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Dishes celebrate Rosh Hashanah

The Rosh Hashanah tradition of apples dipped in honey signifies hope for a sweet year. JACK CLEMONS PHOTO
September 15, 2017
Next week marks the two-day Jewish holiday known as Rosh Hashanah. The name of the holiday translates from Hebrew as “head of the year,” or as we have come to think of it, the Jewish New Year. Later this month, the observance begins on the first day of the Jewish Year 5778 at sunset, Thursday, Sept. 21, and runs through nightfall, Friday, Sept. 22.
 
One of the signature features of Rosh Hashanah comes from the biblical reference to Yom Teruah, the day of sounding the shofar. A shofar is a curled ram’s horn, which is used much like a trumpet to sound a variety of notes. During services at the synagogue, worshippers will hear the shofar blown in a range of tones many times each day.
 
Although more somber and reflective than typical festivities on Jan. 1, an interesting similarity between the two celebrations of the new year is the focus on resolutions and taking time to look back at the mistakes of the past year while planning positive changes for the year ahead.
 
Another tradition associated with Rosh Hashanah is Tashlikh or “casting off.” The ritual can take a number of forms, but the essence of the process is to empty your pockets (previously filled with bits of bread) into flowing water as a way of symbolically casting off sin. The beauty of the ritual is in its cyclic nature - the bread thrown into the water feeds the fish that will serve as food for us in the future.
 
The word for this process is similar to the Hebrew word shalekhet, which refers to a tree losing its leaves in the autumn. As the leaves decay, they serve to fertilize the soil, providing nutrients to plants that will emerge in the spring. Again, a lovely notion about casting off or shedding something that can become sustenance for other elements in the world around us.
 
As with virtually every religious celebration, there are food customs associated with Rosh Hashanah. On the first day, apple slices are dipped into honey to symbolize  hope for a sweet year (see photo). On the second day, a special blessing accompanies eating a “new” fruit, a seasonal fruit which we have not yet tasted this year, such as figs, dates or pomegranates.
 
In addition to apples, honey and new-season fruit, most families serve festive meals on the two days of Rosh Hashanah. Typical menus feature sweet and sour brisket, noodle kugels studded with fruit, and braided rounds of eggy challah bread. Some foods are served with the head intact (e.g., whole fish) to reflect the “head of the year.” All the foods are chosen for their elemental sweetness and symbolic connection to the new year.
 
I’ve included recipes for dishes to round out a Rosh Hashanah meal, including an apple cake, honey mustard chicken and tzimmes. A combination of carrots, sweet potatoes and prunes, tzimmes is a favorite because of a second layer of symbolism - the Yiddish word for carrot (meren) is the same as for “increase.” Eating carrots is thought to promote growth and bounty in the coming year.
 
Honey Mustard Chicken
3 T grainy mustard
2 T honey
3 T apricot preserves
2 T white wine vinegar
1/2 t crumbled tarragon
1/4 t crumbled rosemary
1 bunch green onions
1 T butter
4 boneless chicken breasts
salt & pepper, to taste
 
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, honey, preserves, vinegar, herbs and green onions; set aside. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high. Dry the chicken breasts with paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place chicken in the skillet in a single layer and cook until lightly browned. Turn and brown the other side. Transfer the chicken to the baking dish and drizzle with honey mustard mixture. Bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.
 
Tzimmes
1 yellow onion
3 T olive oil
1 lb carrots
1 sweet potato
10 prunes
1 C orange juice
1/2 C honey
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
 
Cut the onion in half crosswise and then cut each half into thin slices. Heat oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium low. Cook the onions, stirring often until softened and golden. Cut the carrots into half-inch rounds; add to the pan. Peel and cube the sweet potato; add to the pan. Dice the prunes; add to the pan. Add orange juice, honey, cinnamon and salt; stir to combine. Cover and simmer over low until vegetables are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm.
 
Apple Cake
2 to 3 large apples*
1 1/2 C brown sugar
1/3 C olive oil
1 egg
1 C buttermilk
1 t vanilla 
1 t baking soda
2 1/2 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 T butter
 
Preheat oven to 325 F. Coat the inside of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Peel the apples and chop into half-inch cubes; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat together brown sugar, oil and egg. Add buttermilk and vanilla; stir to combine. Add baking soda and flour; stir until blended. Stir in apples and pour the batter into prepared pan. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon and butter; sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter. Bake until cooked through, about 45 minutes. *Note: Use a mixture of apples for best flavor results, enough apples for 1 1/2 C.

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