We are twice blessed. Sukkot, the harvest festival—and sometimes called the “Jewish Thanksgiving”—takes place this year at the end of September, and two months later, Thanksgiving in America is a holiday that many Jewish families have made their own, celebrating the good fortune to live in freedom and peace in the United States.

During the eight-day observance of Sukkot (seven days in Israel), an abundance of late-summer and early-fall produce can be found at farm stands, farmer’s markets and general grocery stores (yes, all things “pumpkin spice” have arrived). Now is the best time to buy organic, as tomatoes, corn, squash—everything has to go before the coming of the cold weather. Sukkot starts on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 23, timed perfectly to the first day of autumn.

Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah (meaning “booths” or “tabernacles); hence, other name for the holiday is the “Feast of Booths” or “Feast of Tabernacles.” It must consist of at least three walls with a roof covered with sechach (palm leaves, pine boughs, bamboo or other natural vegetation that lets the light shine through). Feasting in the sukkah is the keynote throughout the week, with some Jewish families eating all meals in these temporary huts.

The traditions or mitzvahs of the holiday include taking the Four Species or Four Kinds—an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs) and two aravot (willow twigs)—and reciting a blessing over them and then waving them in six directions: right, left, forwards, up, down and backwards.

Of course, there is a real emphasis on food, family, friends and the great outdoors. Guests (ushpizin) for all these meals are welcome and encouraged. If you have time, desire and help, prepare ingredients the old-fashioned way: peel, core, chop and dice. Otherwise, many of the items, which stress fruits and vegetables, come prepared for you, with much of the grueling labor already been done. Some dishes can be made ahead of time. All recipes serve four to six people.

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Challah and wine

Golden Vegetable Vichyssoise

 

Tomato Bread Salad

 Israeli Salad, Ethel-Style

 

Caramelized Parsnips and Carrots

Spicy Mashed Pumpkin

Leek-Lemon Pilaf

 

Sweet-and-Sour Salmon Salad

 

Wine-Steeped Figs 

Chocolate-Studded Ricotta

 

Golden Vegetable Vichyssoise (Dairy) 

Ingredients:

2 yellow bell peppers, seeded

4 yellow tomatoes, cut up

4-5 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

⅓ cup frozen chopped onion

½ teaspoon bottled minced garlic

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

6 basil leaves, shredded

pinch of dried thyme

¾ cup plain yogurt

Directions:

In the food processor, pulse the peppers and tomatoes until coarsely chopped.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

Stir in the peppers, tomatoes, 4 cups vegetable broth and all the remaining ingredients, except the yogurt. Simmer for 5 minutes until vegetables are softened. Cool slightly.

Whisk in the yogurt. If too thick, add a little more broth.

Serve chilled or warm.

Tip: Use scissors to shred fresh herbs.

 

Tomato Bread Salad (Pareve)

My first meal in Tunisia, then I was hooked!

Farmer’s market tomatoes. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Karl Thomas Moore.

Ingredients:

2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut in ½-inch chunks

1 medium yellow tomato, cut in ½-inch chunks

½ cucumber, peeled and cut in ½-inch chunks

1 green zucchini, cut in ½-inch chunks

¼ red onion, thinly sliced

½ cup or more snipped mint

1½-2 cups pareve bread, torn in ½-inch pieces

⅓ cup bottled vinaigrette dressing

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Place all ingredients except dressing, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Toss to mix. Pour dressing over. Toss again.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 Tip: A ripe red tomato has a deep color and gives just a tiny bit when squeezed gently. Keep in a cool, dark place (not the fridge) and use within two to three days.

 

Israeli Salad, “My Style” (Pareve)

A chunky vegetable-herb salad.

Israeli Salad. “My Way.” Credit: Ethel G. Hofman.

Ingredients:

½ cucumber, unpeeled and cut in ½-inch chunks.

2-3 ripe tomatoes, each cut in 12 wedges

1 red or orange bell pepper, seeded and cut in ½-inch chunks

½ cup corn kernels

1 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed and shredded

1 cup fresh dill, lightly packed and shredded

½ green onion, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a bowl. Toss to mix and season to taste.

Serve chilled.

Tip: Squeeze juice from 5 or 6 lemons. Pour into six sections on an ice-cube tray and freeze. Remove a cube as needed. Heat in a small glass dish in the microwave to thaw, about 18 seconds.

