Moroccan Vegetable Tagine served with couscous. (Photo/Leigh Beisch)
Moroccan Vegetable Tagine served with couscous. (Photo/Leigh Beisch)

Take your Rosh Hashanah menu to Marrakech and beyond

When I was running Square One restaurant in San Francisco, I knew most of our regular diners pretty well, so they didn’t hesitate to come to me with menu requests for Jewish holidays. As most American Jews are of Ashkenazi origins, the food they requested was, as well.

Square One, however, was focused on the food of the Mediterranean, so most of our interpretations of Jewish food were based on Sephardic, Maghrebi (North African) or Middle Eastern Jewish classics.

For Passover, diners asked for matzah ball soup and gefilte fish. Along with those Ashkenazi classics, we also served Italian chicken dumplings and Tunisian fish balls. For Hanukkah, crunchy fried leek, bulgur or potato fritters were a must; they just weren’t called latkes.

Surprisingly, Rosh Hashanah did not bring about any recipe requests, therefore our menu was wide open for interpretation.

Despite beginning this year on Sept. 6, Rosh Hashanah generally falls in late September or early October, a time of year that is a culinary crossroad between late summer and early autumn. Our farmers market teems with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, early pumpkin-type squashes, quince, apples and the last of the figs.

Many symbolic foods appear on the Rosh Hashanah table. Among them are the classic apples with honey, which symbolize the wish that the New Year will be sweet. The multiple jewellike seeds of the pomegranate signify the many good deeds to be performed in the coming year. Black-eyed peas characterize abundance and fertility, and pumpkin or winter squash, with its hard covering, symbolizes the desire for protection from harmful and oppressive decrees, and the hope to be remembered for good deeds. Spinach and chard represent the hope that all enemies will be removed from the community.
For Moroccan Jews, couscous with seven vegetables represents the seven days it took for God to create the world. A whole fish is often served, its head representing the head (beginning) of the New Year.

What follows are some of our favorite recipes we served for many years at the High Holidays.

Lemony Bean and Rice Soup for Yom Kippur

Harira de Kippour 

Serves 8

Also spelled h’rira and h’riba, harira is the traditional Moroccan soup served by Muslims and Jews alike to break a fast, whether it be Ramadan or Yom Kippur. The variables are the lentils, chickpeas, rice or pasta, and the choice of beef, lamb or chicken. The soup is thickened at the end with flour and its flavor is brightened with lemon juice. Some versions call for eggs mixed with lemon juice for thickening rather than flour. In Morocco, the fast is ended with a bite of a sweet date and then the soup. Although you can put all of the ingredients into the pot and cook them together, I like to prepare the chickpeas and lentils separately to control their texture. Dried fava beans (look for peeled ones) can be used in place of the chickpeas.

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 8 oz. beef or lamb shank meat, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp. saffron threads, dissolved in 2 Tbs. hot water
  • 3 cups water
  • 1½ cups brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • ½ cup white rice, orzo, pastina or broken spaghetti
  • 4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (fresh or canned)
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (about ⅓ cup)
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (about ⅓ cup)
  • 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour, dissolved in ¼ cup water, optional
  • Juice of 1 or 2 lemons

Pick over chickpeas, then place in a bowl, add water to cover and let soak in the refrigerator overnight. Drain, rinse well and transfer to 1-qt. saucepan. Add water to cover by 3 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down heat to low, cover and cook until tender but not falling apart, about 1 hour. Remove from heat, salt lightly and set aside. You should have about 1½ cups of beans and not too much liquid.

While chickpeas are cooking, warm oil in large sauté pan over high heat. Add meat and brown on all sides. Add onions, celery, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and saffron infusion, and stir for 1 minute. Add water to cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in 3-qt. soup pot, bring 3 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add lentils, turn down heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes, then add rice and cook for 10 minutes longer.

Transfer meat and onion mixture and its cooking juices to the lentils, then add the cooked chickpeas, tomatoes and half each of the cilantro and parsley. Simmer gently, uncovered, until rice is tender, about 15 minutes longer. If you want to thicken the soup, gradually stir in flour paste and then whisk continuously over low heat until absorbed. Add lemon juice and the rest of the cilantro and parsley and season to taste with salt and with lots of pepper. (The soup should be peppery.) Ladle into bowls and serve hot.

