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How to Have a Happy and Healthy Vegan Jewish New Year

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Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year, is one of the holiest days in the Jewish religion. It marks the beginning of ten days of repentance for the sins we committed the past year, and we vow to do better in the coming year. Rosh Hashanah is the perfect time to think about and make connections between what we hope for and what we eat. We pray for a healthy year, yet we eat in unhealthy ways. We celebrate the creation of the world, yet we do things that contribute to the destruction of the planet. We seek compassion while we show little for the animals who end up on the holiday menu. We repent for our sins and give charity. We “awake from our slumber” and “mend our ways.” So what better time is there to practice compassion, charity and new beginnings than by eating a healthy plant-based diet that is kind to our bodies, the animals and the planet?

On Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to eat foods that symbolize the good things we hope and pray for in the coming year. Certain foods are symbols and reminders of our hopes for a sweet and happy new year. In celebration of the New Year, 5775, here is a look at some of the traditional foods and recipes and ideas for your holiday menu.

1. Apples and “Honey”

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, we dip challah and apples into “honey,” asking for a sweet year. Though Biblical texts mention honey, historians believe that it was really a fruit paste that was eaten as actual honey was hard to come by. That’s good since we don’t want to start the New Year by hurting bees. We can practice this tradition by dipping challah and apples into agave nectar, date paste, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or the sweetener of your choice. Read about The 5 Best Alternatives to Honey and this Guide to Natural Vegan Sweeteners to learn all about the many options available.

Other sweet apple goodies to enjoy are this Maple Drunk Apple Pie, Peanut Butter and Fresh Apple Pancakes with Peanut Butter Maple Syrup, and Apple Butter Cookies.

Apples are not only for dessert. A favorite holiday dish I make is my Tofu with Apple and Onion Relish. Cut a block of pressed and drained extra-firm tofu into 8 rectangular slices. Season ½ cup flour with 1 tsp. dried sage, 1 tsp. ground cumin and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Coat the tofu with the seasoned flour and shake off any excess. Heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu slices (in batches) and cook until they are browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the tofu to a 200 degree oven to stay warm. Add 1 large onion that has been chopped into medium-sized pieces and 2 sweet apples, cored and chopped into medium-sized pieces to the skillet. The onions and apples will both give off a lot of water so increase the heat to high and cook until the onion is wilted and the apples are golden brown. This should take about 5 minutes. Add 3 Tbs. apple cider vinegar to the pan. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until the vinegar thickens and becomes syrupy. Add 1 ½ cups vegetable broth and return it to a boil. Cook until the broth reduces to half. Remove the pan from the heat, add kosher salt and pepper to taste and whisk in 2 Tbs. vegan butter until smooth. Serve the tofu and top with the onion and apple relish. Add fresh chopped parsley for garnish.

2. New Fruit

On the 2nd night of Rosh Hashanah, it is tradition to eat a “new fruit” – a fruit that either has just come into season but we haven’t eaten yet, or a fruit we have not tasted for a long time, if ever. This ritual is to remind us to appreciate the fruits of the earth, be grateful we are here to enjoy them, and to literally taste the newness of the year.

People often use pomegranates as the new fruit. Pomegranates are symbolic for several reasons: it is said the fruit contains 613 seeds just as there are 613 mitzvot or commandments; we wish that our good deeds in the coming year will be as plentiful as the seeds of the pomegranate; and the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility and the unlimited possibilities for the New Year. Enjoy eating the pomegranates as is or in any of these delicious recipes: Healthy Pomegranate Quinoa Porridge, Pomegranate Sweet and Sour Tempeh, and Delectable Cashew Citrus Cream Cake with Pomegranate.

However, the tradition of eating a new fruit can be an opportunity to explore farmers’ markets and produce section and find some interesting fruits that you and your family have never tried before. Is kiwi new to you? Try this Raw Kiwi Tart with Ginger, Mint and Coconut. Passionfruit? Enjoy this Tropical Coconut and Passionfruit Chia Pudding. Or indulge in these Raw Fruit Tartlets which have a variety of delicious, sweet fruits.

3. Round and Sweet Challah              

Besides dipping apples in something sweet, the next most well-known symbolic food of Rosh Hashanah is round challah. The bread, which is usually baked in a braided shape, is made in a round shape to represent the unending cycle of life and the prayer that another full year will be granted. Try this Vegan Challah or this Vegan and Gluten-Free Challah. If you make the gluten-free version, be sure to get a round mold for the holiday.

Besides just dipping the challah into something sweet, you can easily alter the recipes above to make a sweet, dessert challah. Here are several ways to make the challah recipe sweeter: (1) add a bit more than the ¼ cup of sugar described in the recipes. I wouldn’t add a lot more sugar, maybe just take it up to 1/3 cup; (2) add ½ tsp. ground cinnamon to the dry ingredients of the dough; (3) replace ¼ to 1/3 cup of flour with cocoa powder to make it a chocolate challah; (4) add ½ cup chocolate chips to make it a chocolate chip challah; (5) when making your own vegan butter, substitute cocoa butter for the coconut oil to give the bread a delicious chocolate aroma and taste; and (6) before putting the challah in the oven to bake, brush the top with non-dairy vanilla-flavored milk. Combine ¼ cup sugar, ½ tsp. cinnamon and ½ tsp. cocoa powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle it over the top of the challah and bake as usual. This is how I make my Sweet Dessert Challah with Cinnamon Cocoa Sugar.

