Different paths to a sweet New Year

Pomegranates and dates were served by Yakir’s Yemen-born mother when he was growing up in Israel. My Polish-born mother usually added sweet potatoes and prunes to the traditional sweet tzimmes.

Yellow basmati rice mixes a savory taste with a sweet one by adding green raisins. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Yellow basmati rice mixes a savory taste with a sweet one by adding green raisins.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Our parents followed different paths to express the universal theme of Rosh Hashana – sweetness.
Pomegranates and dates were served by Yakir’s Yemen-born mother when he was growing up in Israel. In my childhood home in the US, my Polish-born mother usually added sweet potatoes and prunes to the traditional sweet stew, tzimmes.
During the last few decades, Jewish New Year culinary customs from a variety of backgrounds have merged in many households. We’ve enjoyed, for example, rice topped with dried fruit and almonds at so many Rosh Hashana dinners that we almost forgot its Sephardi origins (see recipe). Just about everyone we know ends the feast with a taste of Ashkenazi-style honey cake.
For the holiday, many of us like to savor the dishes of our childhood. That doesn’t mean we prepare them exactly the way our parents did. Over the years, dishes have been modified as new ingredients became available. Tzimmes recipes in old cookbooks call for using water to cook the vegetables and prunes. Yet freshly squeezed orange juice flavors the tzimmes of Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman, authors of The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home (see recipe). Pineapple juice moistens the tzimmes prepared by Lynn Kirsche Shapiro, author of the just-published book Food, Family and Tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances.
Time-honored recipes are sometimes impacted by cooking trends. Shapiro’s father, like my mother, cooked beef with the tzimmes, but today, notes Shapiro, many keep their tzimmes vegetarian.
The longer tzimmes is baked, the deeper and richer the flavors, wrote Shapiro. To make her tzimmes she cooks sliced carrots in pineapple juice and water for 30 to 45 minutes, then adds sweet potatoes, dried fruit, cinnamon and a generous amount of sugar and bakes the tzimmes for at least two hours.
In contrast to this traditional approach, Zukin and Zusman prefer briefly cooked tzimmes. He cooks his for less than 30 minutes so the ingredients retain their texture and flavor.
It’s easy to see why our neighbor, whose heritage is Moroccan, serves tzimmes on Rosh Hashana. In Moroccan cuisine there are sweet tagines, or stews, that are quite similar to the Ashkenazi specialty. Gay Peretz and Nissim Krispil, authors of a cookbook in Hebrew, Kessem Hamitbah Hamaroka’i (“The Magic of Moroccan Cuisine”) make a tagine of lamb and prunes cooked with sweet wine, onions, sugar, ginger and cinnamon.
Like Ashkenazim, Moroccan Jews prepare a variety of sweet dishes for Rosh Hashana. Peretz and Krispil make a cooked salad of carrots and dates dressed with silan (date syrup or date molasses) and note that it could be called the tzimmes of the Moroccan kitchen (see recipe).
In honor of the holiday, Moroccan Jews might top their couscous with a mixture of walnuts and raisins. Some accompany their couscous with sweet vegetable dishes such as winter squash baked with cinnamon, ginger, thyme and onion jam made of sweetened sautéed onions.
Another sweet Moroccan side dish for couscous that would also be good with rice is tanzia, which Peretz and Krispil make from dried fruit cooked with shallot or onion jam, caramelized sugar, sweet spices, brandy and several kinds of nuts.
When preparing sweet entrees and side dishes, most people add a savory note to balance the sweetness. Zukin and Zusman flavor their tzimmes with just a hint of honey and add fresh ginger for a touch of sharpness. Peretz and Krispil season their carrot and date salad with garlic sautéed in olive oil, lemon juice and fresh thyme.
Even the custom of serving a “new fruit” on the second day of Rosh Hashana has evolved. Friends of ours embellish their New Year’s table with a colorful fruit salad in which they include pomegranate seeds, pineapple slices and other seasonal fruits, or use such a salad to accompany slices of honey cake.
