A Rosh Hashanah Dinner Inspired by the Jewish-Iranian Kitchen

“Of all the holiday foods, in a family that also celebrate the second day of the festivals, the thing we waited for the most were the Rosh Hashanah beans,” says chef Ayelet Latovich. “I have a vivid childhood memory of watching the clear honey being dribbled over the reddish-brown beans to glaze them.”

Latovich, 45, was born and raised in Holon, but her mother’s family comes from Mashhad, Iran. “My paternal grandfather was an anarchist from Lodz, and the anarchist symbol is engraved on his tombstone,” she says. “He was very present in my life when I was a child, but we always celebrated the holidays with my Persian grandmother who was born in the early 1920s and came from a well-off family in Mashhad. Her father called her ‘Princess’ and promised her a new dress for every day of the week after she married, but when he died suddenly she was quickly married off to a Jewish man two decades older from one of the city’s poor suburbs, for fear she woud be snatched away by the non-Jews.

“The Hushmand family may have been poor when it came to money, but it was rich in its zest for life, and this marriage had a big influence on my own life. Not only because of the genetic heritage, but because of the attitude toward life. My grandmother was always happy with what she had, a quality that was a source of her great strength, even the early promise of an easier life didn’t come to be. She was a pluralistic and liberal person — all five of her children married people from other ethnic backgrounds, which is far from the norm among Persian Jews — and she didn’t cook that much, except for the holidays. But in her cooking there was something so simple and so right that still nurtures me body and soul.”

Chef Ayelet Latovich. Dan Perez
Like many Jewish families, the Hushmand family would have a Rosh Hashanah seder with foods that symbolize, by their name or flavor, the hopes and desired blessings for the future. This included salka (spinach or chard), so our enemies will disappear (yistalku, from the same Hebrew root); tamar (dates), so our enemies should come to an end (yitamu, from the same Hebrew root); karti (leek), so our enemies should be cut off (yikartu, from the same Hebrew root); lubiya (black-eyed peas), so our merits may be multiplied; and kera (pumpkin or squash), so the evil decree may be torn up (yikra’, from the same Hebrew root). The components of the seder varied from place to place, depending on geographical and cultural factors.

“The Rosh Hashanah seder, with the symbolic foods and the set order in which they were served, was always one of my favorite things,” says Latovich, the chef of Beta Café.

The Hushmand family still gets together every year for the holiday. “Some of the recipes, like the pumpkin jam, are the exact Hushmand family recipes. Others, like the head and the beans, have been tweaked a bit over the years. I love rituals and holidays. And I love trying to find in them their original and universal meaning, and to adapt them to the here and now.”

Beef cheeks and kidney beans

Beef cheeks. Dan Perez

Beef cheeks should be ordered in advance from the butcher, to make sure you’ll get it. This is a very fatty cut, deeply flavorful and rich in gelatin. I don’t trim the fat before cooking, because that is where much of the pleasurable flavor comes from.

At our holiday table, we eat the beans with honey, and the head separately.

separately.

Ingredients (serves 12):

1 kilogram red (kidney) beans

3 1/2 kilograms beef cheeks, with fat

Peeled cloves from 3 heads of garlic

1 bunch fresh thyme

1 cup good-quality honey

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Soak the beans in water overnight. Drain the soaked beans and place them in a pot. Arrange the meat, garlic and thyme over the beans and pour the honey over everything. Pour in cold water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off the foam and bits that float to the surface, add the black pepper, reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for about an hour, until the beans soften. Add salt to taste, replace the lid and simmer for an additional four hours.

Kadu – pumpkin jam

Kadu – pumpkin jam. Dan Perez

“The beauty of the traditional holiday foods is that we only ate them at their appointed time, which made it all the more exciting. Kadu is eaten with a spoon, or possibly with crackers. You could also mix in toasted coriander seeds, diced hot pepper and lemon juice, and serve it with fried fish or roasted meat.”

