Many of the foods associated with the High Holy Days are eaten to symbolize our wishes for the new year. Carrots are said to represent gold and carry a hope for prosperity. Black-eyed peas and string beans stand in for fertility and plenty. Leeks are intended to rid us of our enemies. Pumpkin and squash represent our good deeds, as well as our pleas for God to tear up harsh judgments against us. And dates are meant to vanquish all enmity.
Of course, the most recognizable food tradition is dipping apples and challah in honey for a sweet new year.
In addition to the symbolic traditions, families have their own. Mine really enjoys brisket or pot roast cooked until it falls apart. This year I’ve planned a twist on that tradition. I’m making Balsamic Vinegar and Mustard Lamb Shanks with White Beans. Sweet balsamic vinegar provides a slightly tangy taste for a sweet new year. The shanks are braised until the meat is falling-apart tender and then shredded. This is definitely not everyday cooking since the dish has several steps, but it can be made ahead and reheated. (See notes for more information.) Serve over rice, potatoes, pasta or polenta.
Another tradition at our holiday table is a substantial vegetarian entrée (or side dish). This year it’s Acorn Squashes Stuffed with Vegetables and Black-Eyed Peas. The stew is based on a Moroccan tradition of serving a dish featuring symbolic vegetables. Drizzling the baked squash halves with date honey adds a bit of sweetness. Diners scoop out some of the baked squash as they eat the stew. (See tips for making in advance.) Serve with couscous or quinoa.
Balsamic Vinegar and Mustard Lamb Shanks with White Beans
2 cups cooked white kidney beans (see below)
2 Tbs. oil
1 tsp. salt, divided
1 tsp. ground pepper, divided
4½-5 lbs. meaty lamb shanks on the bone (see notes)
1 tsp. ground black pepper, divided
1 tsp. salt, divided
4 cups chopped onion
2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
2 cups chopped carrots (cut in ¼-inch pieces)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1½ cups water
1 Tbs. prepared yellow mustard (such as French’s)
2 Tbs. tomato paste
15 oz. can plain tomato sauce
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley
Soak and cook beans as directed below. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Rub half of the salt and pepper all over the lamb shanks. Heat oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven, roasting pan or other wide, deep, sturdy stove- and ovenproof pot. Brown shanks over medium-high heat, working in batches if necessary. Remove browned lamb to platter. Add onions to pan, sauté until softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic, sauté until golden. Add carrots, sauté for a minute. Stir in remaining salt and pepper and paprika and rosemary. Mix in balsamic vinegar, water, mustard and tomato paste, stirring up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, add in the shanks and any liquids they may have exuded. Turn the shanks to coat in liquid. Cover with lid or foil and put in oven. Bake until meat is tender and falling off bones (about 2½ to 3 hours, timing will vary), basting and turning in liquid occasionally.
Remove lamb from pot, cool slightly and shred meat (discarding bones and gristle). Return shredded meat to pot and stir in beans (with cooking onions and garlic) and tomato sauce. Place pot on stove over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, cover and keep at a simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until heated through and flavors are melded. Taste and add salt and or pepper as needed. Garnish with chopped mint and parsley if desired.
Cooked dried white kidney beans (cannellini beans): Pick over and rinse off 1 cup uncooked beans. Place in large pot. Add water until it covers the beans by 2 inches. Soak overnight. Drain, add fresh water until beans are covered by 2 inches of water. Add 1 cup chopped onion, ½ tsp. chopped garlic, 1 bay leaf and ¼ tsp. ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and keep at simmer until beans are almost tender to the bite (about 1½ to 2 hours, but timing will vary). Stir in ¼ tsp. salt and continue simmering until beans are tender. Drain, discarding bay leaf but leaving in onions and garlic. Measure out 2 cups for lamb recipe. Reserve remainder for another use.
Notes: Choose large, meaty lamb shanks. You’ll need about three shanks. If lamb shanks are too long for cooking pan, have butcher cut in sections. Beans can be made in advance and refrigerated. If lamb is cooked in advance, shred and store meat separate from sauce in refrigerator. Bring back to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe. If made completely in advance, bring to room temperature and cover and reheat in 350-degree oven or on medium heat on stove top.
Acorn Squashes Stuffed with Vegetables and Black-Eyed Peas
Serves 6 as a main course, 12 as a side dish
2 cups cooked black-eyed peas (see below)
4 Tbs. oil, divided, plus extra for greasing baking pans
3 large acorn squash (each about 2 lbs.)
1 tsp. salt, divided
½ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
1 cup chopped onions (see notes for directions on chopping all vegetables)
1 cup chopped leeks
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper (cayenne)
2 cups vegetable stock or water, warm
Pinch of saffron threads
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped peeled turnips
1 cup chopped peeled sweet potatoes
1 cup chopped string beans
1 cup chopped cabbage
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 cup chopped tomatoes
¼ cup date honey or pomegranate molasses (see notes)
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (mint, cilantro and or flat leaf parsley)
Have ready cooked black-eyed peas. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a large rimmed baking tray. Split each squash in half along “equator.” Scrape out seeds and strings. Slice off stem and pointy ends so squash will sit flat. (See notes.) Combine 1 Tbs. of oil with half of the salt and pepper. Rub insides of squash with mixture. Place cut side down on baking tray. Bake until squash is fork tender, about 40-50 minutes (timing will vary). Let cool and then place cut side up on a cleaned, greased rimmed baking tray. (See notes.) Turn off oven until about 20 minutes before ready to bake filled squash, then heat oven to 350 degrees.
While the squash is roasting, make stew. In a large pot or sauté pan, heat 2 Tbs. of oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and leeks and sauté until softened and beginning to color. Stir in cumin, coriander, cinnamon and red pepper. Sauté 1 minute. Stir saffron into stock and add to pan. Bring to a simmer. Add carrots. Cover and simmer until beginning to soften. Add turnips and sweet potatoes and simmer, covered, for 3 minutes. Add string beans and cabbage. Simmer, covered, for 3 minutes. Uncover, stir in cooked black-eyed peas (with cooking onion) and the tomato paste and simmer until carrots are tender all the way through and stew mixture has thickened. Stir in tomatoes.
Pack stew into baked squash halves, mounding filling over top. Drizzle with remaining oil. Bake for about 45 minutes until top is browned and squash and stew are heated through. Drizzle with date honey and sprinkle with herbs. Serve one of the halves as a vegetarian main course. As a side dish, let cool slightly and slice each half into two.
Cooked black-eyed peas: Pick over and rinse off 1 cup dried black-eyed peas. Place in large pot. Add water until it covers the beans by 2 inches. Soak overnight. Drain, add fresh water until beans are covered by 2 inches water. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 bay leaf and ¼ tsp. ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and keep at simmer until peas are almost tender to the bite (about 1-2 hours, but timing will vary). Stir in ¼ tsp. salt and continue simmering until beans are tender. Drain, discarding bay leaf but leaving in onions. Measure out 2 cups for squash recipe. Reserve remainder for another use.
Notes: Chop all vegetables evenly, in roughly ¼-inch pieces. If squash half bottoms do not rest flat on baking tray, make a ring or nest of foil to set bottoms in to prop the squash so they sit upright. Date honey (also called silan, date syrup or date molasses) is available in some kosher markets, specialty grocery stores and in Middle Eastern food stores, as is pomegranate molasses. If not available, substitute 2 Tbs. of regular honey.
Squash, beans and stew can be made in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe. If complete dish is made in advance, bring to room temperature and reheat covered with foil in 350-degree oven until warmed through.