the batter.
4. Place in 9 x 13-inch pan and freeze.
Tip: You can freeze this in a medium-size Bundt pan and slice as a cake. It makes a beautiful dessert!
Variation: This dessert also tastes delicious with real milk instead of soy milk for a dairy version.
Yield: approximately 12 servings.
DATE AND NUT SQUARES
Once again, if your custom is not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah, don’t bother sprinkling them on top. The recipe will still be delicious! Source: Second Helpings Please (Jewish Women International, Montreal).
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup shortening (pareve margarine can be substituted)
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Combine dates and boiling water in a small bowl and let stand until cool.
Cream shortening with sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy. Sift together dry ingredients and add to batter alternately with date mixture. Spoon into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan and sprinkle with nuts, if using.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool and sprinkle with icing sugar. Cut into squares.
Yield: 48 squares. Freezes well.