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Rosh Hashanah, Medierranean style

For a Mediterranean Rosh Hashanah, tilapia is served

For a Mediterranean Rosh Hashanah, tilapia is served in a saffron tomato sauce. (2010) Photo Credit: TMS

The Jewish New Year, which begins this year on Sept. 8 at sundown, is one of the most important occasions on the Jewish calendar. And a central part of its observance is the Rosh Hashanah dinner, which emphasizes sweet foods in hopeful anticipation of a sweet year to come.

For most American Jews, Rosh Hashanah meals are in the Ashkenazi style, with their roots in the customs of their Eastern and Central European forbears. They typically feature brisket with dried fruit, irresistible sweet carrots, and, for dessert, home-baked honey cake.

But if you're looking to try new ways to welcome the new year, here are some Mediterranean Jewish dishes to cook.

TILAPIA IN SAFFRON TOMATO SAUCE

 

If you're looking for a terrific, easy-to-make Rosh Hashanah fish course, try this flavorful Mediterranean-Jewish dish. The fish simmers right in the sauce and can be served hot or cold. You can prepare the sauce ahead and refrigerate or freeze it.

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and pureed, or 1 (28-ounce) and 1 (14-ounce) can plum tomatoes, drained and pureed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds tilapia fillets, about 1/2 inch thick, or cod or sea bass fillets, about 1 inch thick

3 tablespoons chopped basil, fresh oregano or Italian parsley

Fresh oregano sprigs, for garnish (optional)

1. Slightly crush saffron with your fingers and soak it in the oil in a small cup for about 20 minutes. Transfer saffron in its oil to a large saute pan or skillet. Add onion and bell pepper, and saute over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, or until onion begins to turn golden. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

2. Add fish fillets in 1 layer to sauce, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, spooning sauce over fish from time to time, about 5 minutes for thin fillets or about 10 minutes for 1-inch fillets, or until thickest part of fish has changed color inside (check with a thin, sharp knife). Taste sauce and adjust seasoning. Stir 2 tablespoons basil gently into sauce. Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with remaining basil or garnished with oregano sprigs.

Makes 4 servings for main course or 6 servings for fish course.

 

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH PRUNES, ALMONDS AND COUSCOUS

 

Braising chicken in a sauce that combines cinnamon, nutmeg and honey with a hint of saffron might sound surprising, but this is a spectacular dish.

It is one of our favorites for Rosh Hashanah. The traditional way to prepare the almonds is to saute them, but I toast them lightly in the oven instead. Some people sprinkle the chicken with toasted sesame seeds as well. If you'd like a touch of green, you can garnish the dish with a sprig of fresh basil.

3 pounds chicken pieces, patted dry

2 medium onions, minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup chicken stock, broth or water

A large pinch of saffron threads (about 1/8 teaspoon)

1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick

1 1/3 cups moist pitted prunes

2 tablespoons honey

Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 2/3 cups couscous or a 10-ounce package

1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted

1. Combine chicken, onions, salt and pepper in a heavy stew pan. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, turning chicken pieces over occasionally. Add stock, saffron and cinnamon stick; push cinnamon stick into liquid. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, turning pieces occasionally, for about 35 minutes, or until breast pieces are tender when pierced with a knife. Transfer breast pieces to a plate. Cook remaining chicken pieces, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender. Transfer chicken to plate.

2. Add prunes and honey to sauce, and cook uncovered over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until prunes are just tender. Transfer prunes to a heated bowl, leaving most of onions in casserole. Cover prunes.

3. Discard cinnamon stick. Cook sauce over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes to thicken it slightly. Add nutmeg. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Return chicken to casserole and turn to coat pieces with sauce. Cover and heat over low heat for 5 minutes.

5. Combine 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon oil and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes.

6. Fluff couscous with a fork and mound it on a heated platter. Arrange chicken around or over couscous and spoon sauce and prunes over chicken. Garnish with almonds. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

 

CARROTS AND POTATOES WITH CHARD

 

In this colorful stovetop casserole, the chard leaves and stems are used separately. The chard leaves cook with garlic to form a sauce for the other vegetables. The chard and vegetable medley is a fine accompaniment to stewed or roast chicken, braised beef or baked fish.You can prepare it in advance, as it reheats beautifully.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

6 cups rinsed, finely chopped red or green chard leaves

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups thin slices red or green chard stems

3/4 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice

3/4 pound baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice

1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock or broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, deep skillet or saute pan, preferably nonstick. Add garlic and saute for 15 seconds over medium-low. Add chopped chard leaves with liquid clinging to them, and saute about about 30 seconds. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until chard is wilted. Remove mixture from pan.

2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add onion and saute over medium heat for 3 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add chard stems, carrots and potatoes, and saute, stirring, 2 minutes. Add stock, salt and pepper, and bring to boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.

3. Return chard leaves and garlic mixture to pan and cook for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, adding a few tablespoons of water if pan becomes dry. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

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