Sukkot is akin to a Jewish Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving in America, no matter religion or background, families and friends come together to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Mass., and to feast on a late harvest of autumn fruits and vegetables. It takes place indoors with family gathered round a table groaning with dozens of traditional heavy and belly-filling dishes.

In contrast, during the eight-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot (seven days in Israel), also called the Festival of Booths, family and friends are invited to eat outdoors in the sukkah, a hut-like, temporary structure built in backyards, patios and even on condominium balconies (provide they are allowed and space suits the edifices accordingly). Sukkot harkens back to ancient times when farmers built flimsy booths for shelter while bringing in the harvest, as well as serves as a reminder of the 40 years traveling in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.

There is also the tradition of shaking the lulav (palm fronds) and etrog (citron)two of the “Four Species” or “Four Kinds,” along with the hadas (myrtle leaves) and aravah (willow branches), and welcoming guests (ushpizin) into the sukkah.

Decorations can be simple or elaborate. Kids can help string cranberries, grapes and other small fruits for the inside or arrange seasonal flowers. Paperchains are both an activity for young ones and a lasting burst of shape and color. Bright carpets work for the walls and fill up the eating area with sturdy tables, comfortable chairs, and even cots for those who many want to sleep in the sukkah.

When my boys were young, we schlepped to Lancaster, Pa., to gather corn stalks and branches to spread loosely over a roof trellis so that stars could be seen at night (a religious requirement), but still provide shade during the day. Keep in mind that no matter how traditional or attractive fresh produce may be, it can still attract bees and wasps. For those with very young children or who have allergies, substitute recyclable plastic fruit and vegetables.

This year, the cooler October weather—Sukkot starts the evening of Sunday, Oct. 13 and lasts through the evening of Sunday, Oct. 20—may limit visitors in the form of bees and bugs, but also be sure to add some fleece throws in the sukkah to keep cozy.

The dishes that follow can be served outdoors, cold or at room temperature. All can be made ahead of time.

Cook’s Tips:

*Half-and-half may substitute for evaporated milk.

*Cinnamon or nutmeg for pumpkin spice.

*Snip fresh herbs with scissors.

*Pre-cut mango and diced bell peppers are available in markets.

*Buy a chunk of cooked chicken from the deli for the Waldorf Salad.

*Ginger root may be frozen. Easy to grate as needed.

*Keep a supply of thin latex gloves on hand. Use to toss salads and vegetables.

*Fruit tarts should be tightly wrapped and frozen. Remove from the freezer 4 to 6 hours ahead of time; let cool at room temperature. Warm in a preheated 325-degree oven.

Pears. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Pear Bisque (Dairy)

Serves 6-8

Made in a jiffy. No need to peel pears. Just place all ingredients in blender and give it a whirl.

Ingredients:

4 large ripe pears, cored and cut up coarsely

2 cups apple juice

1 cup canned evaporated milk

¼ teaspoon pumpkin spice

1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel

Orange wedges to garnish (optional)

Directions:

Place all ingredients, except orange wedges, in blender jar or food processor.

Whirl until almost blended (let some tiny chunks remain). If too thick, add a little more apple juice. Chill.

Garnish with an orange wedge.

Bell peppers. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tunisian Mishua (Pareve)

Serves 8

I watched and ate as this was prepared by women in the Tunisian village of Zagabouan. Roasted peppers and tomatoes are topped with tuna and hard-cooked eggs. Serve with thick sliced challah; it’s irresistible!  

 Ingredients:

2 large bell peppers, green and yellow, seeded and cut in ½-inch strips

3 large tomatoes, quartered

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon cumin

1½ teaspoons garlic powder

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 (6 oz.) cans tuna, well-drained

3 hard-cooked eggs, quartered

1 lemon, thinly sliced

Directions:

Preheat the broiler.

Place the peppers and tomatoes on a baking sheet. Toss with the olive oil, cumin and garlic.

Place under broiler, 5-6 inches from heat. Broil until skins are beginning to brown. Watch carefully. Remove from broiler and set aside.

When cool enough to handle, place in food processor. Pulse to chop very coarsely.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish. Flake the tuna and scatter over top.

Garnish with eggs and lemon. Serve at room temperature.

Portobello mushrooms. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Dairy)

Serves 8

For vegetarians, a satisfying appetizer or main dish.

Ingredients:

4 large Portobello mushrooms

¼ cup olive oil

5-6 pitted black olives

¾ cup breadcrumbs

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup finely snipped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

4 oz. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse the mushrooms in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Remove stems and set aside.

Brush mushroom caps generously with olive oil. Place on baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Place mushroom stems and olives in food processor. Pulse to chop coarsely. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients except the mozzarella cheese, Spoon mixture, dividing equally, onto mushroom caps. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Top with mozzarella cheese.

Bake in preheated oven 6 to 7 minutes, or until cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

Cut in half before serving warm or at room temperature.

Do not serve hot. Hot cheese can stick to mouths causing severe burns.

Cranberry bog in the northeastern United States. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mango Chicken Waldorf (Meat)

Serves 6

Oscar Tschirky, a Swiss immigrant, is credited with creating the Waldorf Salad in 1893, which has now become a piece of culinary Americana. For a quick version, I shred the chicken instead of dicing it (or buy it already prepared in chunks). And don’t even bother to peel the apple.

Ingredients:

¾ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

1½ cups cooked chicken, shredded

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cubed

1½ cups diced mango

½ cup seedless red or green grapes, halved

½ cup diced green and yellow bell peppers

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup pecan halves

2 teaspoons dried dill

Arugula garnish (optional)

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and rice vinegar, mixing until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix all the remaining ingredients. Pour the mayo mixture over top, stirring to moisten evenly. Chill.

To serve: Line a large platter or bowl with arugula. Spoon the chicken mixture over or serve in arugula-lined individual salad bowls.

Sukkot Fig (or Plum, as above) Tart. Photo by Ethel G. Hofman.

Sukkot Fig or Plum Tart (Dairy)

Serves 8-10

 No need to roll out this rich, crusty dough tenderized with vinegar. Just mix and press into pan. Tuck in fresh figs, drizzle with honey and bake. (Six fresh plums, stoned and cut into ½-inch wedges, may be substituted for the figs).

 Ingredients:

1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted

1 tablespoon white vinegar

½ cup sugar, divided

1¼ cups, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

12-15 fresh figs, stems removed and halved

3 tablespoons water

1-2 tablespoons honey, warmed

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the butter and vinegar.

With a wooden spoon, blend in 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 1¼ cups flour to make a smooth dough. Press into bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie plate. Prick with a fork.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

In a bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons flour, remaining sugar and ginger. Add the figs and toss to coat.

Arrange figs, cut-side up, on top of dough to cover. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons water. Sprinkle any remaining flour mixture over top.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until pastry is golden at edges. Drizzle with honey.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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