If you are using an already-bought or already-baked challah, you can still make it sweeter. Brush the bread with non-dairy milk and sprinkle the cinnamon cocoa sugar over it. Put it in a 250 degree oven for just a few minutes until the sugar melts. Then make it even sweeter by making a chocolate drizzle for it. Combine 1 cup vegan chocolate chips, 3 Tbs. vegan butter, 2 Tbs. agave nectar, a pinch of ground cinnamon and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, keep stirring until the chocolate melts and is smooth and glossy. If the chocolate is too thick, you can thin it out with a little non-dairy milk. Cut thin slices of challah. Place 3 slices on each plate. Drizzle with melted chocolate. Sprinkle the challah with powdered sugar and serve while warm. You get the tender challah with its slightly sweet taste served warm and drizzled with rich chocolate and powdered sugar. What a wonderful way to start the New Year off sweetly.

4. Vegan Seafood

Some people believe that it is good to eat fish on the New Year because it is a symbol of fertility and abundance. Because fish never sleep, it is also thought that eating fish will keep us cognizant and aware. We can follow this tradition in a compassionate way by enjoying vegan seafood at dinner. Start your holiday meal with this Vegan Gefilte “Fish” made from chickpeas. Then indulge in Vegan Tofu Scallops, Tempeh “Crab” Cakes with Horseradish-Dill Mayo or Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi. Read How to Make Vegan Seafood without the Fish for more ideas and recipes.

5. Beets, Leeks and Dates

Beets, leeks and dates are believed to remove spiritual roadblocks, including enemies, before a sweet New Year is granted. A traditional Jewish way to enjoy beets is by making borscht or beet soup. My Papa’s Borscht (named after my grandfather) is easy to make. Boil 6 red beets that have been peeled and chopped in 3 cups of salted water for 20 minutes or until fork-tender. Strain the beets and reserve the liquid. Let the beets cool and then cut them into chunks. In the same pot, heat 1 Tbs. oil and saute 1 minced red onion, 1 finely diced stalk of celery, 1 finely diced carrot and 1 minced garlic clove until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the beet cooking liquid, 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth and 2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Add 1 Tbs. fresh dill and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. For a smooth soup, strain the veggies out or keep them in for a chunkier soup. Serve hot or cold with a dollop of vegan sour cream. Use the beet greens to make a salad to go on the side of your borscht.

Other beet dishes to try include Roasted Beet Burgers, Sauteed Beet Red Greens, Beet Carpaccio, Braised Red Cabbage with Beets and this Grilled Beet Salad with Almonds and Dried Cranberries. For a beet-y dessert, make these Beet-Root Chocolate Frosted Cupcakes. Serve this Pureed Lentil Dip with Caramelized Leeks , Cheesy Leek and Potato Gratin and this Tempeh, Date and Olive Marbella for added protection.

6. Foods for Prosperity

Several foods are believed to bring prosperity, blessings and plenty in the New Year. Just like the Southern tradition, black-eyed peas are thought to bring good fortune. Eat them in these Black-Eyed Pea and Spinach Fritters with Sundried Tomato Tartar Sauce or these Black-Eyed Pea Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce. Couscous is believed to bring many blessings as represented by the many tiny grains. Make this Curried Couscous and Vegetable Salad and be sure to add 7 vegetables since the number seven represent goodness and luck. Gourds are another symbolic food eaten to make our merits many. Serve some Pumpkin and Kale Hummus and Sauteed Delicata Squash Rings and praise will certainly come to you. The Indian spice Fenugreek is also thought to increase our merits. Enjoy this spice in Indian-Style Cauliflower with Ginger and Fenugreek and these Indian Whole Wheat Flatbreads with Fenugreek.

7. Other Holiday Recipes

Not all traditional and customary holiday dishes are symbolic; some are just delicious. Serve up a bowl of tradition with a vegan twist with this Matzoh Ball Soup or this Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup with a Gluten-Free Option. For an appetizer, serve this Beet, Fennel and Lime Pate or this Mushroom and Walnut Pate, a vegan version of chopped liver. Brisket and roasts are common holiday dishes. Wow everyone with this Seitan and Mushroom Bourguignon, Braised Seitan Short Ribs in Spicy Chile Sauce, Seitan Pot Roast (which can also be made with this gluten-free version of seitan), this Portobello Wellington and the Unturkey Roast.

For less “meaty” entrees, try this Moroccan Tofu in Lemon-Olive Sauce over Spaghetti, Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf, Raw Zucchini Pasta with Creamy Avocado-Cucumber Sauce, Lentil Loaf, or this Creamy Pumpkin and Spinach Lasagna.

For an extra-special side dish, make my Potato and Onion Kugel with Sauteed Apples. Other delicious sides include this Onion, Celery and Mushroom Stuffing, Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Braised Garlicky Kale, Spicy Lentil Salad, Roasted Red Potatoes with Turmeric and Thyme, Yam Banana Mash and Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Red Chile Flakes.

End the meal on a sweet note with this Apple of My Eye Pie with Gluten-Free Crust, Carrot Cake with Walnuts and Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, a big bowl of this Sweet Potato Apple Pie Ice Cream and the traditional cookie of Jewish holidays, Chocolate Hazelnut Rugelach.

There is no better way to celebrate the New Year than with food that is healthy, compassionate and incredibly delicious. It is not only possible, but also easy to keep traditions alive while updating them just a bit to fit with our newer beliefs. We hope you enjoy these recipe ideas and have a very Happy New Year. “Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim: May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Lead image Source: Vegan and Gluten-Free Challah

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