Each year I am struck by the many feelings I have about the meaning of Rosh Hashanah. First and foremost, it is a time of hope. The first words of our Torah reading tell us that G-d remembered Sarah and blessed her with a child; the birth of a child is a clear indication that the world will continue.
It is also a time of renewal and repurpose. We request forgiveness for our shortcomings and then move forward with renewed purpose and commitment to be better, to do better. We go forward with this clean slate, so to speak, and, I was taught, there is never a time when a person is not forgiven or not allowed redemption.
We are also reminded that it is never too late to change. In college, for a philosophy seminar, I read Rambam’s “The Guide for the Perplexed.” I remember one concept which echoed advice my dad had always given me: think long and hard before you leap. Rambam explained that people don’t do well with sudden change; they do better if they approach things slowly and methodically.
So how does all this tie in to the food we eat?
We are always “on a diet.” We are always changing what we eat and, for the most part, that is a good thing. We now know that one culprit in our battle with weight may be the high fructose corn syrup that is hidden in so many foods — it may be the Diet Coke we consumed by the gallon, thinking we were being “good” by skipping the sugar.
We follow the food of the week trends, from kale (surprise! no one really likes kale, we just eat it to feel virtuous) to beans to micro greens, green tea, green smoothies and more. We’d all much rather have a brownie, but that is on the food list that has a big, huge “X” on it. We often dive headfirst into a “cleanse,” or a new diet, only to feel the sting of failure when we succumb to that donut. Remember, however, as Rosh Hashanah teaches us, there is always a chance to start again.
We can — and should — approach dietary changes slowly and methodically. Think about the healthful foods we like and use more of them each meal, each day, each week. Then think about the less healthful foods we eat, and try to lessen the frequency with which we eat those. Simple and methodical.
All the knowledge we need to help us eat a balanced, healthy diet is in the Torah and the words of our teachers. Take things slowly, make small changes, absorb them and, even after a slip, forgive yourself and go forward.
Our New Year has much to teach us about not only how we live our lives, but also about the food we eat. Slow and methodical. Reasoned and forgiving. Shanah Tovah!
Note: There are many new kosher cookbooks published this time of year. I hope these adapted recipes encourage you to support our kosher cooks and try their delicious recipes. Remember, cookbooks make wonderful Rosh Hashanah hostess gifts.
Hearts of Palm and Asparagus Salad (Pareve)
Adapted from “A Taste of Torah: Recipes, Divrei Torah and Stories to Enrich Every Shabbat,” by Aviv Harkov. Gefen Press, New York. 2016.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. Dijon style mustard
1/2 tsp. salt, more or less, to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, more or less, to taste
OPTIONAL: 1 small clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 to 3 pounds fresh asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces
2 (14 ounce) cans hearts of palm, drained and rinsed
3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 small red or sweet onion, diced
1 hear romaine lettuce, chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup cashew nuts, chopped
1/2 (remaining half) small red or sweet onion, diced
Place all the dressing ingredients into a container with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until emulsified. Pour out half the marinade and reserve the rest. Place the Roasting vegetables into a large bowl and pour the marinade over. Toss to coat. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for several hours or overnight. Place the veggies on the prepared baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20-35 minutes, until there are some char marks. Remove from the oven to cool. Place the salad veggies in a large bowl and toss with the cooled, roasted veggies. Add some of the remaining dressing and toss. Serves 6 to 10.
Cucumber Salad (Pareve or Dairy)
Adapted from the “German-Jewish Cookbook” by Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman and Sonya Gropman. Brandeis U. Press. 2017.
2 English or 3-4 regular cucumbers
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 to 3 tbsp. finely minced red onion
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
4 tsp. white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 to 1 tsp (10 grinds) freshly ground black or white pepper or pepper mix
4 tsp. finely chopped fresh dill
OPTIONAL: 3 tbsp. sour cream
1 to 2 tsp. sugar
Peel the cucumber and thinly slice them on a mandolin or in a food processor. Slices should be about 1/16-inch thick. Place 1/3 of the cucumbers in a colander and then sprinkle with 1/3 of the kosher salt. Repeat with the rest of the cucumbers and salt in two more layers, ending with the salt. Place the colander in the sink and toss the cucumbers to distribute the salt. Place a small plate over the cucumbers. Place a weight, like a can of beans on top of the plate and let the cucumbers drain for 30 minutes. Place the cucumbers in a serving bowl.
Combine the onions, mustard, vinegar, canola oil and dill in another bowl and whisk until emulsified. If using the sour cream, add and whisk. IF not, add another 2 teaspoons of oil and whisk to blend. Add the sugar, to taste, if desired. Pour over the cucumbers and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate, covered, until serving time. Serves 4-6. Can be easily doubled for a crowd. Light and refreshing with Shabbat chicken or for Rosh Hashanah.
Olive Oil Cake (Pareve)
Adapted from “Fress: Bold Flavors from a Jewish Kitchen,” by Emma Spitzer. Octopus books, 2017.
1 cup superfine sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 cup unbleached flour
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 egg whites
Raspberries and strawberries for garnish
OPTIONAL: Confectioners’ sugar for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Oil the bottom of a 9-inch spring-form pan and line with parchment.
Place 3/4 of the sugar, the egg yolks and the lemon juice and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium for 5 minutes until smooth and creamy, scraping the bowl 2-3 times. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour slowly. Mix for 2 minutes.
While the mixer is on low, drizzle in the olive oil until the batter is smooth and glossy. Scrape the bowl as needed.
Scrape the batter into another bowl and clean out the electric mixing bowl.
Place the egg whites in the bowl and beat until fairly stiff peaks form. Slowly add the salt and sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold the egg whites into the cake batter until no streaks show.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25-35 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool before removing rim. The cake may crack and bit. That’s fine. Top with powdered sugar and/or sliced berries and serve. Serves 8 to 12.