Cooking with the symbolic foods we eat Rosh Hashana night.
On Rosh Hashana night, it is traditional to eat simanim, different symbolic foods that either taste sweet or have names that sound similar to our hopes and prayers for the new year. Often the simanim are eaten separately, but there is no reason not to prepare them appetizingly and incorporate them into the meal! That way you are reminded throughout the meal of the significance of the day.
Below are some traditional simanim, but feel free to make up your own – simanim can be in any language. I know some people who prepare lettuce, half a raisin, and celery to symbolize “Let us have a raise in salary” and one couple who serves sugar snap peas as a sign that there should be “quick, sweet peace” in Israel!
Beets are called selek in Hebrew, so we pray “sheyistalku oyveinu” – that our enemies should be removed. This works in English as well – May we beat our enemies! I must admit that I never prepare beets – I’m too afraid of red stains. However, I love to eat it when others serve it. A half-cup of deep red beet slices has only 37 calories to accompany its unique flavor. A couple grams of fiber and some protein, vitamin C, folate, and iron are bonus points, as well.
- Cooked, sliced beets (about 3 large)
- 1 Diced scallion or onion
- 1 tbsp salt
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1/3 c vinegar or lemon juice
- ¼ c oil
- ¼ tsp pepper
Black-eyed peas, called rubia in Aramaic, symbolize “sheyirbu zechuyoteinu” – that our merits should be increased. It’s rare to find someone who eats them on a regular basis, but we should! Half a cup of rubia contains 5.5 grams of fiber and 6.5 grams of protein, as well as almost half of daily folate requirements and around 12% of iron, thiamin, and magnesium requirements. You can just boil them up and season with a bit of salt and pepper, but here’s a recipe for homemade baked beans that works well with rubia if you want something more interesting.
- 1 pound rubia
- 2 tsp salt
- 15 oz can tomato sauce
- ½ c brown sugar
- 1 med onion
- 2 whole cloves
Soak rubia for 45 minutes in just enough water to cover the beans. Add the salt, then soak for 15 more minutes. Cook for 1 hr to hr 1/2, until skin begins to peel. Put the rubia in a pan. Reserve the liquid that you used to cook the rubia with. Combine 1 c of the liquid with the tomato sauce and brown sugar. Pour over the beans. Poke the cloves into the onion and put into the pan. Bake covered for 5-6 hrs at 325 until sauce thick and syrupy. (If you’re in a rush, bake for 2 hours and finish off by simmering on low in a covered pot on the stovetop. Keep a close eye on it, though!).
Carrots are also a popular symbol “sheyirbu zechuyoteinu” that our merits should increase, because the Yiddish word for carrots (meren) also means “increase.” Of course, you know that carrots are great sources of vitamin A – just half a cup provides more than two days’ worth of vitamin A.
- Half a bag of carrots (about ½ kilo/ 1 pound), peeled,
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 c honey
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1.5 tbsp oil
- 1.5 tsp potato starch, dissolved in 2 Tbsp cold water
Boil carrots in a pot with just enough water to cover until soft when pricked with fork (about 45 min). Remove from water and slice into quarter inch rounds (slicing can also be done before boiling). Reserve 1 c of the cooking water. Mix with other ingredients. Pour over the carrots. Let tzimmes marinate for 2-3 days for optimal flavor (optional). Bake covered for 1 hr.
A gourd, or kara in Aramaic, is a symbol “sheyikurah ro'a g'zar deenainu v'y'kur'oo lifanecha z'chuyoteinu” – that any evil decreed against us should be ripped up and our merits should be read before God. Gourds might not be available in your local market, but if they are, here’s a great recipe:
Boil a gourd (about the size of 6 medium zucchini) for 5-10 minutes.
Cut in half and set pulp aside
Sautee ½ c grated carrots, 1 c chopped mushrooms, one diced onion, and the pulp
Add 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp pepper to the mixture.
Mix in 2 eggs
Stuff the gourd with the mixture
Bake for 30 minutes
In Aramaic, leek is called karti; hence it symbolizes our hope “sheyikartu soneinu” – that our enemies should be cut off. Like onions, leeks are low in calories and impart flavor to dishes. You probably didn’t know that they are also good sources of vitamin A and K!
Grate 1 package leek and 2 med onions
Add ½ c matza meal or breadcrumbs
2 med eggs or 1 large egg
½ tsp salt
Pepper to taste
Form into small patties, just a bit bigger than large coins, and fry. Makes around 20.