Rosh Hashanah (literally translates into “head of the year”) is the Jewish New Year, and it happens alongside Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, on the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. The Rosh Hashanah dinner exemplifies some of Judaism’s great culinary traditions, replete with a boatload of word play, symbolism and innovative taste combinations. Lots of other delicious dishes from the dinner menu—including gefilte fish, matzo balls, and leeks—could have made this list, but here are the all-star faves.
Round Challah Bread
This braided egg bread is traditionally served in an elongated shape for the weekly Sabbath meal. On Rosh Hashanah, it’s made in a round shape to symbolize the cyclical nature of the year and dipped in honey to parallel a prayer for sweet things to come in the new year.
Moroccan Beet and Pomegranate Seed Salad
More traditional word play and symbology happens with this Sephardic Jewish dish. The Hebrew word for beets, selek, is similar to the Hebrew for “remove” and they’re eaten to express the hope that the enemies of the Jews will depart. Furthermore, the multitude of the pomegranate seeds represents the good deeds of the 613 commandments in the Torah.
Carrot Parsnip Beet and Sweet Potato Tzimmes
Tzimmes is a traditional Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish slow-simmered sweet stew made from carrots, root vegetables and dried fruits like prunes or raisins. The name is Yiddish, some theorize from the Middle High German word zuomuose (a type of compote or side dish) and others from a combination of zum (“to the”) and essen (“eating”). Instead of a stew, this recipe is more of a roasted vegetable dish with a spicy orange sauce.
Although it has no specific symbolic resonance with the holiday, brisket has been a traditional staple on dinner tables for Rosh Hashanah and other Jewish holidays. As most marginalized communities know, if the now-trendy cut of meat originally symbolized anything, it was poverty. According to Gil Marks in his “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food”, ”The often-impoverished Jews of eastern Europe could rarely afford to ‘live high on the cow’ — to buy the more tender cuts from the rib and chuck. [So] they learned how to make do with the cheaper, less desirable parts.”
As traditional symbols for the hope for a sweet new year, sweet foods are key to a Rosh Hashanah dinner—and honey cake delivers every year. Look out for a delicious recipe from Adina Steiman at Epicurious that offsets the sweetness in the batter with coffee and orange zest, and includes a velvety chocolate glaze and snowy flakes of sea salt.