 

Caramelized Parsnips and Carrots (Pareve)

Parsnips and carrots with their high sugar content caramelize easily.

Fall flavors in Caramelized Parsnips and Carrots. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nanao Wagatsuma.

Ingredients:

5 parsnips (about 1½ pounds), peeled and sliced about 3/4-inch thick

12 baby carrots, cut in half lengthwise

1½ teaspoons dried thyme

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons honey, warmed

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 Directions:

Preheat oven to 425.

Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place parsnips and carrots on prepared baking sheet. Pour the olive oil and honey over. Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.

Toss vegetables to coat. Spread in one layer. Drizzle 2 tablespoons water over top.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, turn with a spatula and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until tender and golden.

Tips: Buy peeled baby carrots. Line a baking sheet before spraying with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.

 

Spicy Mashed Pumpkin (Pareve)

Spicy Mashed Pumpkin. Credit: Ethel G. Hofman.

Ingredients:

2 pounds diced pumpkin or squash

½ cup corn kernels

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons powdered cumin

2 teaspoons za’atar (spice)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

freshly ground pepper

pumpkin seeds to garnish (optional)

Directions:

Place pumpkin or squash in shallow microwave dish. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons water.

Cover loosely with wax paper. Cook on High for 8 to 10 minutes or until soft. Test with a sharp bladed knife. It should slip out easily.

Drain off any liquid. Mash with a fork. No need to be smooth.

Add the corn, garlic, cumin, za’atar and oil. Mix well. Season to taste with pepper.

Serve at room temperature with pumpkin seeds scattered over top (optional).

Tip: Or buy 2 packages frozen mashed squash. Microwave according to package directions. Then proceed as above.

 To cook pumpkin from scratch: Cut in half, remove seeds and place cut side down in microwave safe dish. Pierce several times with sharp knife. Pour about 1/3 cup water around. Cover and cook on High for about 12 minutes or until tender. Peel and use as above.

 

Leek-Lemon Pilaf (Pareve)

Lemons for the leek-infused rice pilaf. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Elena Chochkova.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1½ cups sliced leeks

1 package (6 ounces) rice pilaf, such Near East

¼ lemon, coarsely chopped

½ cup snipped parsley

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add 1¾ cups water and bring to boil. Stir in the rice and spice sack (included in pilaf mix).

Return to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low.

Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in lemon and parsley.

Fluff with a fork. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

 Tip: Sliced fresh or frozen leeks are available in the supermarket. If using unsliced fresh, pull apart the leaves and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Use the white part only.

 Note: May be made the day before, covered and refrigerated. Zap in microwave to heat through.

 

Sweet-and-Sour Salmon Salad (Pareve)

Ingredients:

½ cucumber, peeled and thickly sliced

½ green bell pepper, seeded, cut in chunks

½ yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded, cut in chunks

½ apple, unpeeled, in chunks

1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish

12 ounces fresh-cooked salmon, flaked with a fork*

¼ to ⅓ cup rice vinegar

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Place cucumber, bell peppers and apple in food processor. Pulse a couple of times to chop coarsely. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the pickle relish, salmon and enough rice vinegar to moisten. Toss to mix.

Season with pepper to taste. Serve chilled.

May be made ahead of time.

Tip: To serve, heap salad in a bowl. Arrange thinly sliced cucumbers around the sides.

*May use canned pink or red salmon, instead of fresh-cooked.

 

Wine-Steeped Figs (Pareve)

Wine-Steeped Figs. Credit: Ethel G. Hofman.

Ingredients:

¾ cup red wine, such as Merlot

3 tablespoons frozen orange-juice concentrate

2 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

8 fresh figs

1 blood orange or seedless orange, cut in wedges

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, mix the wine, frozen orange-juice concentrate, honey and vanilla extract.

Warm over medium heat, stirring to blend. Reduce to a simmer.

Prick each fig 2 to 3 times with a fork. Place in saucepan, spooning wine mixture over top.

Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Arrange orange slices around.  Serve chilled.

Tip: any leftover red wine may be used, even flat champagne. No figs? Substitute cubed cantaloupe or honeydew melon.

For a dairy meal: Top figs with a scoop of chocolate-studded ricotta (recipe below). Or sprinkle with crunchy granola.

 

Chocolate-Studded Ricotta (Dairy)

Ingredients:

1 cup whole-milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

1-2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar or to taste

¼ cup miniature chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Serve chilled.

May be made ahead of time.

Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated Jewish American food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.