The “simanei milta” or “simanim” (symbolic foods) are a grouping of foods eaten on the first night of Rosh Hashanah whose names allude to good things or that have positive connotations. The source for this custom comes straight from the Talmud (Kerisus 6a), which states “Abaye said: ‘Now that you have said that an omen is significant, at the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets, and dates.’” Each of these items is a play on words. (See below.)
In my home, we serve an entire first course of Rosh Hashanah tapas. Tapas are small plate starters or snack items commonly served in Spanish dining. A tapas bar or restaurant can typically serve an entire meal consisting of only these little tastings, a fun way of sampling bold flavors as the plates stack up. Incorporating different simanim into a few tapas dishes can add a festive flair to your meal and liven up certain ingredients that are not super memorable on their own (no offense, black-eyed peas). Serving a more extensive first course also shifts the balance of the meal – less is needed for the main course as people are not as hungry by that point.
Let creativity be your guide and may this year be one full of sweetness and blessing.
A good crostini (toast) is comprised of multiple components, each first prepared as their own sub-recipe. Save yourself some time and prepare each component separately in advance as your time allows. By doing so, you’ll be able to assemble and turn out these restaurant-quality crostini quickly and efficiently immediately prior to serving.
Cabbage, dates, and pomegranate are three of the symbolic foods used on Rosh Hashanah. Be sure to taste each separately when saying the traditional “Yehi Ratzon” benediction for each one. When they come together and marinate with the aromatic Indian garam masala spice blend, they are a terrific salad starter or accompaniment to any meal.
The simple contrast of spicy chipotle (smoked jalapeno pepper) with the sweetness of apples and honey leaves a zing on the palate. Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are a potent “secret weapon” for adding smoky heat. For a real kick, use the whole pepper; for more mild heat, make a slit in the pepper and remove some of the seeds (the source of heat) prior to blending.
Carrot and ginger are the perfect pairing, everyone will love this shot.
FENUGREEK (or carrots—defined in Yiddish as ‘mehren’ meaning ‘to increase): sounds like “rubia” —similar to “yirbu”—to increase. "...She'yir'bu ze'chuyo'sainu" "...that our merits increase."
LEEK OR CABBAGE: “Karsi" sounds like the word "kares," "to cut off/ destroy.”...She'yikar'suson'ainu" "...that our enemies be decimated."
BEETS: "Silka" sounds like the "siluk," meaning "removal." "...She'yistalku oy'vainu" "...that our adversaries be removed."
DATES: “Tamri" sounds like "sheyitamu," "that they be consumed." "... She'yitamu son'ainu" "...that our enemies be consumed."
GOURD: "K'ra" sounds both like “kora”—"read/ proclaim" and also
the word for "tear." "... She'yikora g'zar de'nainu v'yikaru l'fanecha zechu'yosainu" "...that the decree of our sentence be torn up and may our merits be pro- claimed before you."
APPLE IN HONEY: The apple field has the smell of the Garden of Eden."...She'tichadesh aleinu shana tova u'm'tuka"... that you renew us for a good and sweet year."
POMEGRANATE: The seeds represent the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. "...She'nirbeh ze'chu'yos k'rimon" "... that our merits increase like (the seeds of) a pomegranate."
FISH: Fish represent multitude. "...She'nif'reh v'nir'beh ki'dagim" "...that we be fruitful and multiply like fish."
HEAD OF A FISH OR SHEEP: Head repre- sents leadership. "... She'ni'hiyeh l'rosh v'lo l'zanav" "...that we be as the head and not as the tail."