Why fish? Fish multiply quickly and in quantity. On Rosh Hashanah, we eat fish in hopes that the coming year will be one of plenty. Another explanation is that fish are particularly lucky because the evil eye cannot reach the underwater depths where they live. Eating fish expresses the desire that the Jewish people should similarly be free of evil and bad thoughts.
As with everything Jewish, there are multiple interpretations. In fact, some Jews specifically avoid fish on Rosh Hashanah, because the Hebrew word for fish, dag, is similar to the word da'agah, or worry.
In some communities, there is significance associated not just with fish, but with fish heads (and the heads of other animals, like sheep and roosters). These have historically been placed on the Rosh Hashanah table, with a special prayer recited over them: May it be your will, God, that we be like the head and not like the tail.
If the thought of a fish head on your dinner table makes you squeamish, you are not alone. Instead, why not serve some special fish dishes at your Rosh Hashanah meal? While the obvious is gefilte, here's an alternative appropriate for the holiday.
The combination of sweet and sour is prominent in Jewish cooking. On Rosh Hashanah, it can remind us that during hopeful and happy times, it is also important to remember the challenges of our history.
For Pesce al 'Ebraica, or Italian sweet and sour fish, almost any white-fleshed fish will work--snapper, trout, whitefish, or even halibut, haddock, or sole. This recipe can be made easily in large quantities, will store well, and can be served hot or at room temperature.
Season fish with salt and pepper and place in a 9x13 pan.
Combine the vinegar, honey, olive oil, and salt in a small bowl. Pour mixture over fish. Sprinkle raisins and pine nuts over the fish.
Place in oven and bake until fish is no longer translucent throughout. For a very thin fish this will only take about 10 minutes. For a thicker filet, such as halibut, this will take up to 20 minutes. Baste after 10 minutes if the fish is not yet ready.
Prior to serving, sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.
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Elisheva Margulies is a natural foods chef and holistic health counselor based in St. Louis, MO. She owns Eat with Eli and offers personal chef services, catering, cooking classes and nutrition counseling to the community. Eli is also involved with Hazon and works actively within her Jewish community to help people eat more health-supportive food and to kick the margarine addiction. Please visit www.eatwitheli.com.