There are very few meals I would describe as perfect from my childhood. I was a classic picky eater growing up. If a meal was perfect it was often an occasion where I got to dress up and the food was mostly made by my Grandma Vivi. Look, I know everyone thinks that THEIR grandmother was the best cook, made the perfect chocolate chip cookies, the ultimate Mac and Cheese, or in my case, the fluffiest matzah balls but… I promise mine really did.
For us Jews, there are a few major holidays. Some of the more fun holidays include Chanukkah, Purim, Passover. Although not as “fun,” the most important holidays are Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). For Rosh Hashanah, like all Jewish holidays, the celebrations begin at sundown with candle lighting, wine, and lots of food. Typically the family matriarch will strike a match, and the party will watch the wicks dance, as we sing together in the first-holiday prayer. My grandmother always filled this role in my home, the party (or holiday) literally could not start until she walked in.
With all Jewish holidays, there are many themes to address and traditions that must be observed - often these are represented through the foods we eat (and how we eat them). When developing this dish, I looked to Jewish symbolism for my ingredients, first from within the Torah. The Torah often uses food as symbols - it is thought that the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge (of Good & Evil) was a pomegranate, a fruit that is referenced throughout many Jewish stories. They are believed to be a symbol of righteousness, as pomegranates are said to have the same number of seeds as the number of commandments (613). Also in the garden of Eden? Pistachios! Because of this, sitting beneath a pistachio tree is considered lucky in many countries.
In addition to Biblical symbolism, I looked to key ingredients surrounding Jewish traditions that have come out of circumstance and history. From carrots and sweet potatoes found in Eastern Europe, came an Ashkenazi Jewish dish called tzimmes- a root vegetable smash. My dad would make this for every Rosh Hashanah and I’ve reimagined here sheet pan form. Each element within the dish drives back to Jewish symbolism, or tradition - whether it's the circular apples to symbolize the cyclical nature of our lives or the honey to bring sweetness for the coming year.
What I have created for you is a Rosh Hashanah dinner that brings together flavors and traditions from my personal Jewish experience, from Jewish stories and texts, and is accessible and new to bring to today’s table. This dish brings together my grandmother’s and my father’s cooking styles- the conventional perfectionist with the flavorful flash cook. It’s delicious but healthy, light but filling, the perfect dish to bring families together. With one bite this dish brings me right back home no matter where I am and, I hope it brings you yums and good fortune for the year to come. Shanah Tovah.