While everyone is familiar with the usual suspects of Rosh Hashanah cuisine— apples and honey, round challah, honey cake–there are countless other foods that are traditional at the start of the Jewish year. These include pomegranates, beets, black eyed peas, dates, and even the spice fenugreek. And for our purposes: fish.
Why fish? Fish multiply quickly and in quantity. On Rosh Hashanah, we eat fish in hopes that the coming year will be one of plenty. Another explanation is that fish are particularly lucky because the evil eye cannot reach the underwater depths where they live. Eating fish expresses the desire that the Jewish people should similarly be free of evil and bad thoughts.As with everything Jewish, there are multiple interpretations. In fact, some Jews specifically avoid fish on Rosh Hashanah, because the Hebrew word for fish, dag, is similar to the word da’agah, or worry.
In some communities, there is significance associated not just with fish, but with fish heads (and the heads of other animals, like sheep and roosters). These have historically been placed on the Rosh Hashanah table, with a special prayer recited over them: May it be your will, God, that we be like the head and not like the tail.
If the thought of a fish head on your dinner table makes you squeamish, you are not alone. Instead, why not serve some special fish dishes at your Rosh Hashanah meal? While the obvious is gefilte, here’s an alternative appropriate for the holiday.
The combination of sweet and sour is prominent in Jewish cooking. On Rosh Hashanah, it can remind us that during hopeful and happy times, it is also important to remember the challenges of our history.
For Pesce al ‘Ebraica, or Italian sweet and sour fish, almost any white-fleshed fish will work–snapper, trout, whitefish, or even halibut, haddock, or sole. This recipe can be made easily in large quantities, will store well, and can be served hot or at room temperature.
For another fish dish perfect for Rosh Hashanah, try baked salmon with caramelized apples.
2 tablespoons minced parsley (to garnish)
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup golden raisins, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
4 lbs white-fleshed fish
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Season fish with salt and pepper and place in a 9×13 pan.
Combine the vinegar, honey, olive oil, and salt in a small bowl. Pour mixture over fish. Sprinkle raisins and pine nuts over the fish.
Place in oven and bake until fish is no longer translucent throughout. For a very thin fish this will only take about 10 minutes. For a thicker filet, such as halibut, this will take up to 20 minutes. Baste after 10 minutes if the fish is not yet ready.
Prior to serving, sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.