(September 29, 2020 / JNS) Sukkot, the joyous Jewish Thanksgiving, was originally an agricultural holiday, a time of gathering a bountiful harvest. The sukkah itself—the primary symbol of the holiday—is a reminder of hastily built shelters the Jews endured in their 40-year desert trek on their way to the Promised Land.
Following an especially solemn Yom Kippur—and after months grappling with coronavirus lockdowns, testing, face masks and limited gatherings—Sukkot brings a sigh of relief. The outdoors is a safer space, and so eating in the sukkah, albeit with social distancing, is particularly appealing. We can eat every meal in the sukkah, even if it means schlepping foods in from the kitchen. After all, time is what we have right now. And it sure beats a Zoom call.
With kids and adults pitching in, sukkahs can be built in backyards and on apartment balconies. We may not be able to gather corn stalks and fancy fronds from the farms and markets we once went to each fall, but branches and bamboo can work to make a loose roof trellis so that stars can be seen at night while still provide some shade during daytime. Decorate with fruit like cranberries, but keep in mind that fresh produce does attract bees and wasps. If necessary, substitute with recyclable plastic fruit and vegetables, or homemade paper chains, to avoid painful stings and to be mindful of those with allergies.
The dishes below make the most of the seasonal produce. Other than the meringue-based Strawberry-Kiwi Fruit Pavlova, all can be prepared in advance. Sukkot is a celebration, so go ahead and ladle the Buttermilk Borscht in fine china or rarely used teacups, rather than in pedestrian soup bowls. Yet even if some dishes are served on paper or plastic, if the food is tasty and the company good, it will be a holiday to remember.
To a sweet and joyous Sukkot!
Mishua: Tunisian-Style Vegetables
Za’atar-Baked Chicken With Green Tomatoes
Couscous With Roasted Butternut Squash
Barley, Corn and Pomegranate Salad
Pan-Roasted Peaches With Cinnamon-Scented Whipped Cream
Strawberry-Kiwi Fruit Pavlova
Buttermilk Borscht (Dairy)
Makes 2-3 servings
*Recipe may be doubled.
*May use 1½ cups cooked, sliced fresh beets instead of canned. These are now available packaged in markets. No need to cook from scratch.
*Substitute canned or homemade vegetable broth instead of vegetable granules. If using granules, may use as needed with no leftovers.
1 tablespoon vegetable bouillon granules
¼ cup hot water
1 (15-oz.) can sliced beets, well-drained
1 scallion, green and white parts, cut in 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon bottled minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
1 cup buttermilk
freshly ground pepper to taste
Dissolve vegetable granules in hot water. Pour into the food processor.
Add the beets, white part of scallions, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and buttermilk. Whirl until smooth.
Add the green part of scallions. Whirl 3 to 4 seconds longer to chop the scallion.
Season to taste with pepper.
Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Mishua: Tunisian-Style Vegetables (Pareve)
I watched Haluma Ouhada prepare this at her home in the Tunisian village of Zagabouan. The combination of roasted peppers and tomatoes is topped with tuna, hard-cooked eggs and lemon.
*Use salmon or any other cooked, flaked fish instead of tuna.
*To remove peel from broiled peppers: While still hot, wrap aluminum foil loosely around them. Let sit 15 minutes. The skins should peel off easily.
2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and cut in quarters
2 large tomatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 (6½ oz.) can chunk tuna, well-drained
3 hard-cooked eggs, quartered
½ lemon, thinly sliced
Preheat the broiler.
Brush the skin sides of peppers and tomatoes with olive oil.
Arrange skin-sides up on a broiler pan. Broil 5 to 6 inches from heat until skins are charred, about 8 minutes. Remove from broiler.
When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from peppers and tomatoes and discard.
Place vegetables in the food processor along with the cumin and garlic. Pulse to chop coarsely.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish.
Flake the tuna and scatter over the top.
Garnish with hard-cooked egg and lemon.
Serve at room temperature.
Za’atar-Baked Chicken With Green Tomatoes (Meat)
*Za’atar spice is available in supermarkets, specialty-food stores and farmer’s markets. It’s a blend of savory dried herbs such as oregano, thyme, cumin, sesame seeds, and sumac which gives the spice its tanginess.
*Perfect for those end of season unripe tomatoes on vine.
½ cup bottled vinaigrette dressing
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 or 4 medium sized green tomatoes
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon za’atar seasoning
1 3-lb. to 4-lb. chicken, cut up
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a cup, combine the vinaigrette dressing with lemon juice. Set aside.
Place tomatoes and onion in a 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with za’atar and toss to mix. Arrange the chicken pieces on top. Pierce each piece 6 to 8 times with tip of a sharp knife.
