More than other Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashana is rich with foods that are steeped in symbolism.
That's because the start of the Jewish new year, usually marked with a celebratory meal, is meant to focus on hope, optimism and wishes for the coming year.
But for those unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, sifting through the symbolism can be confusing. So here's a primer on mainstays of the meal and why they are consumed.
Laura Frankel, author of "Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes," says apples and honey are traditional parts of the meal because they are sweet and speak to the desire for a sweet year to come.
Challah, the braided egg bread traditionally served by Jews on the Sabbath, is shaped into spirals or rounds during Rosh Hashanah to represent the continuity or circle of life. Often raisins or honey are added to the recipe in order to make the loaves extra sweet.
Pomegranates are eaten because they have many seeds, which are symbolic of the many good deeds, or mitzvahs, we hope to perform in the next year, says Frankel.
Foods such as pumpkins, squash and beets grow rapidly in the fall and therefore are considered signs of fertility, prosperity and abundance.
Along the same lines, many stuffed foods, such as turnovers and roasts, are served in hopes of a year filled with blessing.
Some of the foods are simply plays on words or puns, and are eaten because the word for them sounds like something that is wished for. Leeks, for instance, often are consumed in hopes that enemies will be vanquished in the year to come because the Hebrew word for the pungent vegetable is similar to the word for destroyed.
These plays on words can be quite whimsical, notes Frankel, who says that some people put celery and raisins together on their Rosh Hashana table so that they might look forward to a "raise in salary."
For her own Rosh Hashana celebration, Frankel likes to prepare a sweet and aromatic dish such as a lamb tagine, a slow-cooked stew, which is made with dried fruits and seasoned with cinnamon and cardamom.
Because the holiday falls so early this year, Frankel is taking the opportunity to use late summer produce to make a tomato-apple chutney, sweetened with browned sugar and reduced with wine instead of the more traditional vinegar, which is avoided during Rosh Hashanah so that sourness will not be associated with the new year.
This recipe for chicken breasts with cider, spices and caramelized apples is elegant, aromatic and loaded with ingredients that are well suited to the symbolism of Rosh Hashana. Serve with a side of sauteed zucchini and a simple pumpkin and barley pilaf.
>Chicken Breasts with Cider, Spices, and Caramelized Apples
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup Madeira or port wine
1/2 cup water
6 split chicken breasts (with skin)
1 tablespoon five-spice powder (divided)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
Ground black pepper
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled (with peels reserved), cored and cut lengthwise into eighths
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
1 tablespoon candied orange peel
In a small saucepan, combine the dark and golden raisins, wine and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes, or until the raisins are fully plumped.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Season the chicken breasts with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the five-spice powder, 2 teaspoons of salt and black pepper to taste.
In a large, ovenproof saute pan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Place the chicken breasts, skin side down, in the pan and cook until well browned and most of the fat has cooked out of the skin, about 5 minutes. Turn the breasts over and pour off any excess fat.
Add the apple peels to the pan, slipping them under the chicken breasts. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the chicken breasts are opaque throughout, about 18 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted at the thickest part reads 165 degrees. Transfer the breasts to a warmed serving platter and cover to keep warm. Leave the apple peels in the pan.
Dust the apple peels with flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Pour in the cider and deglaze the pan, stirring to dislodge any bits stuck to the pan bottom. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and decrease the heat to medium so the liquid simmers gently.
In a second saute pan over medium-high heat, melt 3 more tablespoons of the butter over medium-high until the butter is brown and smells toasty, 2 to 3 minutes (do not allow it to burn). Add the apples, honey, lemon juice and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder. Saute the apples, turning them as needed, until they are a rich, even brown color and are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with pepper.
Pour any juice released from the chicken into the pan with the apples. Arrange the chicken on the platter and top with the caramelized apples. Drain off any liquid from the raisins and sprinkle the raisins on top of the chicken.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the pan with the simmering liquid and stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve over the chicken and apples. Garnish with the parsley and candied orange peel. Servings: 6.
(Recipe adapted from "An Apple Harvest: Recipes & Orchard Lore" by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva, Ten Speed Press, 2010.)Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 577 calories; 250 calories from fat (44 percent of total calories); 28g fat (13g saturated; 1g trans fats); 131mg cholesterol; 43g carbohydrate; 33g protein; 3g fiber; 840mg sodium.