“No other holiday has more symbolic foods than Rosh Hashanah,“ writes rabbi and food historian Gil Marks, of blessed memory, in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.” The Talmud, he tells us, listed gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beet greens or chard, and dates as the symbolic foods to be eaten on Rosh Hashanah, because their names were similar to other words which augur well for the New Year.
“During the Medieval period, the carrot reached the West,” he continues. It’s Hebrew name became ‘gezer,’ which also means ‘tear,’ as in ‘tear up any bad decrees,’ as well as ‘decree,’ signifying ‘may there be no evil decrees against us.’” In Yiddish the word for carrot is “mehren,” which is also similar to the word for “increase.” In addition, carrots are sweet and resemble golden coins when sliced, signifying our wish for a prosperous year.
For centuries the carrot dish for Rosh Hashana was tzimmes, the ubiquitous sweetened shtetl dish of root vegetables, sometimes including meat—you should be so lucky—that first became Sabbath fare, because it could be prepared before sundown and slow-cooked for Shabbos lunch.
But the dish did not remain restricted only to the Sabbath, Marks tells us. “Over the centuries, various new ingredients, as well as symbolic touches and meanings, were added,” and, sweetened with honey (signifying our wish for a sweet New Year), it has emerged as the prototypical Ashkenazic Rosh Hashanah dish.
“In Yiddish, tzimmes also came to mean a fuss, or more specifically, to make a fuss over something minor,” notes Marks. “This expression referred not so much to all the peeling, shopping, stirring, and stewing involved, but rather to the Jewish housewife‘s detailed attention to what ingredients went into her dishes and how they got onto her table, as she took a basically simple procedure and a few simple ingredients and made a tzimmes out of it.”
While your grandmother’s holiday table of yore surely boasted this carrot stew, today’s cooks crave a more modern dish that still gives a nod to the traditional. Tahini-Glazed Carrots from Adeena Sussman’s wildly popular cookbook Sababa (Avery, $35) fill the bill nicely. For Rosh Hashana we’ve taken the liberty of choosing honey to sweeten this dish instead of silan (date syrup), but the choice is yours.
“More than any other veggie dish in my repertoire, this is the one people request again and again,” says Sussman. “If you can find multicolored carrots, great, and if you can find thinner farmers’ market–style ones, even better. If your carrots are on the larger side, cut them lengthwise so no piece is more than half an inch thick; this softens them up in preparation for their deliciously sweet, lemony tahini glaze. The recipe purposely makes a generous amount of dressing, because you’ll want to put it on everything, from cold noodles to fish and any roasted veggie under the sun. I recommend doubling or even tripling this recipe; the carrots shrink, but people’s appetite for them never does. If you do multiply, make sure to use more baking sheets so the carrots roast, not steam. The carrots are just as good, if not better, at room temperature, making them perfect sit-around buffet food.”
When thinking of traditional holiday dishes, gefilte fish immediately comes to mind. “Fish, a symbol of fertility and blessing, has been traditional Sabbath and festival fair since at least Talmudic times,” says Marks. Jewish mystics believed fish signaled the coming of the Messiah, and serving fish on the Sabbath and holidays lent a special blessing. In the shtetl stretching a meager portion of fish was necessary so that everyone at the table would receive the blessing.
The word “gefilte” is actually German for “stuffed.” The original recipe called for seasoned, ground boned fish mixed with eggs and fillers, such as vegetables and crumbs, which was then stuffed back into the fish skin and cooked. “By the 16th Century,” notes Marks, “the process was simplified by some Ashkenazic cooks in Germany who eliminated the tedious stuffing step and, instead, poached the fish mixture as canelles in a fish broth, which was made from the head and bones. The result was a light, flavorful fish dumpling different from the heavy, rather tasteless commercial kind prevalent today,” what Michael Aaron Gardiner calls “a sad punch line of a dish” in his new cookbook “Modern Kosher” (Rizzoli, $40).
Gardiner’s Steelhead Trout Cakes With Herbed Mustard (Gefilte Fish) “substitutes a bit of contemporary elegance for the seemingly antiquated style of the traditional dish. The star of this version is gorgeous orange steelhead trout. It’s one of America’s most readily available freshwater (at least partially) fish with an elegant, rich, salmon-like flavor. Herbs (blanched to brighten their color), mustard, and a contemporary presentation complete the picture.
