Every cuisine tells a story. The story of Jewish food is the story of migrating communities, and how these communities absorbed and re-invented the cuisines of whatever locale they established themselves in, fitting new spices, new foodstuffs and new techniques into the cooking traditions they brought with them.
It’s amazing to me how adaptable these far-flung Jewish communities have been. They borrowed what was necessary, and retained other customary meals and foods to preserve their own sense of heritage and kosher observances.
For this article, I looked at three distinct cuisines, those that hail from Sicily, Algeria and Turkey, with the holiday of Rosh Hashanah in mind.
Despite how far flung these three places are, the recurring themes of sweetness and renewal all come into play time and time again, regardless of the specific dishes being served. So this New Year, why not visit a new region, gastronomically speaking, of course, to sweeten up your Rosh Hashanah table.
SPINACH AND CHICKPEAS WITH TOMATOES AND CUMIN
This Algerian side dish is often served at Shabbat. More specifically, it is a Rosh Hashanah specialty due to the inclusion of chick peas and spinach. The chick peas not only represent plenty but their round shape also symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be rounded in all aspects. The spinach, it is said, alludes to newness and the beginning of hope.
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
¾ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
3 tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
2 cans (19 oz. each) chick peas, drained and rinsed
1-1/4 lb. baby spinach, trimmed and rinsed
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large deep saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions; cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until very soft. Stir in the cumin and coriander for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and chick peas, stirring until the tomatoes release some of their juices.
Add half of the spinach. Cover and steam for 3 minutes. Stir until the spinach is wilted. Add the remaining spinach. Stir for about 3 minutes or until all of the spinach is wilted and coated well with the tomatoes and the onions. Season generously with salt and pepper. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
SICILIAN ROAST CHICKEN WITH ORANGE, LEMON, GINGER AND HONEY
Fresh gingerroot is believed to have arrived in Italy and Sicily with the first African Jewish immigrants. This lively dish packs a bit of heat from the ginger so feel free to increase the honey if you wish.
3 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 whole chicken, about 5 lb.
2 sprigs fresh oregano
¼ tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup each olive oil and honey
Preheat the oven to 350. Finely grate the zest from the lemon and the orange; place into a bowl along with 1 tbsp. of the ginger. Cut both the lemon and the orange in half; cut again into quarters. Rub two of the lemon quarters all over the outside of the chicken; discard those lemon quarters.
Rub the zest and ginger mixture inside the cavity of the chicken. Place the remaining lemon and orange quarters as well as the oregano sprigs inside the cavity. Truss the chicken; place on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the surface with the salt and pepper.
Roast the chicken in the centre of the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the orange and lemon juices, the remaining 2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger, olive oil and honey. Baste the chicken with the mixture. Continue roasting for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, basting about every 20 minutes or until the surface is golden and the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is cut. Remove chicken to a cutting board. Tent with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Makes 6 servings.
HONEY ICE CREAM
This fragrant and subtle dessert is particularly popular in Turkey. More akin to a frozen mousse than a rock hard ice cream, you can up the ante by first soaking the raisins in rum or brandy if desired.
2 cups 2 per cent milk
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
5 egg yolks
½ cup raisins
½ cup sour cream
1/3 cup honey
Heat the milk in a saucepan set over medium-high heat just until it reaches a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla. Place the yolks in a bowl. In a thin gradual stream, whisk the hot milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Set over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Set aside to cool at room temperature.
Pour about ½ cup of very hot water over the raisins. Set aside.
Once the custard is cool, drain the raisins well. Stir the sour cream, honey and raisins into the custard. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Or place into a freezer proof container and freeze, stirring every 20 minutes until completely frozen. Ice cream can be made up to 48 hours ahead. Makes 6 to 8 servings.