Last Minute Rosh HaShanah Menu Ideas

I love learning about different cultures and traditions, and thought that if you are like me, you might be interested in taking a glimpse into the Jewish new year.

The Hebrew or Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar and has 29.5 days per month, resulting in 354 days a year. In the past, before Roman times, this was the only calendar used by Jews. In modern times, the Gregorian calendar is the main calendar used by everyone, including Jews. The Hebrew calendar is only used for the Jewish Holidays and Jewish events. In order to keep the two calendars synchronized, a whole month is added to the Hebrew calendar seven times in every 19 years. Which means that my Hebrew date of birth and my Gregorian date of birth synchronize every 19 years.

Anyway, that is the reason why every year, the Jewish Holidays fall on different dates in the Gregorian calendar. They go by the Hebrew calendar to keep them in synch with the seasons. Rosh HaShanah, which literally means in Hebrew “the head of the year,” is the beginning of the Jewish year, and is one of the major Jewish Holidays.

What I love about the Jewish Holidays is that they are ceremonial. It’s not just another festive meal. There is always a short (or long) ceremony going on before the meal is served. On Rosh HaShanah, the ceremony involves reciting different blessings around the table before the meal. These blessings include wishes for a sweet new year, for living in peace with no enemies, for being prosperous, for being leaders who shine light and goodness upon the world, for being deserving for God’s approval, ect. Each blessing is symbolized by some food where the connection is usually a pun between the Hebrew/Aramaic name of the food and the meaning of the blessing.

European and American Jews (Ashkenazi) usually recite one blessing that includes apples and honey for a sweet new year.
Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Asian and African Jews (Sephardic) include these two foods in their blessings, as well as all of the following foods: dates, pumpkin or carrot, beet, leek, head of fish of beef (the meat from the cheeks), and black-eyed peas. As you recite each blessing, you have a bite of the corresponding food. So even though it’s not the main meal yet, you do not remain hungry. On the contrary. By the time we are done with the ceremonial part of the evening, most of us are already full.

But of course, we can’t skip the meal, which usually includes some sweet dishes for a sweet new year. Most of us who celebrate already have a set menu for Rosh HaShanah, or at least we have an idea of what goes on the table. However, there are always last minute changes because our guests have special requirements, or we couldn’t find some of the ingredients we were counting on, or a guest responsible for bringing one of the dishes bailed out. Whatever the reason, here are some recipes that can save the day in short notice. I chose these recipes as they include ingredients that are showcased in the blessings recited at the Holiday table, and some dishes with sweet inclination.

Wishing all who celebrate (and those who don’t) a happy, sweet, and prosperous new year!

Chestnut Pumpkin Soup
Pomegranate Soup with Turkey Meatballs
Kubbeh in Beet Soup
Celery and Beet Salad
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Fish in Tomato Sauce
Apple Khoresh
My Grandmother’s Cheek Meat Stew
Apple Cake with Dates and Pomegranate
Apple Poppy Seed Cake

Apple Cake with Dates and Pomegranate

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, will take place in a couple of weeks, bringing with it the autumnal flavors of apples, pomegranate, and dates.  I wanted to try and come up with a cake that will encompass these flavors. I started with a base recipe for apple cake that I received from my sister and added to it chopped dates, pomegranate molasses and a floral decoration for a festive look.

Wow, am I happy with the outcome!!  The cake is moist, rich with flavor, but not overly sweet. The pomegranate molasses is a must! Don’t skip it! It adds fruity tartness that complements the sweetness of the apples and the dates.  And the cake is beautiful, if I may say so myself. Hope you give it a try…and let me know what you think.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 red apples unpeeled
3 eggs
¾ cup (150g) sugar
1 cup (200cc) oil
2 cups (280g) flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 cups (2 large apples) peeled and cubed into ½ inch
1 cup chopped Medjool dates
4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (found in Middle Eastern stores)

Place one cup sugar and one cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.

Cut the 2 red apples in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Slice each half into very thin slices using a mandolin, a food processor, or a knife. Place the apple slices in the syrup to soften them.

Preheat oven to 360F.

In a mixer, on medium speed, mix the oil with the sugar and eggs. Add the applesauce.

Reduce speed to low. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the apple cubes and the chopped dates and blend them in.

Pour the batter into a greased 9” pound cake pan.

Drizzle on top the pomegranate molasses and using a wooden skewer, swirl it into the batter.

Decorate the top of the cake with the sliced apples. Roll each slice into a flower cone, peel side up, and stick it in the batter. Repeat with the rest of the slices, making sure the slices are placed very close to one another. It’s ok if you have some leftover slices.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.