Meatless Monday: Rosh Hashana 2017 -- the Bitter and the Sweet

09/18/2017 07:05 am ET Updated Sep 21, 2017

I am writing this in spurts as my family and I join the long, slow slog back to Florida after evacuating from Hurricane Irma. So forgive me if today’s Meatless Monday veers a little off course, as well. As ever, it involves being vegan and compassionate and still includes a fabulous plant-based recipe, perfect for Whole Grains Month.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, one of the happiest of Jewish Holidays, begins Wednesday at sundown. We wish each other l’shana tovah, a shining new year. We celebrate with sweets so the new year will be a sweet one. And we pray to be inscribed in the book of life.

I hope we’re all inscribed in the book of life but right now, it doesn’t feel like life as we know it. How happy a life can it be when the White House, with the DACA repeal, has told over 800,000 of our friends they may no longer welcome in the place they’ve called home all their lives? There isn’t much sweetness for the millions across the country devastated and displaced by fires, flood and epic hurricanes.

Despite that, or maybe because of it, Rosh Hashana couldn’t be better timed. With all the suffering in the world today, whether caused by climate change or presidential decree, I say unto you we do not need to add to it.

Humans are messed up. We’ve always been. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made,” as Immanuel Kant wrote. Being vegan means I get to do a lot of good for my health, the health of the planet and be kind to all my animal friends. It doesn’t make me — or you —perfect.

All the more reason to embrace Rosh Hashana. The holiday offers a moment of stillness, a chance to reflect, reboot, rededicate ourselves to what we hold dear and get back in the game. “It’s a prime opportunity to engage in some soul-searching and to look at everything we’re doing,” says Jeffrey Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg . “It’s the most positive time to make a change in your life,” Or your diet. Or both.

“By starting the new year with a vegan meal, you’re aligning yourself with the highest ideals of the Jewish religion, starting the year in the most compassionate way possible.” Cohan says.

Imperfect as we all are, let the new year be a time for sweetness — not just sweet foods, though they’re fun, but for the sweetness that’s possible with humility and compassion, one of the core precepts of veganism. Whatever your religion, political leanings or dietary choices are now, for the new year, make your sweet choice to embrace more plants in your diet and more tolerance and love in your heart. Wishing everyone l’shana tovah.

New Year’s Barley With Dates

To get a head start on the Jewish new year and to start a new — and challenging — day, I made this nourishing porridge of barley and dates. It’s a new spin on an old Middle Eastern favorite — belila. Wheat’s out, barley, an ancient grain, is in. How ancient? Dating back to the Bible. But what barley offers in terms of wellness and flavor appeal feels brand new. Barley grains retain their shape after cooking, outfibers all other whole grains and have a pleasing chewiness, making a happy oatmeal upgrade.
For those like me affected by power outages, this bowl of comfort is made with pantry staples. It’s perfect for Better Breakfast Month and Whole Grains Month, offers the energy I need in these post-Irma days. It’s also a sweet start to the Jewish New Year. Dates and barley are two of Judaism’s seven sacred foods.
Barley requires plenty of time and water to prepare. We don’t have much of either, thanks to Irma. Happily, presoaking barley helps cut to the chase. And be grateful you have a stovetop. Preparing barley over Sterno is possible, but I don’t recommend it.
2/3 cup barley
2 cups water
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
6 Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
a shake or two of cinnamon
Pour barley into a generous bowl, cover with water and let it soak for a few hours or even overnight.
Drain barley, rinse and pour into a large saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for another 20 minutes, until the barley has plumped and absorbed most of the liquid.
Pour in the almond milk and add the chopped dates. Continue cooking, giving the occasional stir, for another 10 minutes or until the barley starts to incorporate the almond milk and dates.
Add chopped nuts, top with a dusting of cinnamon and enjoy.
Serves 2. Doubles and triples like a dream.
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