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"Leshana tova tikotevu -- May you be inscribed for a good and sweet year."
This is the familiar greeting exchanged by family and friends as they gather to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the high holy days which begin the Jewish New Year. It is a time of reflection and resolution, a time of joy and hope for the year to come.
The Rosh Hashanah table is lavishly laid out with symbolic foods such as new fruits of the season which include pomegranates, figs, persimmons, apples and pears. Bowls of honey are everywhere, symbolizing the wish for a sweet year. (In fact, honey is a ubiquitous ingredient throughout the meal's many courses.) A golden, coiled, circular challah bread, a sign of the year's cycle -- round, complete and uninterrupted -- is torn into chunks for dipping into the honey.
This ancient holiday ties in with much of the natural world. At this time of year the world has returned from summer retreats to begin the new season with loved ones. As this special holiday meal gets underway, it is accompanied with a prayer: "May it be thy will oh lord, to renew unto us a happy and pleasant new year."
The following menu is designed to gap the bridge between the classic and the contemporary. These are recipes that conform to the requirements of the holiday, meet the expectations of old world tastes and preserve the meaning of the beloved customary foods. Yet, these simple to prepare recipes are light in style with fresh and flavorful ingredients.
Cucumber, Fennel and Orange Salad with Pomegranate Seeds
2 hot house cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large naval oranges, zest and pith removed, halved and thinly sliced
2 bunches watercress or 8 ounces young spinach leaves
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
Combine cucumbers, fennel, onion, oranges and watercress in large shallow bowl. Whisk together vinegar, orange juice, honey and olive oil. Toss with salad. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and pine nuts.
Honey and Lime Glazed Hens
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons cumin sees, toasted and crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 game hens, split in half
salt and pepper to taste
Combine glaze ingredients in a small bowl. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse game hens under cool, running water and blot dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using about 1/3 of the glaze, brush hens all over. Place, skin side down, on baking sheet with low sides. Roast 10 minutes. Turn heat down to 375 degrees. Brush hens again with 1/3 of the glaze. Roast another 10 minutes. Turn hens over, roast 10 minutes. Brush with remaining glaze and roast another 8 -- 10 minutes or until deep golden brown. Serve on a bed of Braised Cabbage and Apples.
Honey Cooked Cabbage
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium head, red cabbage, shredded
2 medium green apples (pippin, Granny Smith), quartered, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper
Heat oil in large skillet. Add onion and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Stir in the cabbage, cover and cook about 4 minutes or until cabbage is wilted. Add the apples, vinegar, sugar and dill. Stir well and continue to cook until apples are tender, about 8 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.
Wild Rice Pilaf with Vegetables and Dried Cranberries
4 tablespoons vegetable oil or margarine
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
8 ounces wild rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In large saute pan heat oil. Cook celery, carrots and onions until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the nutmeg, cayenne and rice and cook, stirring, to coat with oil. Add the stock, bring to a boil and then add cranberries. Remove from stove, cover and bake 1 hour and 15 minutes. When done the grains of rice all the liquid should be absorbed.
Set aside, covered, for 15 minutes before serving. Fluff with a fork, taste for salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley.
Poached Figs with Sesame Seeds
4 cups dry red wine
2 1/2 cups sugar
grated zest of half an orange
16 fresh purple figs
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds
In large saucepan combine wine and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook until sugar dissolves. Add the zest and figs and simmer until tender about 10 minutes. With slotted spoon remove figs to a serving platter. Bring syrup back to a boil and cook until it reaches a thick syrupy consistency. Pour over figs. Let cool and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Louise Fiszer is a Bay Area freelance food writers and the co-author of several books including Sweet Onions & Sour Cherries and A Good Day for Soup.