Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the birth of the world, is the most regal of all the Jewish holidays. I can recall as a child being amazed at how different our synagogue looked for the holiday, with the Torah crowns and breastplates polished until they sparkled, the pristine stained glass windows reflecting light in rich, jeweled tones. The members of our congregation were dressed in their finest: the men in crisp white shirts and pressed dark suits, the women in new outfits, including a colorful array of stunning hats.
That regal aura carried over to our home, where our dining room table was set with all of our best dishes and silverware, our finest linens, and the crowning touch: the gleaming three-pronged silver candelabra that my grandmother carried with her on her journey from Germany to the United States in 1950. Year after year, my mother wowed us all with her exceptional holiday meal.
And just as many of your families did, we started the holiday meal by singing the blessings over the wine and the round challah. Then came the tradition of dipping an apple slice in honey and reciting the following blessing: "Yehi ratzon Adonai Eloheinu sheh-tee-cha-daysh ah-lay-nu shana tovah u'meh-tu-kah." ("May it be your will, Eternal G-d, that we are renewed for a year that is good and sweet. ")
I understood the significance of the wine and the challah, but what about the apple? Thinking that there might be some Talmudic reference to the apple, I called Rabbi Ze'ev Smason of Nusach Hari B'nai Zion, the synagogue where I grew up.
"The apple is a significant symbol throughout Judaism," Rabbi Smason explained. "On Rosh Hashanah, we are asking God to bless us with a sweet year. The ‘Song of Songs,' chapter eight, verse five, reads, ‘Beneath the apple tree I aroused your love,' which refers to the love between God and us."
"Furthermore," explained Rabbi Smason, "when Jacob came to receive his father's blessing, it is written that Jacob had the smell of an apple orchard. And finally, when you cut an apple horizontally, you will see 10 little holes that form a five- pointed star. The number 10 is yod in Hebrew, and the number five is hei. The two words together spell the name of God."
Fascinated, I looked for other Jewish references to apples. In "A Handbook for the Jewish Home," Alfred Kolatch writes that the apple was seen as having healing power. During Talmudic times, apples were given as gifts to the sick. And when King Herod was feeling under the weather, he would request an apple.
So, too, modern science backs up the old saying that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"-a saying that may have originated in an ancient Roman proverb. Apples provide a healthy dose of vitamins A and C, and, if eaten with the skin, are a good source of fiber. Combine that with the ability of apples to lower cholesterol, provide bone support, and reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, and what's good for you never tasted so good.
And, of course, the Jewish New Year arrives in the month of Tishri, which falls sometime in September or October each year. Those are the months when apples are harvested. Thus by every measure-religious, cultural, and agricultural-apples are the perfect, and the perfectly delicious, Rosh Hashanah fruit.
So, I thought, why not weave apples throughout the celebratory holiday meal? Even if you prefer to stay with the more traditional recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation or, like me, try to add a new dish every year, the recipes below should give you some creative ways to include apples in your feast. One thing is for sure: you will certainly appreciate that apple on Rosh Hashanah.
Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of three. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spanish Fruit and Vegetable Soup
Adapted from "Spain and the World Table," Culinary Institute of America
2/3 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
Cold water to cover beans by 2 inches
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 cups yellow onions (about 5 medium onions), peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable broth
2 medium butternut squashes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 large turnip, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt plus more, to taste
3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed off and diced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
Rinse beans and place them in a large bowl. Pour enough cold water into bowl so that it is 2-inches above the beans. Stir in baking soda and cover bowl with waxed paper. Let soak at room temperature overnight.
Drain and rinse chickpeas and add them, along with the onions and broth, to a large soup pot. Bring mixture to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. Cook until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
Add butternut squash, turnip, crushed cumin seed, cinnamon, and salt and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Add zucchini and apples and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chard and simmer until chard is cooked, about 10 minutes.
Add sugar. Taste and add more salt and pepper, as desired.
Makes 8 servings.
Arugula-Apple Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon reduced apple cider* or honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces arugula, rinsed and spun dry
5-6 ounces field greens, rinsed and spun dry
1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into into 1-inch slivers
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted and cooled
4 ounces goat cheese, very cold (omit for Parve)
Combine vinegar, shallot, reduced apple cider, Dijon mustard, and Herbes de Provence in a medium bowl. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes for flavors to blend.
Gradually whisk in olive oil and season dressing with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.
Combine salad greens in a large mixing bowl. Add apples and walnuts and mix together. Just before serving, toss salad with 3/4 of the dressing and crumble goat cheese over top, if using. Check for dressing and add more, if needed. Check salad for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, as needed.
*To reduce apple cider, place 1- cup apple cider in a small saucepan. Turn heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Slightly reduce heat and continue to simmer vinegar, uncovered, for 3-7 minutes, or until syrupy and reduced to about 1/2 cup. Vinegar will thicken more as it cools. Reduced vinegar can be stored indefinitely in the refrigerator in a closed container.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Roasted Fennel, Leek, and Apples
Recipe adapted from Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, by Laura Frankel
Roasting caramelizes this combination of vegetables and fruit, creating a rich and delicious side dish. Leeks, which in Hebrew are karei, are among the symbolic foods we should eat on Rosh Hashanah.
2- medium fresh fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced
2 medium Jonathon apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
2 medium leeks, cleaned, root end and dark green portions removed, and white portion cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9"x13" baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
Place fennel, apples, and leeks in a large bowl. Toss with olive oil and turn into prepared baking dish. Roast, uncovered, for about 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until cooked and slightly browned.
Makes 6 servings.
Rosh Hashanah Chicken with Cinnamon and Apples from Metz
Recipe adapted from Quiches, Kugel, and Couscous by Joan Nathan
1-3 1/2-4 pound whole roasting chicken
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/3 cups white wine
3 Fuji apples, cored and each cut horizontally into 4 rounds
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Remove neck and giblets from chicken. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper, to taste, and 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon.
Scatter onion and garlic in the center of the pan. Lay the chicken, breast side down, on top of the vegetables and pour the chicken broth and wine over the chicken. Roast for 45 minutes.
Sprinkle apples with remaining 1/2- teaspoon cinnamon and all of the sugar. Carefully turn chicken over in pan and surround the chicken with seasoned apples. Continue to bake chicken, about 45 minutes more, until apples are very soft and the chicken is done. (Baste the chicken with the accumulated juices once or twice during this second half of roasting.)
Aromatic Apple Cake (non-dairy) -- Recipe from Amy Peck Abraham
For the Pan
2-4 tablespoons margarine
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
5 apples, peeled, cored, cut in eighths
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
½ cup juice/cider
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Pan:
Grease a 9-10 inch Bundt pan with margarine.
Combine the sugars and spices and then sift them over greased pan. Shake and turn pan until all surfaces are coated.
Chill pan in freezer until cake batter is prepared.
For the Filling:
Combine all ingredients well and set aside.
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Whisk eggs together well in a large bowl, then stir in oil, and then the juice and vanilla.
Add sugar a little at a time while whisking. Then add flour mixture the same way.
Remove prepared pan from freezer. Pour 1/3 batter into the chilled pan. Layer in half the filling, followed by 1/3 of the batter, followed by remaining filling, and finally topped with remaining batter.
Bake on center rack for 1 hour or more. Edges should have pulled away from the pan. Check for doneness with toothpick or finger touch.
Let cool for 15 minutes on rack before turning out of the pan. Serve when cool. Use serrated knife to slice.
Makes 16 servings.