Signs, Sealed, Delivered!

For many years now, it has become a fun household “tradition” to incorporate the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashanah into my holiday menus. I like a good challenge as much as the next gal, but there are some foods that need a little “gussying up” to make them a bit more appealing to my family!

An interesting practice, serving several simanim (symbolic foods) whose names allude to good things or have positive connotations goes as far back as Talmudic times. The source for this custom comes straight from the tractate of Keritot 6a, which states, “Abaye said: ‘…at the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates.’” The word for beets, for example, is silka,” which sounds like “siluk,” meaning “removal.” We therefore ask G-d that “our adversaries be removed (she’yistalku oyveinu).” Why the roundabout approach to ask for the blessings we seek?

On a day in which we devote the entirety of our prayers and thoughts to establishing Hashem’s malchut (kingship) in the world, we use this small opportunity during our festive meals to pray for ourselves and the Jewish people in a covert way—by hinting to the things that we each deeply wish for. In this way, we remind ourselves that the main focus of the day is really G-d. At the same time, using a tasty prop gives us a tangible way of acknowledging that the source of all of the blessings we yearn for is G-d alone.

Despite such significance, it’s not uncommon to rush through the simanim to get to the main food. Instead, why not highlight these foods by bringing out their best flavors in special dishes? This will enable us to focus on them more. Here is a siman-based menu, perfect for Rosh Hashanah! May this year be one of removing our enemies, removing our own limitations and enjoying the sweetness that Hashem puts into our lives.


Photo: Baila Gluck

Brisket with Red Wine & Date Sauce

Yields 8 servings

The rich caramel flavors of the simantamar”—Medjool dates and silan (date syrup)—shine in this spiced wine-braised meat. This recipe can also be made with “top of the rib” or a chuck-eye roast with delicious results.

1 (4-pound) brisket

1½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (about 4 teaspoons)

2 cups dry red wine (Merlot or Cabernet)

¼ cup silan (date syrup)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

8 Medjool dates, pitted and quartered

Combine all dry spices in a small bowl and rub over meat (can be done a day ahead).

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. Place meat in the skillet and sear, turning once, about 2−3 minutes per side, until browned. Transfer to a large roasting pan or baking dish.

Reduce heat to medium and add remaining tablespoon of oil. Add onion and garlic; sauté until softened, about 5−6 minutes. Add 1−2 tablespoons of the wine and stir, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes; remove from heat.

Pour mixture over and around meat, adding enough remaining wine just to cover meat. Whisk together silan and tomato paste; pour and spread evenly over the top of the meat and surround with sliced dates. Cover and bake for 2½−3 hours until meat is done (fork tender). Remove from oven to cool.

Transfer meat to a cutting board and slice thinly against the grain. Arrange the slices on a platter. Skim excess fat off of surface of sauce if necessary. Pour sauce over meat and serve.

Chef’s Tip: Make ahead. The brisket is best sliced when cold.


Rice Pilaf with Melted Leeks

Yields 6 servings

Leeks are the unsung hero of the onion family, and the perfect flavor base for this delicious rice dish, studded with the simankarti”—leeks.

2 large leeks*

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1½ teaspoons Kosher salt (or more to taste)

1 cup Basmati rice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1¾ cups chicken stock (low-sodium)

*Check leeks for bugs if not using pre-checked

Cut off tough dark green tops of the leeks (discard or save for stock!) and trim root bottoms. Slice in half lengthwise and swish in cold water, running your fingers in between leek layers to clean and remove all the dirt and grit. Drain; Slice light green and white parts thinly crosswise.

Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and salt; sauté, stirring often until leeks reduce by at least half and become silky and soft, about 8−10 minutes.

Add rice and toss to toast and coat with oil. Season with black pepper.

Add stock, cover, and reduce heat to low; cook for 23−25 minutes undisturbed or until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. Let rice rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper as needed.


Roasted Beet & Orange Salad Yields 6 servings

Bright and vibrant contrasting colors and flavors make this salad a winner! While some advanced prep is needed to roast the beets (“silka”), vacuum-sealed cooked beets can also be used for an easy shortcut. All components of this salad can be done ahead, but assembly is best done right before serving time (the strong color from the beets will run and dye the other ingredients over time.)

3 large beets (or 4 small), scrubbed and trimmed

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided

Segments from 3−4 large navel oranges

2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar or honey

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon coriander

Freshly ground black pepper

2/3 cup olive oil

2−3 scallions, chopped

Handful of chopped mint (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Layer 2 large pieces of tin foil, one on top of the other, on top of a baking sheet. Place beets in the center of the foil layers. Drizzle water over the tops and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon Kosher salt. Gather the tin foil around the beets and close to form a tightly sealed pouch. Roast for at least 1 hour, or until beets are tender when pierced with a fork. When tender, remove from oven and cool. Gently peel or scrape away skin from beets so that you are left with the inner red flesh. (Disposable gloves are handy for this messy job!) Cut the beets into ½-inch pieces; set aside. Meanwhile, prepare orange segments.

Combine garlic, vinegar, sugar, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, cumin, coriander and pepper in a cruet or tightly covered container. Whisk in olive oil or shake vigorously until emulsified. Season to taste with more salt and pepper as needed.

Combine beets, orange segments, scallions and mint in a mixing bowl. Pour dressing over and toss to coat evenly.


Photo: Baila Gluck

Seared Tuna Tapas with Apples and Honey-Miso Dressing

Yields 15-18 Tapas

A fun holiday starter, the classic pairings of tuna and miso create a unique counterpoint to the sweet holiday tastes of apples and honey. Tuna can be seared a day ahead. For best results, slice tuna and apple thinly before assembly.


1-pound tuna steak (sliced into 1-inch thick steaks)

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2−3 teaspoons canola oil

2−3 large heads Belgian endive* leaves separated

1 large Granny Smith apple (unpeeled), halved, cored and very thinly sliced (1/8-inch thick)

2 scallions,* green parts thinly sliced

Sesame-Miso Dressing
(yields about ½ cup)

2 tablespoons red miso paste

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon sriracha or chili paste (or more for a kick!)

½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1½ teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4−5 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, to taste

*Check endives and scallions for bugs if not pre-checked

Season tuna steak with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Sear on each side for about 2 minutes, leaving center rare.

Remove from pan; let rest for 5−10 minutes before slicing. Using a sharp knife (non-serrated), thinly slice tuna against the grain, about ¼-inch thick.

Combine all dressing ingredients except olive oil in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well blended. Add olive oil in a slow stream while whisking constantly until oil is incorporated. Season to taste, adding salt or pepper as needed.

Arrange endive leaves on a platter. Line up 2−3 alternating rows of apple and tuna inside each leaf (you may have to place them on the bias to fit slices and/or cut long tuna slices in half as needed). Drizzle with miso dressing and sprinkle each with a few scallions. 

Naomi Ross is a cooking instructor and food writer based in Woodmere, New York. She teaches classes throughout the country and writes articles connecting delicious cooking and Jewish inspiration. Her first cookbook, The Giving Table, was recently released.

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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