Rosh Hashanah: Biblical Bites

Rosh Hashanah: Biblical Bites

Denise Phillips tucks into the Torah for ingredients ahead of the High Holy Days!

Denise Phillips is a Jewish cook and author

Heavenly figgy roast chicken
Heavenly figgy roast chicken

Shofar blowing can give you an appetite – even if you’re only listening. High Holy Days bring on the hunger pangs – not just on Yom Kippur. Biblical is the term used for food mentioned in the Torah, in which we discover how  our ancient ancestors ate a balanced, healthy and varied diet.

They grew and harvested wheat, barley, corn, rice, oats and rye, which they cooked and spiced with cinnamon, coriander, cumin, marjoram, poppy seeds, chervil, anise and saffron.

Lentils, beans, peas and soya beans were enjoyed alongside nuts, including almonds, brazils, cashews, pecans and walnuts. A vast range of herbs, fruits and vegetables was consumed with cheese and milk from goats and sheep.

The Seven Species were particularly important agricultural products. Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives (oil), and dates ( honey) were all religious offerings.

The first fruits of the season were taken to Jerusalem to honour the priests in the Great Temple.

These five fruits and two grains are still celebrated in many festival recipes  and as key ingredients in Israeli cuisine.

Biblical Lentil Vegetable Soup

Preparation 10 mins. Cooking 35 mins.  Serves 6


Red lentils feature strongly in the Book of Genesis, where we are told about the red lentil stew in both the scene where Jacob acquires his brother’s birthright and in the final scene where he steals Esau’s blessing. Also on the day that Abraham died, Jacob was boiling lentils to provide the customary first meal for the immediate mourners.

It is thought that this tradition developed because lentils are round like a wheel and mourning (sorrow) is a wheel that touches every spot in turn. Another reason is that just as lentils have no serrated edge, mourners have no mouth because it is forbidden for a mourner to greet anyone. This is a delicious tasty soup the whole family will enjoy!


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion – peeled and sliced
  • 2 stalks celery – roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic – thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper – deseeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 inch ginger root – peeled and very finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1.4 litres vegetable stock
  • 250g red lentils
  • 2 tins chickpeas – rinsed
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 50g coriander – finely chopped
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper

Garnish: Sprigs of flat-leaf parsley


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onion, celery, garlic and red pepper until soft.
  2. Add the cinnamon, ginger and turmeric, stirring thoroughly.
  3. Add the stock and lentils.
  4. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes.
  6. Cook for another 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and coriander.
  7. Taste and season according to taste.

To serve: Garnish with sprigs of flat-leaf parsley


Heavenly Roast Chicken With Figs

Preparation: 15 mins Cooking: 45 mins.  Serves: 4-6

Heavenly figgy roast chicken

This is a roast chicken recipe with a tasty difference.  I love the addition of dried and fresh figs. Straightforward to make, this can be prepared in advance so definitely an excellent choice for the forthcoming gatherings over Yom Tov.


  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 100ml water
  • 100ml honey
  • Large pinch chilli pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 8 portions bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried paprika – smoked or regular
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion – peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 large shallots – peeled and thinly sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic whole with skin on
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves – chopped
  • 8 dried figs – stalk end removed and soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, drained before use.

Garnish: 8 fresh figs – trim stalks off, cut in half, sprigs of fresh thyme leaves, 2 tablespoons toasted split almonds


  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, water, honey, chilli pepper flakes and cornflour. Set aside.
  3. Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt, black pepper and paprika.
  4. Heat oil in a large ovenproof frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. Place chicken skin side down. Brown until skin is deep golden and crisp, eight to 10 minutes. Turn over and brown the other side, two to four minutes more. Transfer chicken to an ovenware dish and set aside.
  5. Add onions and shallots to the frying pan and sauté until translucent, five minutes. Add whole garlic and cook one minute more. Add cornflour mixture and chopped thyme. Cook until the mixture thickens, one to two minutes.
  6. Add dried figs and sauce to the ovenware dish and roast in the oven until figs soften and caramelise slightly and meat is no longer pink at bone (about 20 minutes).
  7. Stir the fresh figs into the cooked chicken dish.
  8. Garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme and toasted almonds.
  9. Serve immediately.

Grape & Pistachio Honey Cake

This is a family-friendly cake suitable for either tea or as a dessert. It is harvest time for grapes and so naturally I wanted to create a recipe that would reflect this bounty at its best.

Preparation: 25 mins.Cooking:1 hour.Serves: 8-10

Grape & Pistachio Honey Cake


  • 350g black seedless grapes
  • 225g butter or non-dairy margarine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 75g date honey or clear honey
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 100g pistachio nuts – finely ground, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
  • Garnish: 50g seedless black grapes – leave whole


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 160°C fan.
  2. Grease and line a 23cm loose-based cake tin with baking parchment.
  3. Halve the grapes.
  4. Beat the butter and sugar using a mixer until pale and fluffy
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and honey, then gradually whisk into the butter mixture. Using a metal spoon fold in the flour, baking powder and ground pistachio nuts.
  6. Fold in the halved grapes, then spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the top.
  7. Bake for one hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  8. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then remove the cake from the tin. Transfer to a large round serving plate.
  9.  Top with small clusters of grapes, chopped pistachio nuts and a drizzle of honey.
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