Ingredients (for 2 small jars):

1 1/2 kilograms coarsely grated pumpkin flesh (use a grater or food processor)

650 grams sugar

Preparation:

Place the pumpkin and sugar in a pot (ideally, cast-iron or nonstick) and stir to mix. Cook over high heat until the resultant liquid bubbles. Reduce the heat and simmer for two to three hours, stirring every 20 minutes, until all the liquid evaporates and the pumpkin is bright orange.

Cool and eat with crackers or plain, sour yogurt or atop the crispy layer of rice at the bottom of a pot of Persian rice, tahdig.”

Apple and potato gratin with almond butter

Apple and potato gratin with almond butter. Dan Perez

“The Persian holiday table is never without rice. But here, to be extra festive, I decided to do something unusual. And since my family keeps kosher, I was glad for the opportunity to offer a nondairy side dish, though, if not serving it with meat, or if you don’t keep kosher, you could substitute sour cream for the almond butter.”

Ingredients (serves 12):

6 to 8 medium potatoes, scrubbed

3 Pink Lady apples

Salt and pepper

1 cup almond butter

1/2 cup water

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Slice the apples and potatoes very thinly, preferably using a mandolin. Bring the water to a boil and mix in the almond butter.

In a bowl, combine the potato slices with half the almond butter. Salt and pepper to taste.

In another bowl, combine the apple slices with the remaining almond butter. Salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the slices in layers in a baking dish. Pour the remaining liquid from the bowls over the potatoes and apples. Bake for 45 minutes, or until browned.

Beets in pomegranate syrup

“A splendid accompaniment to fish or meat. My grandmother used to just peel the beets and let them cook for a long time on the hot plate. She called it lablabu. This is my version.”

Ingredients (serves 12):

6 whole beets, peeled

4 tablespoons pomegranate syrup (molasses)

2 Persian lemons

1 cinnamon stick

3 lightly crushed cardamom pods

1/4 cup silan (date molasses)

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Place all the ingredients in a pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the flame, cover and simmer for three hours. Let the beets cool in the cooking liquid. (Keep the liquid for use in the whole fish with pomegranate glaze, see recipe.) Slice the beets and serve cold as is, or with fish.

Dates in garlic and herbs

Ingredients:

4 cups yellow dates, halved and pitted

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 cup cilantro and 1/2 cup

parsley, chopped

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Warm a small amount of olive oil in a heavy pan, add the dates and brown over high heat. Stir occasionally to ensure even browning. Add the garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Mix, cook for an additional minute and place mixture in a bowl. Mix in the parsley and cilantro.

Fish with pomegranate glaze

Ingredients (serves 12):

1 whole 4 kilograms fish (trout, salmon or other large saltwater fish)

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

3 cups liquid from the cooked beets

Dates in garlic and herbs (see recipe)

Beets in pomegranate syrup – optional (see recipe)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Brush the fish with olive oil, season well from head to tail with salt and pepper on both sides, as well as in the stomach cavity.

Place the fish in the center of a baking pan and spread the dates and beets around. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil and reduce the cooking liquid from the beets to 2/3 of its original volume. Pour over the fish and roast the fish for another 20 minutes, basting it at least twice. Best served immediately.

Fruit and vegetable salad

Fruit and vegetable salad. Dan Perez

“For as long as I can remember, our family has mixed salty and sweet — it must be part of the glorious heritage of Persian cuisine, as this is one of its hallmarks.”

Ingredients (serves 12):

10 very small cucumbers or 5 regular cucumbers, cut in large chunks

6 radishes, quartered

1 cup green grapes, halved

1/2 cup black grapes, halved

2 yellow plums, sliced thin

2 red or 3 purple plums, sliced thin

5 scallions, coarsely chopped

1/3 large bunch of parsley (leaves and soft stems)

4 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon pomegranate

syrup (molasses)

1/3 cup sharp-tasting olive oil

Salt

Preparation:

Cut the fruits and vegetables as soon before serving as possible. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and serve immediately.

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