If you know anything about religious holidays, whether or not you’re religious yourself, you’ll know that they revolve around food. While the dining customs around Christmas, Eid and Ramadan are common knowledge, the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah is probably less well known. Which is frankly a pity, because you’re missing out on a feast!
Let’s get one thing out the way, first. Traditional Jewish foods, despite their mostly religious associations, are popular across most other cultures. Be it bagels, babka, kitke (or challah), chicken soup or matzoh, Jewish foods are widely adored. Interestingly, most of the foods were made that way due to dietary restrictions (such as Kosher) or through folklore or tradition (such as leavened bread being forbidden during Passover as a symbol of the hasty exit the Israelites had to make to escape the tyrannical Egyptian pharaoh). Whichever Jewish holiday (or yontif) you’re sitting down to, you can be guaranteed an excellent meal.
Now, we shouldn’t have favourites, and especially not when it comes to high holy days, but between you and I, Rosh Hashanah has to be my top pick. Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as Jewish New Year, is the perfect mix of paying respects, setting good intentions for the new year and sitting down to a great meal. Where Pesach requires you to honour the plight of the Jews escaping the Pharaoh, and Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement that follows Rosh Hashanah) calls for a full day’s fast – Rosh Hashanah lets you pause, reflect and enjoy another year’s passing. (And let’s face it, there’s a lot from this past year that we’ll be happy to see gone!)
So, onto the good stuff. What can you look forward to at Rosh Hashanah? The Jews are nothing if not creatures of habit, so you’ll likely see challah on the table. Different from the usual Friday night variety, Rosh Hashanah tradition calls for it to be braided into a round, crown-like shape to signify honouring God as king for the new year. To guarantee a sweet year, apples are dipped into honey and pomegranates always feature as the seeds represent the many good fortunes for the coming year. While no one would mind if you served chicken soup, a more common soup is one that includes carrots. Tsimmes, something of a carrot-and-root veg stew sometimes appeared at our seder. Carrots are important for New Year owing to the fact that their respective Hebrew and Yiddish translations signify good fortune and a desire to be viewed in a positive light by God.
The list of foods goes on to include things like black-eyed beans for further good fortune, or whole fish, served with the head on to signify being “the head” and leading the way. As with most celebratory meals, brisket is a common feature. The great-value cut is known for its flavour and crowd-feeding qualities. My family would use these foods as a guideline for recipe inspiration, but as long as you’re not mixing meat and dairy on a plate (and keeping to some form of Kosher), there really are no set rules.
What does a modern Rosh Hashanah dinner look like? Here are the top contenders for my menu this year:
Spicy squash soup with carrot-top pesto
A nice alternative to tsimmes, should you need one.
Get the recipe for spicy squash soup with carrot-top pesto here.
Slow-roasted brisket and smoky beans
Use black-eyed beans here and you’ve ticked all the new year good-fortune vibes.
Jewelled cauliflower rice tossed with spring onion, radishes and pomegranates
Tired of couscous? You’ll love this cauliflower alternative.
Get the recipe for jewelled cauliflower rice here.
Black sesame-and-honey cake
A nice way to work honey into a dessert that doesn’t contain apples.
Rustic apple tart
Drizzle some honey over to serve for good measure.