Here’s how we eat simanim, the symbolic foods we eat on Rosh Hashanah night.
I love this custom because it combines tradition, food, and a play on words. These symbolic foods don’t always represent the things we ask God to grant us in the coming year. They might represent words that do. For example, Black-eyed peas are rubiah – similar to yirbu - to increase. “May our merits increase.” You have to bend the brain a little to appreciate what you’re eating: a Jewish way of looking at things.
I serve black-eyed peas as a salad, seasoning it with a little chopped onion and a handful of mixed, chopped, cilantro, parsley, and celery tops. Lots of fresh lemon juice, to balance the earthy taste of the peas (which are really beans, but never mind) – salt and white pepper. Again, all seasonings to taste
I got to work this morning to prepare simanim the way my family like to eat them.
Beets are selek, which reminds us of the word lesalek – to remove. “May our enemies be removed.” I make a beet salad with some thinly sliced onion, salt, pepper, a little cumin, olive oil, a little sugar, and vinegar. No measurements to report here: I just add seasonings and keep tasting and adjusting till I like it.
Butternut squash represents the gourd – in Hebrew k’ra. This is a homonym, in Hebrew, for “tear apart” and “read.” “May any evil decree be torn up, and may our merits be read in Your presence.” The squash is simple to make. Sauté onions, chopped tomatoes, and thin slices of pumpkin. Add a handful of chopped, mixed parsley, celery leaves and cilantro, plus one fresh sage leaf. I also stole a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce from the leek tart, more about which below, to add some body to the dish. A splash of white wine, a good stir around, and it was ready.
Leeks are difficult to sneak past the family. They tolerate leeks in soup, and that’s about it. But we must have leeks, I think. So I make a savory tart of leeks and mushrooms. This is how I do it.
Leek Tart (meat)
Have ready some chicken soup left over from Shabbat; about a cup.
Clean two large leeks. Cut off the tough base and green part of each one. Slice them coarsely.
Clean 1 – 1/2 cups of fresh mushrooms. Slice each in half, or thirds if they’re very large.
Put a dollop of olive oil into a skillet.
Saute the leeks just so that the slices brown a little. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté.
In the meantime, prepare a sauce. In a separate pan, put two tablespoons of oil, shmaltz, or margarine. Heat it gently. To fat add 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir this briskly, allowing the flour to cook out and rid itself of its raw taste, but not allowing the mixture to burn.
Add the cup of hot chicken soup to the above roux. Keep stirring: you don’t want flour lumps. When all is smooth, turn the flame off and set aside.
When the mushrooms are wilting and starting to release their juice, add the sauce to the skillet. Stir and taste to adjust salt and pepper. A little soy sauce or a teaspoon of curry powder are optional nice things to add. The leeks will need to finish cooking: depending on how tender they were to start with, this could take up to 1/2-hour longer. Stir once in a while.
Make the pie crust of your choice. Puff pastry rolled out thin works too. The quantities I gave above make a small tart, so you will need only a medium-sized pie pan. I don’t have one. What I did was take a sheet of baking paper and roll my dough circle onto it. I picked up the edges all around and folded them under, pinching to make a wall of dough to hold the filling in. You’ll see the result below.
Fill the pie crust with the leek/mushroom mixture. Bake at 350 F – 180 C for 25 minutes. If the top looks like it’s browning too fast, put a piece of tin foil over the top of the tart and let the crust finish baking. The Little One calls this tart “shroomizza” and insists on having it every year.
There should be a siman based on “batsal” – onion. Everything I’ve cooked has onion in it one way or another. Let’s see…batsal reminds me of “batsah” – to slice.
May it be Your will to cut us a large slice of blessing in this coming year!