Yid.Dish: Chili Peppers on Rosh Hashanah

By Guest Post

Published September 16, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Breathe in. Then breathe out. It’s an easy way to become aware of your body, more focused on the mundane. And if you breathe in and breathe out after eating a habenero-laced dish, you’re probably aware of every cell in your mouth, and focused on every nook and cranny of your sinuses.

Food Blogga

I first learned to appreciate spicy dishes while studying abroad in Ghana. At first, it was hard to take the intense heat that lurked in everything from Jollof rice to okra stew. But eventually I got to like it—especially the ubiquitous sauce known as pepe (“pep-ay”) that whirled what we call Jamaican peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes into an addictively tasty condiment. Later, while I was working at a farm in Mexico, one of my hosts explained how she swore by chilies and used to belong to a spicy food club back when she lived in the States. She says that chilies cured her ulcer, and she now uses ground dried habaneros in lieu of black pepper at the table. (She insists that this hottest of chilies actually has a pleasant flavor, describing it as a “hot apricot”).

For a few years now, I’ve appreciated the flavors and experiences that come with using hot peppers. I have learned to love the rush of awareness that comes with a chili-enhanced bite, and the heat that lingers. But it was only recently that I noticed the parallel with something else that delivers a rush of awareness—the High Holidays!

Ok, so the most revered Jewish holidays may be a little different from a bowl of jalapeno-heavy gazpacho, but Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do make me aware of myself in a similar way. During Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days of Teshuvah in between, I’m particularly aware of my body, mind, and actions. My regular hustle between work, school, friends, family, and life in general changes. I fast, I contemplate, I make amends and make plans for the year to come.

Why not try it? A spark of capsicum may be just the thing to boost your awareness of the concrete and the spiritual. (And it doesn’t hurt that chilies have been found to fight cancer and ward off food-borne pathogens).

To find fresh chilies: check out your local farmer’s market or your CSA share during this time of year. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a range of options, from (on the mild side) traffic light-green jalapenos and deep moss-colored poblanos to (on the downright wicked side) Scotch Bonnets and habaneros in the colors of a stormy sunset.

Whatever you choose, hot peppers are an easy and delicious addition to your Rosh Hashanah lunch or Yom Kippur break-fast. Just be sure to flag the spicy dishes for guests who want to start with something a little more bland! Here are a few ideas:

Sassy Tomato Sauce Adapted from Epicurious. Romas (aka plum tomatoes) work best for sauce, but any kind of tomatoes you come across this fall (or high quality canned tomatoes) will work. Use this sauce to make shakshuka for your Rosh Hashanah guests. The sauce keeps well in the fridge thanks to the peppers’ antimicrobial properties, and of course stays fresh even longer in the freezer. You can make a big batch of this, then freeze in glass jars (leave plenty of headroom!) to use through the winter.

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 fresh red cayenne peppers, with or without seeds removed, depending on how spicy you want your sauce, diced (wear a plastic bag or latex glove over the hand that will come in contact with the pepper)

3 tsp. dried herbs (mix and match oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram or others)

2 lbs plum/Roma tomatoes (about 16 tomatoes), washed and tops cut off or scooped out with a tomato shark. You can also use 2 28-ounce cans canned tomatoes.

1 15-oz can crushed or diced fire-roasted tomatoes

1/2 cup dry red wine (optional)

Salt to taste

Skin the tomatoes by blanching them in boiling water for a minute or so, until the skin bursts. Remove from the water and, when cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Then chop the tomatoes, discarding the seeds and juice that will run off onto your cutting board.

Heat olive oil on medium in a large saucepan with a heavy bottom. Sauté onions until translucent, then add garlic and Serranos and sauté until the garlic is fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much time you have and how thick you want your sauce!

Apple-Habanero Jelly or Fruit Butter With thanks to Amaranth Rose. Spread this on a slice of honey cake for a sweet kick start to the new year.

16- or 20-ounce jar of store-bought or homemade apple jelly, apple butter, or pear butter 1 habanero pepper, seeds and pith/placenta removed (wear a plastic bag or latex glove over the hand that will come in contact with the pepper)

In a blender or food processor, combine the jelly or butter with the pepper and blend thoroughly. Pack back in the jar.

Cantaloupe-Jalapeno Gazpacho

This is an easy soup course or palate-cleanser. The flecks of green against the orange make for a lovely presentation.

1 medium cantaloupe, seeded, rind removed, and cut into chunks

1 cup seltzer

1 Tbs. lemon juice

1-2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced (you may want to wear a plastic bag or latex glove over the hand that will come in contact with the pepper)

In a blender or food processor, combine cantaloupe, seltzer, and lemon juice. Puree, then transfer to serving bowl or individual bowls. Sprinkle with the diced jalapeno.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.