Lemony Bean and Rice Soup for Yom Kippur, also known as harira, from "Saffron Shores" by Joyce Goldstein (Photo/Leigh Beisch)
Lemony Bean and Rice Soup for Yom Kippur, also known as harira, from “Saffron Shores” by Joyce Goldstein (Photo/Leigh Beisch)

Soup with Chickpeas, Pumpkin and Cilantro

Soupe aux Pois Chiches, la Courge Rouge et Coriandre 

Serves 6 to 8

You will find numerous versions of this hearty classic in Moroccan and Tunisian Jewish kitchens. Some cooks use dried favas or white beans instead of chickpeas, some omit the greens and still others add bits of cooked meat. This is a stick-to-your-ribs dish and is a full meal when paired with bread or a salad.  

  • 2¼ cups (1 lb.) dried chickpeas
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 lbs. butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Vegetable or chicken broth or water to cover (6 to 8 cups)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 to 2 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves cut into narrow strips
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Sugar, if needed

Pick over the chickpeas, then place in bowl, add water to cover and let soak in refrigerator overnight. Drain, rinse well and transfer to soup pot. Add onions, carrot, squash, broth to cover, and half the cilantro and bring to boil over high heat. Turn down heat to low, cover and simmer until chickpeas and squash are tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the heat, pass the contents of the pot through a food mill and return the purée to pot.

In a saucepan, combine chard and a little water over medium heat and cook until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and add to the puréed soup.

Reheat soup over medium-low heat, adding water (if needed) to thin to a good consistency and stirring often to prevent scorching. Add the cinnamon and season with salt and pepper and with a little sugar (if needed) to pick up on the sweetness of the squash. Serve hot, sprinkled with remaining cilantro.

Soup with Chickpeas, Pumpkin and Cilantro, a hearty classic. (Props Sarah Slavin; Food Sandra Cook)
Soup with Chickpeas, Pumpkin and Cilantro, a hearty classic. (Photo/Leigh Beisch)

Rosh Hashanah Seven Vegetable Soup

Sopa de Siete Verduras  

Serves 6 to 8

This soupe aux sept legumes is part of the Rosh Hashanah tradition in Marrakech. The seven vegetables are onion, pumpkin, gourd, zucchini, a few Swiss chard leaves, chickpeas and quince. It closely resembles the Andalusian soup called olla gitana (Gypsy stew), which uses pears instead of quince. I suspect that the “Gypsy” title was added as a cover after the Jews had left Spain and the recipe remained in the culinary pipeline. Today in Spain, they add ham to flavor the stock, but in pre-Inquisition days, the soup most likely was made with beef. You may add diced cooked brisket to the basic vegetable soup for a more filling soup. In Tétouan, Morocco, cooks add greens to the basic pumpkin and use white beans instead of chickpeas. For a meatless version use vegetable stock.

  • 3 onions, chopped
  • ¼ of a pumpkin, peeled and diced (about a 2-lb. piece), or butternut squash
  • ⅔ cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 3 squashes (zucchini)
  • 1 small gourd or vegetable marrow (if not available you might want to use turnip or rutabaga)
  • 2 apples, quince or pears, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard greens, cut in strips
  • Beef broth or bouillon cube and water (or vegetable stock)
  • Salt
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp. cumin, optional
  • Sugar, if needed

Cut all of the vegetables and fruit into rounds, quarter-rounds or large dice, depending upon size and shape. Simmer chickpeas and onions gently in salted water or beef broth until almost tender, about 45 to 60 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables and simmer until tender. Season to taste.

Black-Eyed Peas in Tomato Sauce

Fijones Frescos

Serves 8

Beans are traditionally eaten at Rosh Hashanah because they symbolize fertility and abundance, and their appearance on the table ensures a fruitful New Year. Black-eyed peas, also called cow peas, are a traditional ingredient in the Sephardic kitchen, where they are turned into this typical holiday dish (also known as lubiya). In Egypt, a few cloves of minced garlic are added with the onion and a big handful of chopped, fresh cilantro is stirred in about 10 minutes before the peas are tender. The peas are most easily purchased frozen or dried.

