Find a place for vegetables at the Rosh Hashana table

Bill Daley

Carrot tzimmes, a sweet fruit and vegetable stew, is a dish Carol Ungar's mother always made for Rosh Hashana. The golden carrot coins signaled prosperity, recalls the cookbook author; what more appropriate dish to mark the Jewish new year, the two-day holiday that begins this year at sundown Sunday?

Rosh Hashana foods are traditionally as rich in symbolism as they are in flavor. Apples dipped in honey may be the most familiar dish of the holiday, but don't forget the role vegetables play on the table.

"The whole thing about Rosh Hashana is sweetness: Honey, fruits, root vegetables, for a sweet new year," Marlena Spieler, an American-born food writer and cookbook author, wrote in an email from her home outside London. Roasted carrots are a constant, but she also cited a North African seven-vegetable couscous that some communities make for the holiday.

Yet, in other families, veggies sometimes get shortchanged. "Eastern European Jewish cooking isn't really vegetable centric, and that definitely extends to holiday cooking," Leah Koenig, the Brooklyn, New York-based author of "Modern Jewish Cooking," wrote in an email.

"I personally like vegetables," said Ungar, a former New Yorker who now lives in Kiryat Yearim, a suburb of Jerusalem. "Traditional Jewish cuisine was very oriented to vegetables."

Ungar is author of the new book "Jewish Soul Food: Traditional Fare and What It Means" (Brandeis University Press, $27.95). The dishes of Rosh Hashana are what led to her exploration of food symbolism in Judaism. These foods evoke prosperity, sweetness and fertility, she said.

Another tradition of Rosh Hashana is to enjoy the first fruits and vegetables of the season, said Amelia Saltsman, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based author of "The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition" (Sterling Epicure, $29.95). The book lists winter squash, winter greens and root vegetables among the stars of Rosh Hashana menus. But her book also lists "anti-good luck foods."

"Some people avoid sour foods or black ones (olives, raisins, eggplant, coffee, chocolate), the color of mourning," Saltsman wrote. "I leave it to you to decide how much 'insurance' you need."

Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato Tzimmes

Although tzimmes has a reputation for requiring a lot of work, Amelia Saltsman writes in "The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen" that her version "couldn't be easier. ... Roast carrots, sweet potatoes and dried Santa Rosa-type plums (or common dried prunes) in fresh orange juice until they are tender, browned, glazed with citrus and deliciously infused with orange." Pair with brisket or chicken, she adds, or serve with farro or quinoa for a pareve/vegan main course. The tzimmes can be made a day ahead and reheated.

Prep: 35 minutes

Cook: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Makes: 8 to 10 servings

6 to 8 oranges

1 lemon

2 pounds carrots, peeled

3 pounds sweet potatoes

1 pound shallots (about 8 large)

1/2 to 3/4 pound dried plums or pitted prunes (vary the amount depending on how sweet and fruity you want the dish)

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste

Freshly ground white or black pepper

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the zest in large strips from 2 of the oranges and the lemon. Be sure to press down only hard enough to capture the colored part of the skin, not the bitter white pith. Juice enough of the oranges to yield 2 1/2 cups juice. Reserve the lemon for another use.

2. Cut the carrots crosswise into 2-inch chunks or lengthwise into 2-inch chunks. (If carrots are very fat, first halve them lengthwise.) Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into large bite-size chunks. Peel and quarter the shallots lengthwise. Use kitchen scissors to snip the prunes.

3. Place carrots, sweet potatoes, shallots, prunes and lemon and orange zests in a roasting pan large enough to hold all the vegetables in more or less a single layer. Toss with enough olive oil to coat evenly, season with salt and pepper, and pour the juice over all.

4. Roast, turning the vegetables once or twice during cooking, until tender and browned in places and most of the juice is absorbed, about 1 1/4 hours. For a saucier finished dish, add another 1/2 to 1 cup juice during the last 20 minutes of cooking. The juice should thicken slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition information per serving: 257 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 52 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 155 mg sodium, 8 g fiber

Green, Green Rosh Hashana Latkes

Potato latkes are strongly linked to Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Yet latkes, made of different vegetables perhaps, can be enjoyed at other times. These latkes made with Swiss chard or beet green leaves are "a palatable way to eat silka, which is the Aramaic name for beet greens," writes Carol Ungar in an email. The author of "Jewish Soul Food" says the green vegetable is eaten with Rosh Hashana to be rid of enemies. This recipe makes small, bite-size pancakes appropriate as an hors d'oeuvre.

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: about 4 minutes per side

Makes: 24 to 30 patties

5 large Swiss chard or beet green leaves, shredded (about 2 cups)

2 large eggs

1/2 cup matzo meal

1 small onion, finely diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil for frying

1. In a food processor using the blade attachment, process all ingredients except frying oil quickly until a paste forms. (There should still be identifiable vegetable pieces.) Do only a few pulses; you don't want to create a true puree.

2. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. With wet hands, form chard mixture into thin patties the size of your palm and fry patties, in batches, until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per patty (for 30 patties): 22 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 42 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Sweet Pickled Daikon

"I always like pickles on my holiday table; the sourness of a pickle is not something that will deter me from a sweet new year," writes Marlena Spieler, the American-born, England-based cookbook author, in an email. "This year though I'm going to serve a homemade sweet pickle, a delicious pickle inspired by my visits to Taiwan and Japan: not only is it sweet, but it is golden yellow, infused with turmeric, and to me, looks like the color of happiness. The pickle is very easy to do and takes about two days." You can add more turmeric for a more golden color; Spieler says the hue brightens with a few days of pickling. Do shake or stir the pickles occasionally while they are refrigerated. For the chili pepper, Spieler suggests picking one with flavor and "just a tiny bit of heat."

Prep: 15 minutes

Rest: 1-2 days

Makes: About 1 quart

1/2 large daikon radish, peeled, cut into quarters or halves lengthwise then sliced thinly

1 hot red chili pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon salt

1/3 cup each: sugar, rice vinegar

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Combine the daikon with the chili pepper and the salt. Leave in a bowl for about half an hour. Add the sugar, rice vinegar and turmeric. Mix well. (If the daikon is not completely submerged, add up to 1/3 cup water.) Transfer to a washed jar, mixing/turning up and down for a day or two. Place in the refrigerator, where you can keep it for up to two weeks, digging into it as desired.

Note: Variables in absorption rate of the brine make nutritional analysis unreliable.