The Jewish calendar is a funny thing. A lunisolar creation, it doesn't quite match up with the Gregorian one our calendar is based on. That's why every year you hear people asking: when is Rosh Hashana this year? When is Chanukkah?
This year Rosh Hashana starts on September 29, but even without knowing the date I could tell when the holiday is near. In my neighborhood, which is an eclectic mix of hipsters and Hasidic Jews (think Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with better weather), a good indicator that the High Holidays are coming are the sukkah shacks that pop up on Beverly Boulevard. Celebrating harvest, according to the Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking by Phyllis Glazer, was the original purpose of what we, today, call Rosh Hashana. It wasn't until after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews scattered across the globe that the holiday, the Day for Sounding the Shofar (Yom Tru'ah), evolved into the beginning of the new year.
Like any good holiday, Rosh Hashana has a slew of traditional foods. In my family and the homes of most Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazic), the dishes are sweet: challah with raisins, sweet noodle kugel, tzimmes, apples and honey, and honey cake, to name a few, and are meant as a symbol of hope for a sweet year to come.
Not to knock kugel (I love kugel), but the dishes have very little relevance to the type of cooking I enjoy: fresh and in season. But Jews from other parts of the world, particularly Sephardic and Italian Jews, boast delicious, festive dishes in their culinary quiver that embrace the harvest element of the holiday, too. Winter squash, fall spinach, beets, walnuts, dates, pomegranates, apples, quinces, and figs are all in season now and play prominently in these cuisines. Here are a few recipes that are farmers' market friendly and are sure to wow your guests at this year's Rosh Hoshasha celebration.
- Red Risotto: This risotto uses roasted beets for extra intrigue. [Food Network]
- Sephardic Spinach Patties [Epicurious]
- Quince in Syrup [Epicurious]
- Zucca Gialla in Agrodolce: You can use pumpkin, acorn squash or even butternut squash for this sweet and sour dish. [Food Network]
- Grandma Janette's Honey Cake
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