The Jewish New Year is a grand celebration for Persians! But how did this feast start? What is this holiday about? If your answer is “apples and honey” there are lots to learn my friend!
The first day of Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Isn’t that crazy? And all this time I thought it was “The Jewish New Year!” If you think that is insane listen to this: On Rosh Hashana day Adam and Eve were created, they sinned -no time wasted here- and they were judged by G-d. From that day forward, Rosh Hashana became the day that every single being gets judged by G-d HIMSELF. Which is kind of cool because G-d loves us so much (just like a father/son love) we are able to really impress him by changing ourselves (if only that was an easy task). The tricks are repentance, praying (talking to G-d) and giving to others (charity). If you want to watch two inspirational videos that will really set the mood for the holiday click here and here.
This is the Persian Rosh Hashana Seder plate
Rosh Hashana is the day we get judged on a personal level. However, since on this day G-d judges us for transgressions committed against Him and not against other people, it is left to each person to call all those he might have wronged during the year and ask for mechilah (forgiveness). I admit this is very hard to do, but it leaves you feeling light as a feather! Try it!
This is Ariel (my oldest son) after asking for forgiveness…it leaves you exhausted, it is not easy to do, but it is worth it!
Can you believe Persians have an actual Rosh Hashana Seder! Back in Iran you could have seen a lamb’s head staring at you from the table, but today in America it is very hard to find. Although this year I was very lucky to find it! Thank you Specialty Provisions. If you lack of a lamb’s head, a less gruesome item is used…a cooked tongue, of course! (Talk about getting rid of Lashon Hara -the evil tongue, i.e., gossip- for the rest of the year!) However, on a more serious note, Rosh Hashana is a special time to get closer to Hashem (G-d). It is said that in these times the King of Kings is more available than ever. No wonder the Rosh Hashana Seder is based on saying several “Yehi Ratzons” over symbolic foods. “Yehi Ratzon” means “May it be Your will”; we are asking Hashem to fulfill our desires through blessings. Many of the “Yehi Ratzons” are plays on words, so it is not very easy to translate them. Several Sephardic prayer books contain the Yehi Ratzons and their translations, along with explanations of the puns. Here is a nice link to a list with the blessings and explanations. This list is not 100% accurate for Persian Jews, so contact your local Orthodox Persian Rabbi if you need guidance.
This is my son Yosef trying to blow a Shofar that is actually bigger than him! Thank you to the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, MA for lending us this gorgeous Shofar to take this picture. It was close to a miracle, but I gave it back in one piece!
Here are the symbolic foods along with the Yehi Ratzons so you can celebrate Rosh Hashana à la Persian! This Seder is to be performed after Kiddush and before the blessing over the bread, so be sure to make the pertinent blessings on the different kinds of foods before eating them.
- Apple and honey (The ever-popular Rosh Hashana staple…my kids’ favorite!)
- Leeks (Tear a piece apart with your hands. Some people have the custom of eating it as well.)
- Zucchini (Simply fry it in a little oil and sprinkle with salt.)
- Black-eyed peas (I use canned peas and simply add caramelized onions.)
- Lamb’s head or tongue (Persians love tongue…I can’t even look at it. See recipe for tong, below.)
- Beets (I buy them canned, already cut up. Just add salt or make the beet salad that will be in my book.)
- Dates (Make sure to check inside for bugs! I have even found worms in them!)
- Lung (Lungs are hard to find in America. [Thank G-d!] Some Persian Jews use popcorn for this Yehi Ratzon. We use fish, especially if Rosh Hashana falls on Friday night. Some people, in the absence of lungs, skip this blessing).
- Pomegranate arils (One of the highlights of the evening for Persians!)
After these blessings have been recited, the meal continues as usual. Since I consider the symbolic foods a fine appetizer, I serve dinner right after the challah is portioned out and the Yehi Ratzons have been said. As a good omen to have a sweet new year, many Persian Jews indulge in sweet foods on Rosh Hashana instead of the classic sour dishes. So, make sure to skip the dried lemon when making Persian Chicken Soup (Ab Goosht) for Rosh Hashana! Check out the delicious menu I suggest in the cookbook!
Rosh Hashana Dinner Menu
Persian Chicken Soup with Dried Lemon and Cumin Seed — Ab Goosht (Rosh Hashana version)
Persian Steamed White Rice— Chelo
Rice with Orange and Carrots—Shirin Polo
Lamb with Prunes Stew
Potato Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs—Sald’e Olivie
Persian Cram Puffs—Noon Chamei
Rosh Hashana Tongue with Tomato and Mushrooms
You have to trust me when I tell you that I have eaten the grossest things in the world! Every summer my family would take a trip to Zaraza; the town where my father was born. Many members of the family would gather together at the family farm and cook many interesting dishes. Have you hear of a stew made from an animal that is related to rodents called capybara? How about turtle quiches? How about crocodile or iguana stew? I have eaten them all! However, I never, ever ate tongue! It was not until I became acquainted with Persians that I was put to the task of eating tongue once a year on Rosh Hashana! I hope you enjoy this recipe and the many more that I am sharing in the cookbook. It is actually very delicious!
1 beef tongue
water as needed
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 (13-ounce) can mushrooms sliced or stems and pieces, drained
1 cup reserved tongue broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
fresh flat leaf parsley, for garnish
- Place the tongue into a 6-quart saucepan and cover with water until it reaches about 3 inches above the meat. Add the onion and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 3½ to 4 hours, checking periodically and using a small strainer or slotted spoon to remove the scum that accumulates on the surface of the water.
- Remove tongue from broth and set aside to cool. Reserve one cup broth and set aside. To make sauce, sauté olive oil, onion, and turmeric in a skillet until onion is translucent. Add mushrooms and toss together for one minute. Add tongue broth, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and cook for about 3 minutes.
- While the tongue is still warm, peel the surface skin off and discard. Cut tongue into ¼-inch-thick slices and arrange on a serving platter. Pour the mushroom sauce on top and sprinkle with chopped parsley for garnish.
Yield: 6-8 servings
SHANA TOVA UMETUKA TO ALL! A SWEET NEW YEAR TO ALL!