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Black-Eyed Peas for Rosh Hashanah

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Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world and is a time for reflection and self evaluation. It is also a time for families and friends to gather and enjoy elaborate meals.

One of my favorite parts of the meal is the Rosh Hashanah Seder. Now, before everyone who doesn’t know about this freaks out and figures that they have been doing it wrong all this time, the Rosh Hashanah Seder consists of a series of short hopeful prayers for the new year and eating symbolic foods. The foods allude to the symbolism of the prayer. For example, we eat leeks in the hopes that our enemies will be destroyed. The Hebrew word for leeks is “Karsi,” which sounds like “kares.” This tradition is where the hope for a sweet year and then dipping apples, challah or fruit in honey as well as the round challah symbolizing the cycle of the year comes from. There are numerous foods and prayers and really the sky is the limit in terms of preparation of the foods. I know people who eat raisins and celery in hopes of a raise in salary!

Well, I thought I knew just about everything about Jewish food and had seen, heard or tasted it all, but I recently saw a reference for eating black eyed peas or rubiya or lubiya.I had not heard of this symbolic food before. We eat black-eyed peas in the hopes that our merits increase and we are purified. The custom of eating black-eyed peas is Baghdadi. Peas are eaten as a symbol of abundance and fruitfulness.

I know many families who pull out the same recipes from year to year and the menu is written in stone from gefilte fish to honey cake. I know that food and its aromas conjure up memories and nostalgia and can set the mood for a holiday, but I also know that there are many foods, flavors and minhagim (customs) all over the world. Jews from around the world have brought their ingredients and traditions to the United States and those new foods are quickly being adopted not only by the Jewish community, but also by the general population. The first Sephardic Jews settled in Georgia in the 1730’s. The Jewish practice of eating black-eyed peas on the New Year probably spread to the non-Jewish community during the civil war and thus, the famous New Year’s dish of Hoppin’ John was created.

Foods and ingredients that were considered exotic and hard to find are now more commonplace. When I wrote my first book JEWISH COOKING FOR ALL SEASONS (John Wiley and Sons) almost five years ago, I wrote a recipe for Pomegranate Chicken. People went nuts over this recipe. Pomegranate molasses was hard to find and the flavors seemed so striking. Now pomegranates have found their way into everything from juices, wines and sauces to sorbets and candy. As many Jews from Morocco have settled in the United States, the rich-floral and spice-laced Moroccan flavors are now fashionable. Tagines are becoming increasingly popular; tamarind is the new “it” flavor of the exotic ingredient world; and, artichokes, mint and quinces are breaking traditions in many kitchens.

Adding new dishes, new ingredients and new customs to your Rosh Hashanah menu is symbolic and shows understanding of the diversity of Jewish culture and tradition. While Rosh Hashanah is one of the most traditional holidays in the Jewish calendar, it can also be one of the most dynamic holidays by bringing new culture to your holiday table. L’Shana Tovah Umetuka.
Black-eyed Peas with Thyme-Honey Vinaigrette

Serves 8-10 as a side dish

16 oz. package dried black-eyed peas

1/3 cup best quality honey

10 sprigs of fresh thyme

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

  1. Sort and clean black-eyed peas well. Soak in cold water over night. Drain the peas and place in a medium stock pot and cover with two inches of water.
  2.  Bring to a gentle boil reduce heat to allow the peas to simmer for about 1 ½ hours until the peas are soft and creamy but still holding their shape. Drain any excess water and cool the peas.
  3. Heat the honey and thyme in a small sauce pan over medium heat until the honey simmers. Turn off the heat and allow the thyme to steep for one hour.

Pass the honey through a sieve. Whisk the honey with the lemon juice and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. The black-eyed peas can be served hot or cold and will keep covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here. For more articles by Laura, click here.
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One Comment »

  • Leah Y'Israel says:

    Nice article with good intentions, however, the black eyed pea tradition was NOT passed from the Jewish to non-Jewish. We are “black hebrew israelites”, and we do not share the exact same holiday FOOD traditions as the Ashkenazi “white” hebrews, such as apple and honey. Do not let color or “race” deceive you. The Most High makes it clear in His holy words that we are ‘nations’ and ‘tribes’, but not specified by colors, yet share a heritage that the colonized history books left out ‘purposely’. Shalom and shalawam to you dear sister.

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