Instead of serving a single exotic fruit following tradition, we make a platter of several of our favorite fruits. In recent years we’ve included papayas, mangoes, cherimoyas, dragonfruits (pitaya) and Asian pears.
We almost always add yellow dates, which some consider a signature Rosh Hashana fruit because it comes into season just in time for the holiday. But sometimes we’re guilty of snacking on them before the holiday begins. 
The writer is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and Jewish Cooking for Dummies.
This recipe is from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home.
“Over the generations, tzimmes has become a staple dish served on Rosh Hashana,” wrote authors Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman. “The understandable rap on tzimmes is that it’s too often sickly sweet. We have put that problem to rest by using fresh orange juice and just a touch of honey for a complex tart sweetness, adding a generous dose of fresh ginger, pepper and dried cherries or cranberries along with the more traditional prunes. Serve as a side dish with meat or poultry.”
Makes 4 servings
❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) carrots, trimmed, peeled and diagonally cut into 6-mm.- (¼-inch-) thick slices
❖ ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
❖ 2 tsp. honey
❖ 3 slices peeled fresh ginger
❖ A 5-cm. (2-inch) cinnamon stick, broken in half
❖ ½ tsp. black peppercorns
❖ ½ tsp. kosher salt (coarse salt)
❖ ½ cup pitted prunes
❖ ½ cup dried cherries or cranberries
Place a heavy 2½ to 3-liter (2½ to 3-quart) saucepan over medium heat and add the carrots, orange juice, honey, ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns and salt. Stir in ½ cup water. Cover, bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer until the carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the carrots into a bowl. Remove and discard the peppercorns, ginger slices and cinnamon stick. Leave the liquid in the pan. Cover the carrots and keep warm.
Increase the heat to medium and add the prunes and cherries to the saucepan. Cook until the liquid thickens to a thin syrup, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the carrots back to the pot, stirring to coat them and evenly distribute the fruit. Serve warm.
Studded with nuts and dried fruit, this dish is a favorite of ours for Rosh Hashana.
You can make it with raisins or dried cherries instead of cranberries, or pecans or shelled pistachios instead of almonds.
Makes about 4 servings
❖ 3½ cups chicken broth mixed with water, about equal parts of each
❖ 3 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
❖ 1 medium onion, chopped
❖ 1¾ cups long-grain white rice
❖ ½ tsp. ½ salt, or to taste
❖ Freshly ground pepper to taste
❖ 1/3 cup dried cranberries
❖ 2/3 cup whole or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
Heat broth and water to a simmer in a small saucepan.
Heat oil in a large sauté pan, wide stew pan or deep skillet. Add onion and cook over medium heat for 7 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add rice and cook, stirring gently, for 3 minutes or until grains begin to turn white.
Pour hot broth over rice, add ½ teaspoon salt and a little pepper and stir once. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover tightly and simmer, without stirring, for 12 minutes. Scatter cranberries over top.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Let stand off heat for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle rice with half the almonds. Fluff rice gently with a large fork, gently stirring to evenly distribute the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, topped with remaining almonds.
This recipe is from Kessem Hamitbah Hamaroka’i.
Authors Gay Peretz and Nissim Krispil note you can keep the salad up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
❖ 4 carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds 1-cm (about ½ -inch) thick
❖ 3 Tbsp. olive oil
❖ 5 garlic cloves, chopped
❖ 100 gr. (3½ ounces) moist dates, halved and pitted
❖ 1 fresh thyme sprig
❖ 1 cinnamon stick
❖ 5 Tbsp. silan (date molasses or date honey)
❖ Juice of ½ lemon
Put carrot slices in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.
Cook for 10 minutes or until carrots are tender. Drain carrots. (You can reserve the cooking liquid to add to soups.)
Heat oil in a skillet, add the garlic and cook just until golden. Add the dates and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the carrots, thyme, cinnamon, silan and lemon juice. Cover and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. (If pan juices become too dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water or carrot cooking liquid.) Cool to room temperature and serve.