I find food anthropology fascinating, this is especially true on holidays where the differences in traditions are the most significant. While the Sephardic Jews have for the most part retained the traditional Talmudic customs of the Rosh Hashanah Seder, the Ashkenzi Jews have retained only the basic idea.
Rather than a lack of faith on the part of the European Jew, I see this as a lack of availability of these foods in Medieval Europe. Despite their limitations, we see a basic desire on their part to retain the Talmudic concept of eating foods which contain special meanings. Hence, the introduction of the carrot and the apple.
The apple and the carrot are both sweet foods, reflecting upon our desire for a sweet year. The apple is dipped in honey to add sweetness while the carrot is cooked with a combination of sweet flavors such as honey, sugar, and fruit. This dish, called tzimmes, is a staple at the Ashkenazi Rosh Hashanah meal. An interesting trend however developed around the carrots.
Carrots translated into Yiddish means mirrin, mirrin also means ‘more’ in Yiddish and thus the carrot was attributed a blessing similar to that of the pomegranate. Rabbi Avraham Danzig (Vilna, d. 1820) wrote in Hayye Adam (Klal 139:6) that we eat merrin on Rosh Hashanah and we say: “May God increase our merits”. The carrot here is a brilliant example of how Jews were able to adapt to their enviornment, using the easily available carrot to replace the elucid pomegranate, while still maintaining the spirit of the ancient traditions.
Modern Israel has a large population of both Sephardi and Ashkenzi Jews, and for the first time since the Diaspora we see a merging of the two cultures. Perhaps this is why we see a new development, something that I might refer to as the ”Nouveau-Israeli Rosh Hashanah Seder”. Israeli children, sometimes with the encouragement of their teachers, have turned the Seder into a game, seeing who can come up with the most symbolic food reference.
Of late I have heard such “pearls” as a blessing over chicken and chickpeas, “she’yafu hachamas” (the Hamas should disappear) and a blessing whichp lays on the french word for banana, banané, which sounds like “bonne année”, French for a good year. (Never say that Jews are not adaptable.)
An underlying theme in my Elul recipes has been Jewish fusion, or foods which reflect upon kibbutzgaluyot. The recipe below maintains this theme as I offer a North African alternative to tsimmis. Polish tzimmis is basically sweet, even overly sweet. The carrots, sweet to begin with, are then cooked with sweet, and only sweet.
I chose instead a sweet carrot recipe with a greater variety of flavors. The recipe below is a traditional Algerian carrot salad. This dish is intended as a first course, where it is served accompanied by other salads. It has the same carrots and the sugar as zimmis but the wider variety of flavors and spices adds greater depth to the dish and turns the carrots into a delicacy.
A word of caution: I have never had any leftovers from this dish. Whatever I put on the table is devoured!
Peel the carrots, remove the tips, and boil them in lightly salted water until they are slightly soft (about 30 minutes). Be careful not to over-cook the carrots as they will crumble when stirred.
Slice the cooked carrots into 1/2 inch roundels. Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with olive/corn oil, add the garlic, sugar, and spices and mix on a low flame for 30 seconds. Add the carrots and saute while gently stirring for about ten minutes or until the carrots are completely cooked and coated in the spices. Remove from the flame and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Serve cold as a first course, accompanied by bread and other salads.
Sima Herzfeld has a clinic for holistic medicine. She also teaches healthy cooking and nutritional healing.