Symbolic High Holiday Foods With a Spin

By Norene Gilletz

The upcoming High Holidays provide many opportunities to entertain guests at your yom tov table. Whether it’s just a cup of tea and a slice of traditional honey cake or a full-course festive meal, the hostess has many delicious ways to showcase her culinary skills. During the High Holidays, it’s traditional to include certain symbolic foods (Simanim) on your holiday table. I hope the following suggestions will inspire you to create new, delicious dishes that will become part of your menu for the High Holidays and throughout the year. L’Shanah Tovah U’metukah—wishing you and your family a sweet, healthy New Year!


Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup
Adapted from Secrets of Skinny Cooking: Mouthwatering Recipes You Won’t Believe Are Low Calorie by Victoria Dwek with Shani Taub (Mesorah)
Yields 12 (3/4 cup) servings

Victoria Dwek shared: “Soup season seems to always begin on the first night of Sukkot. That’s the night when my extended family sits down to a choice of two new heartwarming soups. One year, this was a combination that a sister-in-law introduced to us and it became instantly popular for its heartiness and Middle Eastern flair.”

1 (3 lb) butternut squash (yields 2 lb flesh)
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp salt, or to taste, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup red lentils
7 cups water
1 tsp cumin, plus more for optional garnish
1 tsp coriander
Pinch coarse black pepper
Pine nuts, optional garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place whole butternut squash into oven; bake until golden and soft on all sides, about 1 hour. Remove from oven.
2. Meanwhile, coat the bottom of a large pot with nonstick spray. Heat over medium high heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt, cover and let cook until soft, 5–7 minutes.
3. When squash is cool enough to handle, remove peel and seeds. Add flesh to pot. Add red lentils and water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer soup in batches to a blender and blend until smooth (or use an immersion blender right in the pot).
4. Return soup to pot; season with 2 tsp salt. Add cumin, coriander and black pepper. Optional garnish: sprinkle with cumin and pine nuts.


Rainbow Roasted Roots With Oranges & Pomegranates
Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (Mesorah)
Yields 8 servings

This brightly colored side dish combines a unique pairing of roasted roots with vibrant, juicy fruits. A few basil leaves and a splash of orange juice add a refreshing finish that goes perfectly with that savory roasted flavor.

2 bunches red or rainbow beets, scrubbed and trimmed (about 6-8 beets)
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 parsnips, peeled, trimmed, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 Tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 seedless oranges, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut a large piece of heavy-duty foil; place onto a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Coat foil with nonstick cooking spray. Place beets onto center of foil and wrap tightly, pinching edges together. Roast for about 1 hour, until tender.
3. Spread sweet potatoes and parsnips in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes, or until tender. (You can roast them at the same time as the beets.)
4. Carefully open foil packet and let beets stand until cool enough to handle. Use paper towels to rub off skins. Discard the skins. Cut beets into 1-inch chunks and place into a large serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Add sweet potatoes, parsnips, oranges and pomegranate seeds.
6. Add orange juice, oil, honey and basil. Toss together gently. Serve at room temperature.

Norene’s Notes:
Variation: Instead of sweet potatoes, use squash, carrots or baby pumpkin cut into chunks. Instead of parsnips, use 1lb/500g baby potatoes, halved. Measurements don’t need to be too exact. You just want a variety of different-colored vegetables.
Variation: No pomegranate seeds? Add 1⁄2 cup dried cranberries.
Variation: Substitute 1 can (398 ml/14 oz) pineapple chunks, drained, for oranges.


The Red Salad
Reproduced from Secrets of Skinny Cooking: Mouthwatering Recipes You Won’t Believe Are Low Calorie by Victoria Dwek and Shani Taub C.D.C., C.N., with permission from the copyright holders ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, LTD.

The Red Salad
Adapted from Secrets of Skinny Cooking: Mouthwatering Recipes You Won’t Believe Are Low Calorie by Victoria Dwek with Shani Taub (Mesorah)
Yields 4 servings

This refreshing dish (and all its seasonal fruit) is one of the things Victoria Dwek loves about winter. And though it used to take a commitment of time to prepare, now that she’s figured out a “cheating” way to supreme oranges, it no longer does (see note below).

4 large beets
3 oranges, supremed
1 red grapefruit, supremed
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
1/2 red onion, finely diced
Juice of 1–2 limes
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Wash beets; wrap each in foil. Place wrapped beets directly into oven (or use a baking pan) and bake until soft, about 1 hour. Let cool, rub off peel, and slice into wedges.
2. In a bowl, combine beets, oranges, grapefruit, pomegranate seeds and red onion. It’s okay if the color of the beets bleeds into the salad after you toss it; after all, this is a red salad. Dress with lime juice, olive oil and salt to taste.

Victoria’s Notes
To “supreme” an orange with less work and less waste, first peel the orange with a knife, exposing the fruit. Then, simply slice the fruit vertically through the middle of each segment. Don’t separate into segments by the hand or the not-as-pretty-or-tasty pith will be exposed.


Pomegranate-Glazed Honey Cake
Reproduced from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver with Norene Gilletz, with permission from the copyright holders ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, LTD.

