4 min read
How to infuse your New Year with Persian flavors and traditions.
Rosh Hashanah, meaning “the head of the year” is a treasured Jewish holiday where my Persian-Jewish family would meet to honor our heritage and enjoy plenty of wonderful food in the form of a seder. While a seder is usually a Passover tradition, my family would hold a large seder also for Rosh Hashanah and we’d see 50+ family members in one night! It's a time when we’d enjoy seasonal Persian-Jewish cuisine at its best, there’s more delicious food on offer than you can imagine.
Growing up in a Persian-Jewish family with Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestry on either side meant that I learned to cook Jewish versions of many classic Persian dishes. Traditional Persian cuisine was always on the table at our house, and some of my most formative memories are of the tastes and flavors of the amazing food cooked by my mom and grandmother.
I want to share the elements of a Persian Rosh Hashanah Seder and the delicious recipes that help create it. I hope to inspire you to incorporate some Persian elements into your own meals this coming year!
Before we talk about the symbolic foods, our Persian Rosh Hashanah feast is made up of classic dishes like Khoresht e Beh, chicken with dried fruit & red wine, and overflowing plates of Persian steamed basmati rice with that distinctive yellow saffron throughout. Khoresht e Beh is a delicious stew with quince, an ingredient in Persian cuisine that’s only in season in the fall, so it times out perfectly for Rosh Hashanah.
To drink, there’d be plentiful amounts of wine, as well as flavored sharbat if it was a hot day. Sharbat is a sweet, flavored syrup drink that’s served chilled, and it comes in all kinds of flavors – we always had quince lemon sharbat on our table. Rather than one big dessert, we’d serve an impressive table display of small desserts and Persian tea. It’s a very beautiful presentation designed to wow your guests and show the warmth of your hospitality. The small desserts would always include an assortment of fruit, cookies, Bamieh (sweet fried dough), Zulbia, Rollet, and Sholeh Zard (a pretty saffron rice pudding). For the cookies, we’d pick up cookies from a local Persian bakery, including Nan-e-Nokhodchi (chickpea rose cookies), Shirini Keshmeshi (raisin cookies), Nan-e-Berenji (rice and rose cookies with poppyseeds), and Shirini Morabai (apricot preserve sandwich cookies). My mom also makes her own pomegranate jello which was always a special treat.
Nine foods are typically served at the seder, each with its own meaning. On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the new year by being intentional about what we want to create for the upcoming year, and we do that by eating different foods to represent important themes that we want to welcome.
First, meat from the head of an animal symbolizes the head of the year. In a Persian household, we eat roasted beef tongue seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. Tongue is considered a delicacy due to its scarcity, and it's considered luxurious and special. It’s meaningful to us to use all parts of an animal whenever possible.
Next, chives. Leeks are more common than chives for a seder, but we take chives between our teeth and bite the center to symbolize destroying our enemies, and then throw the pieces on the two sides away as we’re leaving them behind us. It was always funny watching my mom immediately come to clean them up, so they didn’t stain the carpet!
My favorite was the round challah representing a whole new year, with a sweet element like raisins, which you’ll see in both Askenazi and Sephardic homes. Now I make multiple challahs every Rosh Hashanah, and my tip to challah bakers out there is to make sure you give it ample time to rest, so it's a great thing to start baking the morning of.
There are two things we never eat on Rosh Hashanah. These are vinegar, as the sour taste is a negative sign and nuts. We don’t eat nuts as they can linger in your mouth and make you cough or clear your throat, which disturbs prayer.
Jews begin the Rosh Hashanah meal with slices of apple dipped in honey, to represent beginning a sweet new year. That theme of eating sweet foods to encourage a sweet year is reflected in other parts of the meal – the Bamieh and Zulbia on the dessert table are super sweet desserts to enjoy, and adding fruits to the main course dishes brings that sweetness in a subtle way.
Honey is a staple at the seder, and infusing it is an opportunity to experiment with flavor to create something new and unique for your family. I like to make a special cardamom saffron honey to incorporate two fantastic flavors from Persian food. You can learn how to make your own infused honey here.
Infusing your Rosh Hashanah honey makes it a special treat to enjoy in many different ways besides dipping apples. You can use it to sweeten your tea or coffee or you can use it in any baked recipe that calls for honey. Make a big batch and save to use even after Rosh Hashanah is over!
If you want to try something new this year, consider incorporating a Persian element into your Rosh Hashanah celebrations, even if it’s just one dish or a small element like infusing your honey with the Persian flavors. It’s these little touches that make all the difference.
Noush-e-jan everyone and L’shanah tovah!