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 can (16 oz.) tomatoes, drained and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 3 cups fresh black-eyed peas, shelled; 1 package (1 lb.) frozen black-eyed peas; or 1¼ cups dried black-eyed peas, picked over, soaked in water for 1 hour, drained and rinsed
  • 1½ to 2 cups water if cooking fresh or frozen peas, or about 3 cups water if cooking dried peas
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, cinnamon, fresh or frozen peas, and 1½ cups water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until peas are tender, about 30 minutes. Check the pan from time to time, and add more water if the pan begins to dry. If cooking dried black-eyed peas, use 3 cups water, or as needed to cover, and simmer for about 1½ hours.

Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and serve hot.

Cooked Pepper and Tomato Salad


Serves 8

Called choukchouka in Algeria and mishwyia in Morocco and Tunisia, this classic salad is traditionally served as a first course, but would make a fine accompaniment or sauce to a main course of fish or meat. It is a staple in the North African pantry and is often served at Rosh Hashanah. The Algerian version is much milder, with no heat and no lemon. I prefer the Moroccan version, which is fairly piquant with spice and lemon. Tunisian cooks sometimes turn this into a niçoise-like salad by garnishing it with canned tuna, olives and hard-boiled eggs. You can also combine the roasted peppers and tomatoes with all of the remaining ingredients, except the parsley, skip the simmering step and garnish the salad with strips of preserved lemon.

  • 4 lbs. firm ripe tomatoes
  • 2 lbs. green bell peppers
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small fresh chile, seeded and finely minced (optional)
  • ¼ to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Peel of ½ preserved lemon, rinsed and finely diced, or pulp of ½ fresh lemon, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1 Tbs. sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin (optional)
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

To roast the tomatoes and bell peppers, preheat broiler and arrange them on a sheet pan (work in batches if necessary). Place under broiler and turn them as needed until the skin is blistered and charred on all sides. Transfer to a closed plastic container or a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes. Peel or rub off skin from each tomato and pepper. Stem peppers, halve lengthwise, remove and discard seeds and thick ribs, and chop the flesh. Core the tomatoes, halve crosswise, ease seeds out of sacs, and chop the flesh.

Combine roasted tomatoes and peppers, garlic, chile, cayenne to taste, lemon peel, salt, paprika, cumin, black pepper and oil. You can serve it as is, or place over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer, and simmer until all of the liquid released by the tomatoes has evaporated and the mixture is as thick as marmalade, about 30 minutes.

Transfer to a serving dish and serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with parsley.

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine


Serves 8

This recipe, sometimes called tajine del sabana, is a cross between two tagine recipes in “La cuisine juive du Maroc de mère en fille” by Maguy Kakon. Similar dishes are found on the Rosh Hashanah table in Fez, Meknes and Tangier. Almost any combination of vegetables will work for this fragrant stew, which is typically served with couscous. It includes both potatoes and sweet potatoes, and the classic addition of preserved lemon and olives, which add salt and tang. If you like, 1 to 1½ lbs. of butternut squash or pumpkin (peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks) can be used in place of the sweet potatoes. Sometimes I add ½ cup plumped raisins for a note of sweetness, although this is not authentic.

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. Maras pepper flakes
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 turnips or rutabagas, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 6 small Yukon Gold or new potatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks
  • 4 small zucchini, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 cup drained canned chickpeas, rinsed (optional)
  • Peel of 2 preserved lemons, homemade or store-bought, rinsed and cut into fine slivers
  • 1 cup green or violet olives
  • 2 fresh chiles, thinly sliced (optional)
  • ½ cup raisins plumped in hot water (optional)

Warm oil in large stew pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, paprika, turmeric, ginger, Maras pepper flakes, tomatoes and half the cilantro and cook, stirring, for a few minutes to bloom the spices. Pour in broth, stir well, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add carrots, re-cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Add turnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes and simmer for 10 minutes longer. Add zucchini, chickpeas, preserved lemon, olives and chiles, and simmer until all of the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasoning and add remaining cilantro. Serve hot.

Fish with Chickpeas and Roasted Peppers

Poisson aux Pois Chiches

Serves 4

Fish with chickpeas and red peppers is popular in Morocco, especially in the cities of Fez and Rabat. It is often served during Rosh Hashanah, when bell peppers are at their peak, or on the Sabbath. A firm fish such as sea bass, snapper, halibut or cod will work well. Mackerel, if you can find it, would be ideal. Some versions of this recipe add a few small hot red chiles, chopped, to the pepper and chickpea mixture in place of the cayenne. This dish is particularly delicious served with braised Swiss chard or a combination of braised greens. If you do not have time to roast the peppers, substitute 8 jarred piquillo peppers.