Pomegranate-Glazed Honey Cake
Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (Mesorah)
Yields 12-15 servings

Absolutely perfect when the High Holidays roll around! This gorgeous glazed honey cake, using only 1 tablespoon of oil, makes a spectacular dessert. The pretty pink glaze adds an extra-special, festive feel.

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup water
2 Tbsp instant coffee granules
1 cup honey
2 2/3 cups flour (or gluten-free flour with xantham gum)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 Tbsp pomegranate juice
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat a 12-cup Bundt or 10-inch tube pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs, sugar and oil on medium-high speed for 3–5 minutes, until light. Add water, coffee and honey; mix well.
3. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Mix just until combined.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.
5. Bake about 1 hour, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

6. Let cool 20 minutes. Carefully invert cake onto a large serving platter; cool completely before glazing.
7. Glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and pomegranate juice.
8. Drizzle glaze over cake, allowing it to run down the sides. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired.

Norene’s Notes
If you freeze the baked cake, glaze it after defrosting. Glaze may crack if frozen.
Variation: Divide batter among three medium loaf pans; bake at 325°F for 45–50 minutes.


Honey Pistachio Roasted Chicken
Reproduced from The Silver Platter: Simple Elegance by Daniella Silver with Norene Gilletz, with permission from the copyright holders ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, LTD.

Honey-Roasted Pistachio Chicken
Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple Elegance by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (Mesorah)
Yields 4–6 servings

The essence of easy elegance, this foolproof recipe is a great option for entertaining, especially for the High Holidays. Some people don’t eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah or are allergic to them; if so, omit pistachios and garnish the chicken with either toasted pumpkin seeds or chopped fresh parsley for a burst of color.

1 chicken (about 3 lb/1.4 kg), cut into eighths
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 1/2 tsp)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 9x13inch baking dish with nonstick spray.
2. Trim and discard excess fat from chicken pieces. Arrange chicken in a single layer, skin-side up, in baking dish. Sprinkle all sides with salt, pepper and garlic.
3. Roast uncovered for 55–60 minutes.
4. Sauce: In a medium bowl, combine honey, soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and garlic. Mix well. Drizzle evenly over chicken. Sprinkle chicken with pistachios.
5. Roast uncovered, basting occasionally, for 15 minutes, until glazed.

Norene’s Notes: Honey has an indefinite shelf life. Store it at room temperature in a tightly closed container away from light. If honey crystallizes, just heat it over low heat and the sugar crystals will dissolve. You can also microwave it in a glass measure for 30–60 seconds.


Etrog Schnapps (Citron Liqueur)
Adapted from Bone Soup and Flipped Bread: The Yemenite Jewish Table by Sue Spertus Larkey (Gefen Publishing House)
Makes 1 bottle (750 ml)

Sue Spertus shares: “Israeli etrogim are grown for ritual rather than culinary purposes. They are not as flavorful as citrons grown for cooking in Morocco, Sicily and Spain. For this reason, I have added a lemon and a tangerine to the recipe. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself with an etrog windfall, it’s well worth the effort of making a large batch of schnapps. Decant the liqueur into small bottles to give as special gifts to friends.”

1 orange, washed
1 large or 3–4 very small lemons, washed
3 citrons, washed
1 bottle vodka, save the bottle and cap

1. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the orange and lemon(s). Cut off and discard the ends of the citrons. Peel the citrons so that you have nice ovals of white flesh. They are mostly flesh with little pulp or juice. Save the peels.
2. Cut each etrog in half lengthwise and cut each half into three lengthwise pieces. Cut out and discard the hard white pithy core and the seeds. Roughly chop all the fruit.
3. Weigh or measure the combined fruit and peels. Place them in the bowl and add one-third less the amount of sugar. In other words, if you have 3 cups of fruit, add 2 cups of sugar. Toss and mash the fruit and sugar together.
4. Cover the bowl lightly and let sit three days, stirring morning and night.
5. On the third day, transfer the mixture to a saucepan. Add 1 cup of the vodka. Simmer the fruit, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to a boil and cook just until it starts to turn a light caramel color. Remove from the heat and cool.
6. Pour the mixture into a jar. Add the remaining vodka and stir well. Seal the jar and store in a dark, cool place for 6–8 weeks. Save the vodka bottle and cap.
7. After 6–8 weeks, strain the schnapps through cheesecloth into a pitcher. Discard the fruit and peels (or save a few peels just for decoration) and use the funnel to pour the liqueur into the saved vodka bottle. Seal, and store in the freezer. Serve ice cold.

Sue’s Notes:
In Israel, tiny semi-sweet lemons come to the fall markets. They are especially fragrant and juicy. If you find them, by all means use a few.
If the citrons are green, ripen them in a lightly covered box, along with a few yellow apples. It can take a couple of weeks until they ripen to yellow. Check periodically and replace apples if they start to go bad.

Norene Gilletz is a leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada.

This article was featured in the Fall 2017 issue of Jewish Action.
We'd like to hear what you think about this article. Post a comment or email us at