Sweet vegetables for a happy new year

Enhancing side dishes for a special occasion - to express the wish for a sweet Rosh Hashana.

vegetables 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
vegetables 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In many households, it’s customary to serve sweet dishes on Rosh Hashana to express the wish for a sweet New Year. My mother made classic tzimmes for the holiday and sweetened the stew of vegetables and dried fruit with a light hand. Usually this popular dish features sweet vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes.
Other vegetables, such as eggplant, okra and zucchini, can also benefit from a touch of sweetness. Honey-flavored eggplant puree is on the Rosh Hashana menu of the family of Lisa Elmaleh Craig, author of Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Kitchen.
This side dish is made of fried eggplant slices cooked slowly with honey, cinnamon and toasted sesame seeds until the eggplant pieces fall apart (see recipe). To accompany meat, Grandma Elmaleh prepared eggplant relish with ginger, made by boiling whole small eggplants, squeezing them dry, simmering them slowly in sugar syrup and seasoning the dish with powdered ginger.
Syrian Jews also enhance a variety of vegetables with a hint of sweetness, and several such formulas appear in A Fistful of Lentils, a book of Syrian-Jewish recipes by Jennifer Felicia Abadi. Her grandmother made a layered vegetable stew that Abadi considers a Syrian cousin of tzimmes. It was composed of diced eggplant, white and sweet potato cubes, prunes, onions and crushed tomatoes.
The stew cooked for three hours with a sauce of tomato paste, brown sugar, water, lemon juice, tamarind paste, cinnamon, allspice, salt and black pepper.
Prunes and brown sugar also sweetened her grandmother’s okra stew, made with sauteed onions, garlic, tomato paste, tamarind and lemon juice. For these savory dishes, notes Abadi, Syrian Jews prefer dark brown sugar over white to obtain a richer flavor.
Subtly sweetened vegetables are common in the Turkish Jewish kitchen as well. Viki Koronyo and Sima Ovadya, authors of Sefarad Yemekleri: Sephardic Cooking Book, a book of Turkish Jewish recipes, lightly sweeten their dill-flavored zucchini and tomato stew. Another zucchini dish, made with chicken broth and a little rice, cooks with a spoonful of sugar caramelized in a little oil. Their tomato stew calls for cooking diced tomatoes with sauteed onions, green peppers, a generous amount of parsley, a little rice, salt and sugar. In their eggplant stew, the same ingredients – sauteed onions, grated tomatoes, green peppers, rice, salt and sugar – cook with the eggplant cubes, along with a small amount of beef broth. We use a similar technique to make our leek stew with tomatoes (see recipe).
One of the most celebrated Moroccan-Jewish holiday dishes is known as the seven vegetables of Rosh Hashana. Viviane and Nina Moryoussef, authors of La Cuisine Juive Marocaine (Moroccan Jewish Cooking), include carrots, turnips, leeks, pumpkin and zucchini in this specialty and cook them in water with meat, oil, salt and saffron. The vegetables are finished with sugar and cinnamon and browned in the oven. At the beginning of dinner, each vegetable is tasted after a blessing is recited.
“We find,” write the Moryoussefs, “that the addition of sugar and cinnamon gives a lot of flavor and a subtle sweetness to this symbolic dish that is dear to our hearts.”The writer is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home and of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Serve this dish hot or at room temperature.
If you like, season the sauce with a pinch of cayenne.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
❖ 900 gr. (2 lbs.) leeks ❖ 3 or 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil ❖ 1 medium onion, chopped ❖ 2 carrots, sliced thin ❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper ❖ 3 Tbsp. long-grain rice ❖ 2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, or 2 canned tomatoes, diced and drained ❖ 1½ to 2 cups water ❖ ½ to 1 tsp. sugar, or to taste ❖ 1 to 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste (optional) ❖ 1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley (optional)
Split leeks lengthwise twice by cutting them with a sharp knife, beginning about 2.5 cm. (1 in.) from root end and cutting toward green end, leaving root end attached. Dip leeks repeatedly in a sinkful of cold water. Check the layers to be sure they are clean. If soil remains, soak the leeks in cold water for several minutes. Then separate the leaves under running water to rinse away any clinging soil. Cut off root ends. Cut leeks in thin slices, removing the top 5 to 7.5 cm. (2 to 3 in.), where they are very dark green. (You can save them for adding to stock.)
Heat oil in a large heavy sauté pan or stew pan. Add onion and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until slightly softened but not brown. Add leeks, carrots, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add rice, tomatoes, 1½ cups water and ½ tsp. sugar and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring often and adding hot water by quarter-cupfuls as needed, for 20 minutes or until vegetables and rice are tender; be careful not to let them burn. Add lemon juice to taste if desired, and more sugar, salt and pepper if needed. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.
This recipe is from Grandma Elmaleh’s Moroccan Cookbook. Author Lisa Elmaleh Craig makes it with 3 or 4 Tbsp. honey, but you can use less, according to your taste.
Makes about 4 servings
❖ 1 large eggplant ❖ 2 to 3 Tbsp. oil ❖ 3 to 4 Tbsp. honey ❖ 1 tsp. cinnamon ❖ 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
Peel the eggplant in alternate rows, to make a striped pattern. Slice the eggplant into 6-mm. (¼-in.) slices.
Heat the oil in a wide skillet and brown the eggplant slices very well on both sides, until they are dark brown – almost black.
Drain the slices and pat them dry in paper toweling.
In a medium saucepan, cook the eggplant slices over low heat with the honey, cinnamon and sesame seeds for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until all the eggplant is mashed, the honey is absorbed and all is blended to a smooth consistency.
Store the puree in an airtight jar. It keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer.
This recipe is adapted from Sefarad Yemekleri.
Authors Viki Koronyo and Sima Ovadya use sunflower oil, but you can substitute olive oil or another vegetable oil. They use only the outer part of the zucchini to make the dish; you can use the entire vegetable instead and cut it in cubes.
Makes 8 servings
❖ 1.5 kg. (3¼ to 3½ lbs.) zucchini or white squash (Hebrew kishuim) ❖ 2 or 3 large tomatoes, grated ❖ Juice of 1½ lemons (optional) ❖ 2 or 3 Tbsp. minced dill, with a little more for garnish if desired ❖ ⅓ cup vegetable oil or less, to taste ❖ 1 to 2 tsp. sugar, or to taste ❖ Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the zucchini in pieces about ½ cm. (¼ in.) thick, removing the pulp in the center (you can reserve it for making zucchini puree or other dishes). Cut the zucchini pieces in 3- to 4-cm. (1- to 1 ½-inch) squares.
Put the zucchini in a large sauté pan along with the tomatoes, lemon juice, dill, oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 15 to 20 minutes or until the zucchini is done to your taste; if the pan becomes dry, add a few tablespoons water and continue cooking, covered.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve at room temperature. If you like, garnish the dish with additional chopped dill.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home and of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.