Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Change It Up a Little for the High Holidays

We love our traditions, but sometimes it's nice to mix it up a little with new recipes and new approaches to longstanding habits. The Jewish High Holidays -- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- begin at the end of the week. Erev Rosh Hashanah starts on Friday at sundown. Kol Nidre starts at sundown on Sept. 27th. These are days marked by the sweetness of a new year--we dip sliced apples into honey--and 24 hours of fasting that help us reflect on our lives and repent for sins we committed in the previous year. Then comes the breaking of the fast with foods that are flavorful yet easy on the stomach. In my home, it was with dairy and pareve dishes like blintzes, herring or other fish, salads, and bagels, lox, and cream cheese.

There are a number of foods that have symbolic meaning this time of year, in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. The apples and honey, of course, but also pomegrantes, which are now coming into season. One of the reasons pomegranates are considered special is that they're said to contain 613 seeds, which is the same as the number of commandments, or mitzvot, in the Bible. And, with such a large number of seeds, there is, of course, that connection to fertility.

I recently learned fish heads are a traditional Rosh Hashanah food. We never had them in my home growing up, but they represent the "head" of the New Year and, again, abundance and fertility. As in being as abundant as the fish in the sea...

The round challah, a beautiful bread, departs from the traditional braided version eaten on Shabbat, and represents the circle of life and continuity of the Jewish year. Do you add raisins to your bread? Well, that just makes the challah--and life--extra sweet.

If you're looking for symbolic protection of the Jewish people from enemies, you can look to foods like leeks, beets, and dates that serve that function during Rosh Hashanah.

And, more common among Middle Eastern Jews, is the consumption of the herb fenugreek. That's because the Hebrew word for fenugreek has a similar sound to the Hebrew word for "increase." According to holidays.net, when eating fenugreek, a special prayer is recited to ask God to increase our merits.

I don't know about you, but between my stalwart Jewish cookbooks and my family recipes, I could work with my mom to make a holiday meal without thinking too much about it. But since these holidays are about reflection, maybe it would be a good idea to also give some thought to the dishes we prepare for our famlies and friends. A new recipe requires a bit of concentration and openness to how others feed their souls.

In that spirit, I thought I'd share a collection of interesting blogs and sites that might inspire you to break out of old, familiar habits and explore something a little different. And, if you have some new resources for holiday recipes, I hope you'll share them here in the comments section.

L' shanah Tovah!



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