  • 1 rounded cup dried chickpeas
  • 4 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil, plus more for rubbing if not using charmoula
  • 1½ lbs. firm, thick white fish fillets, such as halibut or cod
  • ½ cup charmoula marinade (see below)
  • Fresh lemon juice for rubbing if not using charmoula
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp. sweet paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Peel of 2 small preserved lemons, homemade or store-bought, rinsed and cut into narrow strips

Pick over chickpeas, then place in bowl, add water to cover and let soak in refrigerator overnight. Drain, rinse well and transfer to saucepan. Add garlic and water to cover by 3 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down heat to low, cover and simmer until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. After the first 15 minutes of cooking, add 2 tsp. salt. (The chickpeas can be prepared a day or so ahead. Store them in their cooking liquid in refrigerator.)

To roast bell peppers, place them directly over the flame on a gas stove top or on a sheet pan under the broiler and turn them as needed, until skin is blistered and charred on all sides. Transfer to a closed plastic container or a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes. Peel or rub off skin from each pepper, then stem, halve lengthwise, remove and discard seeds and thick ribs, and cut lengthwise into ½-inch-wide strips or into ½-inch dice. Transfer to bowl and toss with 2 Tbs. of oil. (The peppers can be prepared a day or so ahead. Cover and store in refrigerator.)

If you have the time, put the fish in a shallow baking dish, pour the charmoula evenly over the top, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. This step can be omitted, but it adds a lot of flavor to the fish. If you don’t have the time, sprinkle fish with salt, rub with a little oil and lemon juice, and let stand for 1 hour.

Warm the remaining 2 Tbs. oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, turmeric, paprika, cayenne and ¼ cup of cilantro and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes longer. Add chickpeas and their liquid and simmer for 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add roasted peppers and preserved lemon, stir well, and taste and adjust the seasoning.

Arrange fish fillets atop chickpeas and peppers, place over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low, cover and simmer until the fish tests done when the point of a knife is inserted into the thickest part, 15 to 20 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, transfer fillets to a platter. Taste and adjust seasoning of pan sauce with salt and cayenne. Spoon sauce over fish, top with remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and serve hot or at room temperature.

Charmoula marinade: Combine 3 cloves garlic, finely minced; ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro; 1½ tsp. sweet paprika; ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper; 1½ tsp. ground toasted cumin; ½ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil; ¼ cup fresh lemon juice; salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Saffron Rice Pudding


Serves 6 to 8

Zerde is a classic Turkish dessert that came to the Jews via the followers of Sabbatai Zevi, a charismatic 17th-century rabbi who declared himself the Messiah and was excommunicated but continued to gain power and a greater following, even as he converted to Islam. He encouraged feasts instead of fasting. Saffron is a costly spice, so this golden-hued rice pudding was served only on special occasions, such as weddings and circumcisions and holidays such as Rosh Hashanah. All of the ingredients — rice, pine nuts, raisins, pomegranate seeds and saffron — symbolize good fortune and fertility.

  • ½ cup short-grain white rice, well rinsed
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 2 large pinches of saffron threads, finely crushed
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 Tbs. arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved in 3 Tbs. water
  • ⅓ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)

In a saucepan, combine the rice, sugar and cold water and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Turn down heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring often, until rice is quite plump but some liquid still remains in the pan, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast saffron in a small, dry frying pan over low heat just until fragrant. Be careful it does not burn. Transfer to small bowl, add warm water and let steep for 15 minutes.

When rice mixture is ready, stir in dissolved arrowroot and then saffron infusion and raisins. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring often, until mixture is thick, about 15 minutes longer. Spoon pudding into individual bowls or a single large bowl. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Top with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds just before serving.

These recipes are adapted from “Saffron Shores” and “Sephardic Flavors” by Joyce Goldstein. 

Joyce Goldstein
Joyce Goldstein

Joyce Goldstein is a renowned chef, restaurateur and author in the Bay Area. Former owner-chef of Square One in San Francisco, she is a restaurant and food industry consultant. Her most recent book is “The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home.”