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Symbolism and foods

  • AP PHOTO/LARRY CROWE Chicken Breasts with Cider, Spices and Caramelized Apples.
    AP PHOTO/LARRY CROWE Chicken Breasts with Cider, Spices and Caramelized Apples.
Published September 08. 2010 05:00PM

More than other Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah is rich with foods steeped in symbolism.

That's because the start of the Jewish new year, usually marked with a seder, or 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 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 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 Hashanah 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 pilaf.

Chicken Breasts with Cider, Spices and Caramelized Apples

Start to finish: 50 minutes

Servings: 6

cup dark raisins

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

cup apple cider

2 cups chicken stock

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 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 raisins are fully plumped.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 450 F.

Season chicken breasts with 1 1/2 teaspoons of five-spice powder, 2 teaspoons of salt and black pepper to taste.

In a large, ovenproof saute pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Place 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 breasts over and pour off any excess fat.

Add apple peels to pan, slipping them under the chicken breasts. Place pan in the oven and bake until the chicken breasts are opaque throughout, about 18 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted at the thicket part reads 165 F. Transfer breasts to a warmed serving platter and cover to keep warm. Leave apple peels in the pan.

Dust apple peels with flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Pour in the cider and deglaze pan, stirring to dislodge any bits stuck to the bottom. Cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add stock, bring to a boil, and decrease heat to medium so liquid simmers gently.

In a second saute pan over medium-high heat, melt 3 more tablespoons of butter over medium-high until it is brown and smells toasty, 2 to 3 minutes (do not burn). Add apples, honey, lemon juice and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder. Saute apples, turning 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 pan with apples. Arrange chicken on platter and top with caramelized apples. Drain off any liquid from raisins and sprinkle on top of chicken.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to pan with simmering liquid and stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce through a fine-mesh sieve over chicken and apples. Garnish with parsley and candied orange peel.

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