Like every holiday, the best part is hands down always the food: It's the way we associate the holiday the most, and it’s what we look forward to while celebrating together. And for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which starts tonight, that means plenty of sweet traditions in hopes of bringing in a sweet, New Year. 

While other holidays focus on the Jewish people’s past, Rosh Hashanah is unique as it’s the only holiday that celebrates the present and future. Aside from joyous prayers, songs, and wishing well to one another, the most notable custom is the seder plate that is filled with symbolic foods (Simanim), and with each prayer, and each bite, we pray to bring in good hopes and fortune. 

While each food may vary from table to table depending on their heritage, and especially when there's a vegan in tow, they all share the same core values that reflect positive wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous, and of course, sweet new year. 

If anything else, simply sharing a homemade treat is the best holiday act of all, and my favorite apple cake that tastes (almost exactly) as my Syrian Grandmother’s, makes the perfect weekend treat. To all that may or may not celebrate, L’Shana Tova!

Apple: Our first blessing encapsulates the main one of the holiday. We pray that God renews for us a good and sweet year. In school, kids are taught to dip the apple in the honey, but my family keeps it animal- product free with a bowl of sugar nearby. The seasonal fruit is so crisp on its own, it doesn’t even need it, but it's just fun for the kids to get to participate in the activity. 

Leek: The symbolic meaning of leeks comes from its Hebrew name, which means to cut, and in turn, we hope that any enemy that would be harmful would be cut off.  While some families eat pungent chives or scallions, my family favors leeks. While I grew up eating my Egyptian Grandmother’s fried leek fritters, this is the version I make today and is the perfect egg-free solution to that tasty, savory treat. 

Swiss Chard: Greens such as swiss chard, spinach or beet leaves represent overcoming the bitter enemies and our path to freedom. As if you need any more of a reason to eat it, chard is a true nutritional powerhouse, as it’s an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber. We eat ours sauteéd until wilted with some garlic, and a dash of allspice. 

Dates: Sweet and simple, dates are a veggie’s best friend, and truly my favorite bite of the seder plate. Juicy and chewy Medjool dates ensure a sweet year ahead, and their high fiber keep you full until your dinner. 

Black-Eyed Peas: Like its Hebrew name for which it resembles, we eat plenty of beans in hopes that our merits increase. Any types of beans can be used, but in my Sephardic background, we use the very creamy, delicious, and heavily underrated, black-eyed peas. Some families stew the beans in meat, but we make ours with plenty of garlic and onion that makes for a very tasty dish with rice.

Pomegranate: Juicy red and plump, as the season just arrived, Pomegranates is a real Rosh Hashanah treat. The meaning behind it is just as sweet, as we pray to be just as bountiful as the seedy fruit itself.

Head of a Veggie: The main idea of it is simple- we should enter the year as a leader, not a follower, but like all customs, you have to make it work for your needs! Being my 10th Rosh Hashanah as a vegan, I’ve gotten better over the years trying to avoid any type of animal head. While I started out with gummy fish heads, instead of the real thing, my current favorite is simply, a roasted head of broccoli or cauliflower. This recipe is so tasty, everyone ends up coming to my side of the table for a bite. After all, these customs are meant to make us happy and keep us together. 

Prep Time: 15 Min

Cook Time: 20 Min

Total Time: 35 Min

Rosh Hashanah Apple Cider Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups flour (whole wheat and regular mixed)
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or nutmeg)
  • 1 cup apple cider 
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ⅓ cup neutral oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Applesauce 
  • 2 medium-sized apples, peeled and cubed
  • Cinnamon Sugar topping
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, spray a 9 by 13 square dish or a round cake pan with spray and set aside.
  2. In a big mixing bowl, sift the flour, adding in the brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices. 
  3. In a liquid measuring cup, prepare the “buttermilk” by adding the apple cider vinegar to the apple cider, leaving it for a minute to curdle. Add in the oil, applesauce, and stir before mixing into dry ingredients. Add in chopped apple pieces. 
  4. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and top with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 20 minutes until the center bounces back.