The symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana are chosen for specific attributes or for their Hebrew names, which sound like the words naming qualities or states of being that we hope to attain in the new year. When you delve into it, the word play turns out to be pretty lame – just a lot of bad puns – but who am I to pick on the Talmud. And they’re mostly about sweetness and abundance, which is nice. Several are also about being freed of enemies one way or another. This theme figures big on Rosh Hashana; it’s repeated while eating dates, leeks and beets, not one or two but three ceremonial foods of the holiday – talk about hedging your bets.
Of those three foods, I find it interesting that beets don’t play as prominent role in day-to-day Mediterranean or Ottoman Sephardic cuisine (at least not as I know it) as the first two, all the more because beets have been cultivated in the Mediterranean for at least ten thousand years, are always abundant, and are delicious. Okay, maybe that’s a tad too generous. I love beets, but they’re not a stand-alone crowd pleaser; they need things acid and savory to balance them out.
Here’s a Sephardic beet salad I’ve served on and off at my restaurant since we opened. If there’s anything traditional about it, it’s that it is a simple recipe, adhering to the ingredients of my family’s corner of the Aegean and handled with the sensibility of the women of my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s generation. They never served me this salad, but I know they would approve (even while laughing at the “emulsion” they would have just called salad dressing).
If eating beets on Rosh Hashana is about removing one’s enemies, serve this salad to someone who thinks they don’t like beets. They might just become an ally.
Happy New Year!