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Black-eyed peas for Rosh Hashanah

I gotta feeling—tonight’s going to be a good night.

Chef Laura Frankel image
Chef Laura Frankel

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”, to be destroyed. This 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 the sky is the limit. 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—then 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. This custom to eat 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. Food and its aromas conjure memories and nostalgia, and can set the mood for a holiday. 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 by the general population as well.

The first Sephardic Jews settled in Georgia in the 1730s. The Jewish practice of eating black eyed peas on the New Year probably spread to the non-Jewish community during the civil war and 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 and tagines are becoming increasingly popular; tamarind is the new “it” flavor of the exotic ingredient world while 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 bring 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 the black-eyed peas. 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, then 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.

Lacquered Chicken 
2 chickens cut into 6 pieces each
Olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup tamarind concentrate
¼ cup honey
½ cup chicken stock
¼ cup dry white wine
6 fresh plums cut in quarters and pit removed
2 fresh peaches or nectarines cut in quarters and pit removed

Pat dry the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken in batches in a large sauté pan that has been lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat. Set aside the browned chicken.

Add the shallots and the garlic to the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Sweat the shallots and garlic until they are soft and translucent. Add the white wine and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Add the chicken back to the pan and cover. Cook the chicken in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Uncover the chicken and brush with the pan sauce. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
Serve the chicken with black eyed peas.

Laura Frankel is the executive chef of Spertus Kosher Catering featuring cuisine by Wolfgang Puck at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies in Chicago. Visit Laura Frankel’s website at

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