Growing up in an Ashkenazi home in Washington DC, I had never heard of a Rosh
Hashana Seder. This ceremony of sampling various symbolic foods, with blessings
included for each one, is popular among Jews of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern
When my friends Valerie and Hayim Alon had such a Seder as part
of their Jewish New Year dinner, I enjoyed it very much. The most interesting
Seder foods were the dishes made of vegetables – leeks, pumpkin and chard. The
Alons prepared them as delicious appetizers, such as pumpkin cooked with
chickpeas, nutmeg and a hint of maple syrup, and leeks braised with
Their Rosh Hashana Seder reminded me somewhat of a menu de
dégustation, or tasting menu. I would have been happy to focus the meal on
vegetable dishes like these. Along with sweet halla, they could be part of a
Rosh Hashana vegetarian feast.
Some say the reason for blessing these
specific vegetables is that their names in Aramaic or Hebrew are similar to
words for things people wish for in the coming year. For example, the word for
leek, known in Hebrew not only as kresha
but also as karti,
is similar to the
Hebrew word yikartu
, to be cut off, meaning our enemies should be
Yet the custom of serving these vegetables on Rosh Hashana is
said to date back to Rabbi Abaye of the Babylonian Talmud. A practical man, his
reason for including those specific vegetables on the holiday menu is that they
are abundant. He advised eating them as omens for good fortune.
by chance that he mentioned those vegetables. Rabbi Abaye lived in Babylonia –
now Iraq – and these vegetables were and still are popular throughout central
PUMPKIN STEW is a favorite in the region, wrote Julia Najor in
. Her recipe calls for cooking the pumpkin with browned meat,
onion, garlic, tomato paste, date honey (silan) and lemon juice. Another popular
dish is a stew of greens, meat and chickpeas, flavored with garlic and lemon
Jews from Iraq use chard in a variety of ways, wrote Pascale
Peretz-Rubin, author of Delicacies of Iraq
(in Hebrew). On their menu the greens
might appear in a stew of tiny beef cubes with potatoes, tomato paste and
sauteed onion; or the leaves might be stuffed with a garlicky meat and rice
filling with fresh mint. They stew pumpkin with tomatoes, raisins and a pinch of
hot pepper to make a sweet-savory sauce for kubbeh (meat-stuffed semolina
Chard and pumpkin are liked by Kurdish Jews too. According to
Varda Shilo, author of Kurdistani Cooking
(in Hebrew), they cook chard with
meat, bulgur wheat and chopped hot pepper, or simmer the vegetable with rice,
sauteed onion and chicken.
Pumpkin might be simply sauteed and then
simmered with rice.
In Uzbekistan, where the Bukharan Jews originated, a
popular recipe was a pumpkin simmered until very tender with a stuffing of
ground lamb, rice, onion, cumin, turmeric and fresh coriander, wrote Copeland
Marks, author of Sephardic Cooking
. Leeks are popular among Persian Jews, who
combine them with dill, tarragon and other herbs to flavor a sauce for
meatballs. Marks noted that Afghan Jews combined the flavors of Persia with
those of Uzbekistan. Among Afghans, leeks are used as a filling for a
For obvious reasons Rabbi Abaye didn’t mention
tomatoes and peppers, which are at the height of their season in Israel around
Rosh Hashana. He didn’t know these vegetables because they arrived in the Old
World more than 1,000 years after his time. There’s no reason, however, why we
can’t include them when making Rosh Hashana appetizers or side dishes from the
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
CHARD BAKED WITH PEPPERS AND TOMATOES
Chard can be cooked like spinach and is a
quicker substitute because chard has much larger leaves and takes little time to
clean. This chard and vegetable casserole, moistened with olive oil, flavored
with garlic and sauteed onion and topped with chopped almonds, can be made in
advance and reheated.
Makes 6 servings.
700 gr. (11⁄2 pounds)
Swiss chard, rinsed thoroughly
6 to 8 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
finely chopped onion
800 gr. (13⁄4 pounds) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and
3 small garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
small sweet red bell peppers, halved crosswise and cut in strips 6 mm (1⁄4 inch)
1 sweet green pepper, cut like the red peppers
3 Tbsp. unseasoned bread
3 Tbsp. coarsely chopped blanched almonds
Preheat oven to 205ºC (400ºF).
Cut chard leaves from stems, discarding stems. Pile chard leaves, cut them in
half lengthwise and then crosswise in strips about 1 cm, (1⁄2 inch)
In medium-size saucepan of boiling salted water, cook, uncovered,
about 3 minutes, or until just tender. Drain thoroughly. Squeeze by handfuls to
remove excess moisture.
In a large skillet, heat 2 or 3 tablespoons olive
oil over medium heat, stir in onion, and cook about 7 minutes, or until soft but
not brown. Stir in tomatoes. Raise heat to high and cook, stirring constantly,
about 12 minutes or until mixture becomes dry. Stir in garlic, add ground pepper
and adjust seasoning to taste.
In a large skillet, heat 2 or 3
tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat, add peppers, salt and pepper to
taste and cook, tossing often, about 7 minutes or until tender.
coat a heavy 5-cup gratin dish or other shallow baking dish with olive
Spread chard in dish. Spoon tomato mixture over chard and smooth.
Spoon pepper mixture evenly over tomatoes.
Scatter bread crumbs then
almonds evenly over vegetables. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bake
about 15 minutes, or until vegetables are heated through and beginning to bubble
at the bottom. If topping is not brown, broil with broiler door partly open
about 1 minute or just until lightly browned, checking often and turning dish if
necessary so topping browns evenly. Serve hot, from baking dish.PUMPKIN
AND LAMB KABOB SAUTE
This recipe is from Sephardic Cooking
by Copeland Marks.
“Pumpkin is a common vegetable in Persia and is popular with the Jews,” he
The sauce in this dish is flavored with sauteed onions and dried
apricots. Marks calls for lamb but you can use ground chicken instead. The
kabobs are stewed, not grilled.
Makes 6 to 8 servings with rice and salad
1 cup dried green mung beans, soaked in 2 cups water overnight
450 gr. (1 pound)
ground lamb 1 medium onion, grated (1⁄2 cup)
1 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. pepper
tsp. ground turmeric
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 medium onions, chopped (1 cup)
gr. (1 pound) pumpkin, peeled, cut into 7.5-cm. (3-inch) pieces
1 cup dried
apricots, soaked in 1 cup water for 1 hour
1 cup water
Stir soaked mung beans
briskly to remove the skins. Scoop off the skins with a slotted spoon and
discard. Put the beans and soaking liquid in a large pan.
grated onion, salt, pepper and turmeric together by hand or in a
Heat oil in a skillet and stir-fry the
chopped onions over low heat for about 4 minutes until golden/light brown on the
edges. Pour into pan with the beans. Add pumpkin pieces, apricots and liquid,
and 1 cup water and bring to a boil.
Take 1 heaping tablespoon of the
lamb mix for each kabob and shape cylinders 5 cm. (2 inches) long and 2.5 cm. (1
inch) thick. Put these into the bean and pumpkin pan one by one. Cover and cook
over low heat, without stirring, for 15 minutes, or until all ingredients are
tender but not mushy. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes more if too firm.
warm with ample sauce.