Although Sussman’s recipe calls for silan (date syrup), we offer the option of honey for Rosh Hashanah.
14 to 16 (1½ pounds total) thin carrots, peeled and trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Tahini Glaze (Makes 1 cup)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pure tahini paste
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons silan or honey
2 tablespoons water, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Roast carrots: Preheat oven to 425°F. Arrange carrots on large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and cumin, shake pan to coat carrots, and roast them, turning once midway through, until softened and edges are golden, 25 to 27 minutes
2. Make tahini glaze: While carrots are roasting, whisk olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, silan, water, salt, and cayenne in medium bowl until smooth and pourable, adding an additional tablespoon of water if necessary.
3. Remove carrots from oven, transfer to serving platter, and drizzle with tahini glaze. Using tongs, gently toss to coat.
Source: “Sababa” by Adeena Sussman
Steelhead Trout Cakes with Herbed Mustard (Gefilte Fish)
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 to 8 as an appetizer
For the Trout Cakes:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 bulb fennel, cored and chopped (fronds and stalks reserved for another purpose)
2 roasted red peppers, skinned and chopped (if using jarred, rinse before using)
2 pounds steelhead trout fillets
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Spanish sweet paprika
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
Red Pepper Skin Curls, optional
Finishing salt (if not using red pepper skin curls, a red salt would be nice)
1. Trout Cakes: In large sauté pan, heat olive oil over low heat. Add onion, carrot, and fennel and sweat just until translucent, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl of food processor and add roasted red peppers and fish. Season with salt, black pepper and paprika and process to roughly uniform consistency. Fry up a small sample, taste for seasoning, and adjust.
2. Place an 8-inch piece of aluminum foil on a cutting board. Leaving a generous margin of foil around it on all sides and using 1/3 of fish mixture, spoon a 2- to 3-inch line (1 to 1 1/2 inches wide) horizontally along middle of foil and roll up into a cylindrical shape, pinching ends to seal. Next, place a slightly larger piece of plastic wrap on cutting board and roll around wrapped fish, forming a roulade. Use plastic wrap to ensure your roll is tight by twisting ends in opposite directions. When you have a secure, tight roulade, tie off ends with kitchen twine. Repeat with remaining fish mixture.
3. Bring large pot of water to a boil; reduce heat to a bare simmer. Place roulades in pot and cook 10 minutes. Remove roulades from water and cool 15 minutes. refrigerate 30 minutes to overnight. Transfer to cutting board, unwrap fish roulade, and slice into 1-inch cylindrical sections.
4. Herbed Mustard: While roulades are cooking, bring small pot of water to a boil; prepare ice bath in large bowl. Plunge herbs into water to blanch just to fix brilliant green color, about 10 seconds. Immediately shock in ice bath to stop cooking and preserve color; then squeeze dry. Place herbs in bowl of food processor along with mustard and process until fully combined.
5. To serve: This dish can work either as an appetizer or a main. For an elegant presentation, place two 1-tablespoon dollops of herbed mustard at center of plate, one beside the other. Swipe dollop on the left diagonally toward the upper right corner of plate and then dollop on the right diagonally toward lower right corner of plate. Center a cylindrical section of trout cake roulade over the two dollops and top with a few curls of julienned red pepper skins (if using). There is nothing wrong with plating the dish more simply – a couple tablespoons of herbed mustard topped by a roulade and garnished with the pepper curls, micro-greens and/or finishing salt. For a heartier portion dollop 2 tablespoons of herbed mustard in center of plate and arrange 3 roulades on it, garnishing each.
Red Pepper Skin Curls
1 large red bell pepper
Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, cut long and thin slices of peel off the bell pepper. Reserve flesh of pepper for another purpose. Cut slices of skin into long strings as narrow as you can make them and drop each into a bowl of cold water. Using your hand, fluff up the strings in the water. You will see them begin to curl up. Allow them to soak for five minutes. They will have a tendency to clump together. Simply separate them and they are ready for use immediately (which they should be as they don’t store well).
Source: “Modern Kosher” by Michael Aaron Gardiner
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.