Food sweetens Jewish new year celebration

  • Posted: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 6:33 p.m.
Photo courtesy of The Food Network
Matzah ball soup, sometimes served during Rosh Hashanah dinners, will symbolize the continuity of a good new year.
Photo courtesy of The Food Network Matzah ball soup, sometimes served during Rosh Hashanah dinners, will symbolize the continuity of a good new year.

While many wait until January to pop out the champagne and begin transcribing their resolutions for the new year, millions of Jews all over the world are preparing for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year 5774.

Rosh Hashanah has its religious customs and practices, but food has become closely associated with the holiday. During Rosh Hashanah, sweets are handed out and interlaced within all of the foods prepared to symbolize a happy and “sweet new year.”

One of the oldest food traditions is passing out apples and honey. In the Torah, honey is often mentioned, representing wealth and goods or sweet living, and Israel typically is called the land of “milk of honey” throughout the Bible. During the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Jews dip apples and challah bread into honey and say a blessing asking God for a sweet new year.

Keeping within the sweet traditions, round loaves of challah, sometimes with or without raisins, serve as a dish both before dinner and throughout as well. Challah is a braided egg bread traditionally served on Shabbat. However, for Rosh Hashanah purposes, the challah is shaped into a spiraled circle symbolizing the continuity of creation. Depending on how sweet one’s tooth is, some add cinnamon or extra sugar.

Katja Vehlow, professor of Jewish studies at the University of South Carolina, said there are several reasons for a round challah.

“A mystical interpretation suggests that, in contract to the rest of the year, when Jewish tradition emphasizes the communal character of prayer, the High Holidays emphasize that we alone are responsible for our deeds,” Vehlow said. “Hence the challah was formed by one strand of dough only.”

Another reason for the round shape is continuity at the beginning of the new year, she said.

“The challah is covered by a napkin or an embroidered piece of cloth, symbolizing the dew collected by the Israelites in the mornings when they were dwelling in the desert,” Vehlow said.

During Rosh Hashanah dinners, fruits and spices are also served, interlaced with recipes passed down from generation to generation.

“Honey cakes or cookies or honey-glazed chicken are also staples of Rosh Hashanah tables to ensure a sweet year,” Vehlow said. “For the same reason, some Jews prefer to eat round foods like matzah balls, sliced leeks or carrots. On a similar vein, many avoid bitter foods and ban chreyn (horseradish) from their dining tables.”

Matzah balls are made with matzah meal, egg and oil and are round up in small balls which expand in boiling water. They are typically served with chicken soup. Tsimmes, carrots cooked with sugar and raisins can also be found on many tables, as well as a head of a fish.

While many may not serve the heads of fish on their table, the customary presentation of the head is accompanied by a blessing hoping for all to be a leader in life and be fruitful and multiply like fish. Fish also symbolize prosperity and fertility.

Still, apples still reign as the most popular food served during Rosh Hashanah.

“And why do Ashkenazim, Jews claiming northern European descent, prefer apples?” Vehlow asked. “The reason is probably simple – apples were the only fruit to be available in the fall season. Sephardim, those claiming Spanish descent, often use pomegranates to symbolize plentitude.”

Although not completely popular throughout Jewish tables, pomegranates are consumed by many. A pomegranate has 613 seeds, which is the same number of mitzvoth, commandments or good deeds, in the Torah. Pomegranates are eaten to symbolize hope for the coming year, hoping all will perform mitzvoth during the next year.

No matter what some serve on their Rosh Hashanah tables, whether brisket with sweet BBQ sauce or Kugel, a sweet noodle dish, Rosh Hashanah is a time for families to come together and share hopes for the new year while chowing down on some really good food.

Recipes from Chabad.org and Cooking with Pride: Potluck recipes from Congregation Bet Haverim

Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.

Tsimmes (Fruited Carrots)

1 1/2 pounds carrots, sliced

1/3 cup honey

6 ounces dried apricots

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

4 ounces raisins

1/4 thinly sliced lemon

1 1/2 cups apple juice

1/2 thinly sliced orange

Directions:

Bring carrots, apricots and apple juice to a boil and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and store frequently, adjusting the exact amounts of honey and cinnamon for taste. Continue cooking until liquid is absorbed. Serves six to eight people.

Brisket

4-5 pounds of first-cut beef brisket

Salt and ground pepper to taste

Paprika (optional)

3 to 4 large onions, sliced and separated into rings

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup (or so) dry red wine

Couple of cloves minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Couple of packets dry onion soup mix

Can of cranberry sauce (jellied)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub both sides of the meat with salt, pepper and paprika. Spread half of the onions over the bottom of a shallow roasting pan. Place the meat fat side up and sprinkle with the garlic, dry onion soup mix, broth and red wine. Top with remaining onion rings. Liquid should about halfway cover the sides of the meat. Cover as tightly as you can with foil or tight-fitting lid. Cook for an hour. Open the foil cover and check to ensure there is still plenty of liquid, then add the can of cranberry sauce and spread it around the meat. Recover the pan. Reduce the temperature to about 300 degrees. Cook until fork tender – about three more hours. Remove from heat and let cool, then refrigerate when cooled. Sliced only when cold. Reheat and serve.

Kugel

1 pounds egg noodles

2 sticks butter, melted

8 ounces cream cheese

16 ounces sour cream

1 cup sugar

6 eggs, separated

Directions:

Boil and cool the noodles. Combine butter, cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and egg yolks. Add mixture to the noodles and stir. Whip egg whites and add mixture. Pour into 9” x 13” baking pan.

Topping:

3/4 cup crushes corn flakes

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Sprinkle over kugel. Bake at 375 degrees for 60 minutes.

Round Honey Challah

2 packages active dry yeast or 2 cakes fresh compressed yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups warm water

8-9 cups flour, sifted

3/4 cup honey

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder, optional

3/4 cup margarine, room temperature

3 beaten eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup raisins

Glaze

1 egg yolk, beaten with

1 teaspoon water

Sesame or poppy seeds, optional

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water. Cover and let stand for five to 10 minutes until it foams. Beat in four cups of flour and remaining ingredients, except raisins, until smooth – about 5 minutes. Add remaining flour 2 cups at a time, beating well after each addition. Add raisins. Knead with a dough hook or by hand for 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and turn dough to grease all over. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise until double in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down.

Divide dough into three equal parts, setting a handful aside for the ladder. Roll each part into a rope about 18 inches long. Taper ends. Coil rope around itself, leaving no hole in the center and tuck ends under. Place in a round, nine inch springform pan. To make the ladder, make two pencil-thin strips, four inches long for sides and four thin strips, two inches wide for rungs. Fasten securely to top center of each challah.

Cover and place in a warm place for 50 minutes to rise again. Brush with glaze. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds, if desired. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes. When challah is done, it will have a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

Bubbe’s Matzah Balls

Matzah meal

3 to 5 eggs

2 soup spoons of chicken fat

1 teaspoon salt

A little salt, onion powder and pepper

Directions:

Mix matzah meal with eggs and chicken fat with seasonings until mixture is soft, but not runny. Let harden in the refrigerator for two hours. Form into one inch balls and cook in boiling water with salt for about one hour and then drain. Serve with chicken soup.

Recipes from Chabad.org and Cooking with Pride: Potluck recipes from Congregation Bet Haverim

Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.

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