The Sweet Sides


On Rosh Hashana, the time-honored greeting, “Have a happy and sweet new year,” is also the message of the menu. In selecting dishes, people are guided not by a prescribed practice but by a popular concept: Eat sweet foods and your year will be sweet.

A favorite way to express the unique tone of the Jewish holiday, which begins Friday at sundown, is to surround the main course (often roast chicken or brisket) with sweet partners.

The side dishes designed for Rosh Hashana are based on vegetables that are naturally sweet. Time-honored choices of Ashkenazi (Eastern and Central European) Jews are carrots and beets. Sephardic (Mediterranean and Middle Eastern) Jews often opt for leeks, which become sweet from slow cooking. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin have become part of the repertoire, and to my own table I like to add red peppers, corn and jicama.


Certain vegetables, whether sweet or not, have additional symbolism. Carrot rounds resemble coins and exemplify the wish for prosperity. The Hebrew word for beets sounds like the verb for getting rid of, and eating them metaphorically encourages heavenly help in chasing out evildoers. Leeks stand for divine protection in a similar way. To express hope for abundance, Sephardic Jews eat black-eyed peas, as American Southerners do at New Year’s, or rice, as Persians do at their new year.

When preparing the holiday vegetables, certain cooks use sugar, prunes and raisins with a liberal hand. I prefer to subtly sweeten my vegetables with a drizzle of honey or a sprinkling of dried fruit.

Sweet spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves are a popular foil for the sugar. They beautifully enhance glazed carrots, which I used to make the French way with butter and sugar only, but now accent with cinnamon, honey and dried cranberries.

Following a tip from a Moroccan friend, I use these gentle spices with my butternut squash too. She simmers her squash in meat soup, then presents it and the other soup vegetables around a mound of couscous and powders them abundantly with sugar and cinnamon. I braise my squash instead with a pinch of sugar and spice in a sauce of ripe tomatoes.

Some people avoid lemon juice and vinegar to forestall a bitter year and therefore don’t prepare sweet-and-sour dishes. I find that tomatoes, which are at their seasonal peak around the Jewish New Year, brighten the taste of sweet dishes, contributing a touch of tartness without aggressive acidity.

I often set out a platter of rice pilaf with raisins and nuts, another highlight of the Sephardic holiday kitchen, as an accompaniment for any meat or poultry entree or as a stuffing for peppers or zucchini.


Growing up in an Ashkenazi home, my brother and I never encountered pilaf, but marriage into Middle Eastern Jewish families introduced us to this specialty. Our spouses learned to accept one of our own new year standards--sweet gefilte fish. I’ll let you decide who got the better bargain.

Faye Levy is the author of “1,000 Jewish Recipes” (Wiley, 2000).


Stuffed Sweet Peppers With Rice and Currants

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Choose fairly flat-bottomed peppers that can stand up easily. The rice pilaf is prepared with less water than usual and cooked until partially done because it finishes cooking inside the peppers. If you’d like to prepare the pilaf as a side dish, use twice as much liquid as rice (1 1/2 cups) and cook the rice until it is just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Served on its own, the pilaf makes three portions; you may want to double the recipe.

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 large onions, finely chopped

3/4 cup long-grain white rice

4 to 5 tablespoons slivered almonds

1/4 cup currants or raisins

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

2 teaspoons dried mint or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper

1 1/4 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth or water

6 or 7 fairly small red, orange or yellow bell peppers (total about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds)

1 1/2 cups hot water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or stew pan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to turn golden, 15 minutes; reduce the heat if they brown too fast.

Add the rice and almonds and stir over low heat to toast them, 5 minutes. Add the currants, tomatoes, mint, allspice, sugar, salt and pepper to taste; cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until the liquid is absorbed, 12 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the rice will not be cooked yet.

Cut a slice off the stem end of each pepper. Reserve the slice, leaving the stem on; carefully remove the core and seeds from inside the pepper. Spoon the stuffing into the peppers and cover with the reserved pepper slices. Stand the peppers in a baking dish in which they just fit. Add 1 1/2 cups hot water to the dish. Sprinkle the peppers with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Cover and bake until the peppers are tender, 1 hour. Serve hot or at room temperature.

6 or 7 servings. Each of 7 serving: 148 calories; 175 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 3.37 grams fiber.



Butternut Squash With Sweet Spices

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 50 minutes

If you want a sweeter stew, stir in more sugar to taste or add 1/3 cup raisins and simmer the stew for 5 more minutes to soften them. You can also use sweet dumpling, kabocha or Mexican calabaza squash. With acorn or banana squash, which are less sweet, you may want to add a little more sugar. This can be prepared two or three days ahead; it reheats well.

2 pounds butternut or other hard-shelled squash

1/2 pound tomatoes, peeled, (about 2), or 1 (14-ounce) can tomatoes

2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped (optional)

2/3 cup water


1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, or more to taste

1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste

Dash freshly grated nutmeg or ground cloves (optional)

Peel or cut off the squash skin, remove the seeds and strings, and cut the meat in 1-inch pieces. If using fresh tomatoes, halve and seed them, reserving the juice. Drain canned tomatoes, reserving the juice. Chop the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a large, deep, heavy saucepan or stew pan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until golden, 7 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the squash, water, salt to taste, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, cinnamon, ginger and sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat, occasionally stirring gently, until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.

If the sauce is too sweet, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved tomato juice. Taste and add nutmeg and more salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger or sugar if you like. If the sauce is too thin, uncover and cook over medium heat until it thickens, 2 or 3 minutes. Serve hot.

4 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings: 128 calories; 514 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 22 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.14 grams fiber.


Leek Compote With Sweet Corn

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes

I add corn kernels to this French specialty to accentuate the leeks’ sweetness and contribute color and texture. I also use a little broth to reduce the amount of fat needed to cook the leeks. Serve the compote alongside an entree or spoon it onto toasted slices or rounds of challah as an appetizer.


2 pounds leeks

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil


Freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 to 2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1/3 to 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Use the white, light and medium green parts of the leeks. Cut off the dark green tops (you can keep them in the refrigerator or freezer for flavoring soups and stocks).

Rinse the leeks briefly to remove surface dirt. Halve them lengthwise and rinse under cold water to remove any sand. Cut the leeks in thin slices. Put in a bowl of cold water and separate the pieces. Let them stand about 5 minutes, then lift them out of the water and drain in a colander. If the water is sandy, soak and drain them again.

Heat the oil in a heavy stew pan or deep saucepan. Add the leeks and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add the corn, thyme and 1/3 cup broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables are tender, 15 minutes, adding more broth if the mixture becomes dry. If the leeks are soupy, uncover and cook, stirring often, to evaporate the excess liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.

4 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings: 114 calories; 153 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 17 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 2.18 grams fiber.