For this year’s Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Sept. 20, I have started exploring the traditional dishes of Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews.
While many articles expound on the varied customs and rituals of Sephardic Jews, these same articles almost always describe the cuisines of non-Ashkenazi Jews in one broad swoop.
But I wanted to learn about specific traditional dishes cooked and eaten by non-Ashkenazi families, so I asked a Facebook group of French-speaking Jewish women what traditional dishes they make for Rosh Hashanah:
Michele: “Alsatian carp with green sauce. Broth with matzah balls. Pot au feu.”
Veronique, Jacqueline, Karine and Nicole: “Pkaila.”
Sophie: “Roast lamb shoulder.”
Joelle: “Traditional vegetable soup of … apples, fennel seeds, spinach, white squash, dates and leek, and the head of a fish or mutton cheeks. We make a blessing on a pomegranate on the second night.”
Anna: “We Moroccans make a blessing over a plate composed of many vegetables: pumpkin, green squash, raisins, long beans, zucchini, small white onions, onions cut into small pieces, one beef head and powdered sugar. Let it simmer for a long time.”
All of these dishes sound wonderful, but I am particularly drawn to the symbolism of the Moroccan Rosh Hashanah seder dishes, with their puns and wordplay.
Using some of the vegetables mentioned, I cooked a Moroccan-inspired tzimmes to serve as a side dish. My main dish, roast chicken, includes a pomegranate walnut pesto, inspired by the sweet and savory khoresh-e fesenjān, also traditional for Rosh Hashanah.
Roasted Seven-Vegetable “Macht Nichts Kein” Tsimmes
1 lb. sweet potato, peeled
½ lb. carrots, peeled
½ lb. beets, peeled
1 small red onion
¾ lb. Italian plums, whole (or small plums, pitted and chopped)
½ lb. small fresh figs, stemmed and halved
¼ lb. summer squash, slice into 1-inch circles
⅓ cup wine, white or red
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop all vegetables into 1-inch cubes, except the squash (1-inch circles). Arrange vegetables and fruit in a roasting pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool. Don’t clean the roasting pan.
Place mixture in small pot on medium heat. Pour wine into the roasting pan and scrape up caramelized juices with a wooden spoon. When juices dissolve in wine, pour wine into pot. Steam off alcohol, stirring, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with spices.
Roast Chicken with Walnuts and Pomegranates
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
¼ lb. walnuts
½ oz. parsley (about a handful)
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
Salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken (5 to 6 lbs.)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large, heavy skillet. Fry onions on medium high heat until very soft. Place cooked onions in food processor. Fry walnuts until fragrant, but not burnt. Add walnuts, parsley and molasses to processor. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and process to a uniform paste.
Dry chicken, remove giblets, trim extra fat. Gently separate the skin from the flesh and stuff all over with paste. Sprinkle kosher salt all over skin. Bake breast side down on a rack on a baking sheet for 60 to 80 minutes. Halfway through baking, turn breast side up and continue baking. Carve and serve. Optionally, sprinkle with more pomegranate molasses.