Pour dressing over chicken spreading with a spoon to coat evenly. Cover loosely with foil.
Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes.
Remove foil. Increase oven heat to 400 degrees.
Bake 20 minutes longer, or until the skin is brown and juices run clear when a chicken thigh is pierced with a fork.
Couscous With Roasted Butternut Squash (Pareve)
*May substitute flavored couscous such as Near East Roasted Garlic instead of original couscous.
*Butternut squash is available pre-cut in markets. May substitute pumpkin for squash.
*Use kitchen shears to snip fresh herbs coarsely.
1 (5.8 oz.) package couscous prepared according to package directions
1 (14 oz.) package market diced butternut squash or 3 cups cut in about ¾-inch cubes
1 medium onion, cut in 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey, warmed
1 tablespoon 21 Seasoning (Trader Joe’s)
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
snipped parsley to garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the couscous and set aside to keep warm.
Place the squash and onion on a foil-covered baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil, honey over top, and sprinkle with 21 Seasoning. Toss to coat the squash and onion. Transfer to top rack in oven.
Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until squash is tender but still firm.
Ready when a knife slips through easily. If browning too quickly, transfer the baking sheet to the middle rack in the oven.
To assemble: Spoon the couscous into a serving dish. Top with the squash and onions.
Sprinkle with sunflower seeds and garnish with parsley (optional). Serve hot.
May make ahead and refrigerate. Cover and zap in the microwave to heat through.
Barley, Corn and Pomegranate Salad (Pareve)
*If using fresh corn, 1½-2 cups kernels. Zap in microwave 3 minutes.
*To cook barley: add ½ cup barley to 3 cups boiling water. Boil 12 to 15 minutes until chewy. Makes about ⅔ cup.
*To make zest without a zester. Use the fine side of a grater to grate the skin of lemon or lime.
Do not grate the bitter white pith.
*Chopped cilantro is available in markets. Use as needed. Freeze what’s left over.
⅔ cup cooked barley
1 (15-oz.) can corn kernels, drained
½ cup pomegranate seeds
⅓ cup thinly snipped green onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely snipped cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine the barley, corn and pomegranate.
Add the green onions, olive oil, lime zest and lime juice, cilantro and cumin. Stir to mix.
Season to taste with pepper.
Chill 4 hours or overnight for flavors to blend.
Pan-Roasted Peaches (Dairy)
*Perfect for soft or overripe peaches; may also use apples or pears.
*May substitute margarine for butter.
*Delicious topping for ice-cream, frozen yogurt, kugel or cake.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3-4 peaches, stones removed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon sugar
In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over high heat.
Add the peaches and sprinkle with sugar.
Using a spatula, turn peaches occasionally until nicely browned. This should take no longer than 3 to 4 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cinnamon-Scented Whipped Cream (Dairy)
Makes 1½-2 cups
*Mixing bowl and ingredients should be very cold. Place bowl in freezer for a half-hour to chill.
*Use heavy whipping cream, which has at least 36 percent butterfat and whips easily with more volume than whipping cream, which contains only 30 percent butterfat.
*Regular granulated sugar may be substituted for confectioners’ sugar.
*Do not overbeat or you’ll get butter!
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1½ tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
Pour whipping cream into a medium bowl.
Add the sugar and whisk until cream peaks softly.
Sprinkle the cinnamon over top. Whisk until cream just begins to peak stiffly; do not overbeat.
May refrigerate for ½ hour or so before using.
Strawberry-Kiwi Fruit Pavlova (Dairy)
*Other fruits may be substituted such as peaches and blueberries.
*Substitute coarsely crushed sugar cookies for toasted cake crumbs.
*Use egg yolks in omelets or add to scrambled egg mixture.
*Pavlova may be prepared and refrigerated 1 hour before serving.
3 large egg whites
½ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar
¾ cup heavy cream, whipped
2 kiwi fruits, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups ripe strawberries, hulled and halved from stem end
2 tablespoons toasted cake crumbs
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Spray a pie dish with nonstick baking spray.
Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Beat in sugar, one-quarter cup at a time.
Continue to beat until egg whites are stiff and glossy, 30 to 60 seconds.
Fold in the cornstarch and vinegar. Spoon this meringue mixture into the prepared pie dish.
Smooth the bottom with a spatula working mixture part way up the sides.
Bake in the center of a preheated oven for 20 minutes or until pale golden. Cool completely.
Spread the whipped cream over the meringue shell to cover. Arrange kiwi fruit and strawberries attractively on top.
Sprinkle with toasted crumbs and serve.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.
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