A Savory Sukkot
by Tina Wasserman
Known in the Torah as ha hag (the festival), Sukkot represents the last of the three harvest festivals in the Jewish calendar (Pesach and Shavuot are the others). The holiday occurs five days after Yom Kippur, the same time of year our ancestors made an annual pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem--after the grains had been harvested and the grapes made into wine, they offered up sacrifices of gratitude to God for a bountiful harvest. Those who made the journey camped in "booths" called sukkot (plural form), recalling the temporary dwellings used by their ancestors during the forty-year sojourn in the desert following the exodus from Egypt (Leviticus 23:42-43). Over time, constructing and living or eating in a sukkah for seven days became an established custom--the first of three Sukkot mitzvot.
The second mitzvah associated with Sukkot--reciting the blessings using a lulav and etrog (citron)--is also prescribed in Leviticus (23:40). Deemed a "goodly" fruit, the etrog represents God's promise of sustenance. The branches of date palm as well as the boughs of myrtle and willow woven together to form the lulav underscore the agricultural nature of the holiday.
The third mitzvah--"to rejoice in the bounties of the Lord"--is fulfilled by inviting friends to dine, converse, and study in the sukkah. The great 16th-century Tzfat (Safed) mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria established the custom of inviting a different "guest" (ushpizin) into the sukkah over the course of seven evenings. Each of these guests--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David--had experienced exile in their lives and, in spite of their travails, had demonstrated their trust in God--the underlying message of Sukkot. Three centuries later, the chasidic Rabbi Hayyim Halberstam of Sandz popularized among his followers the practice of inviting the poor to be dinner guests in his sukkah. "If the poor are not welcome," he said, "none of the ushpizin will come to the sukkah." This practice reminds those of us fortunate enough to be able to celebrate the mitzvot of Sukkot never to forget that just as God had provided for all the Israelites in the wilderness, so must we provide for all who are in need of food and shelter.
The Torah does not dictate what foods should be eaten in the sukkah, but over time, grains, fruits, and vegetables such as barley, lentils, dates, melons, cucumbers, and wild onions--all staples of the Mediterranean diet--came to figure prominently in the holiday celebration. Traditional Sukkot foods are often rolled or stuffed, symbolizing the abundance of the holiday harvest, and prepared as casseroles, which are easily transported from the kitchen to the sukkah. Other frequent holiday dishes include cooked fruit compotes, vegetable soups, rice, and couscous dishes flavored with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
May the festival of Sukkot bring you fulfillment. May all of us go to bed with full stomachs and light hearts, and may we fulfill the mitzvot of Sukkot under twinkling stars with loved ones and friends.
Turkish Stuffed Grape Leaves--Dolmas
Stuffed grape leaves and cabbage are ubiquitous--and used with great variety--in the cuisines of the Jews throughout the Diaspora. In this dish the combination of sweet spices along with pine nuts and raisins demonstrates a strong Arab influence.
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
- 4 scallions, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh dill
- 2 Tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh mint
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 3 Tablespoons toasted Pignoli nuts
- 3 Tablespoons raisins
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 2/3 cup water, additional as needed
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Broken grape or lettuce leaves
- 1 8-ounce jar of grape leaves in brine (2 if the leaves are small)
- Heat a large skillet for 20 seconds. Add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and heat for 10 seconds. Sauté the onion for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté until the onions are lightly golden, and place in a 2-quart mixing bowl.
- Soak the separated grape leaves in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes while you make the filling.
- Add the rice, scallions, dill, parsley, mint, cinnamon, allspice, pine nuts, and raisins to the onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove the leaves from the bowl of water and rinse under cold running water. Separate the leaves and place them shiny side down on a board. If the leaves are small, place two together, overlapping at the stem end.
- Place 2 teaspoons of the rice mixture near the stem end of the leaves and roll up the leaf once to cover the filling. Fold in both sides of the leaf and then tightly roll the leaf up toward the tip, making a neat roll.
- Place some broken vine leaves or lettuce leaves in the bottom of a 4-quart pot or Dutch oven (so the rolls won't stick to the bottom of the pan) and then arrange the rolls in the pot seam side down. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling, piling the rolls on top of each other as necessary.
- Combine the remaining 2/3 cup oil, lemon juice, 2/3 cup of water, and sugar and pour the mixture over the rolls.
- Place a weight (a heavy plate will do) on top of the rolls and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Check that the water mixture hasn't boiled off; if it has, add 1/2 cup water and cook another 10 minutes.
- Cook for a total of 50 minutes, or until the rice in the rolls is tender.
- Cool for about 1 hour, then remove the rolls from the pot.
- Serve your delicious 3 dozen rolls cool or at room temperature.
- Dolmas can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
- Never use lemon juice from a bottle; it bears no resemblance to the real thing.
- When buying lemons, scrape the outside with your fingernail and sniff. The fragrance will indicate the flavor of the lemon juice.
This Moroccan-inspired dish is a perfect way to reap the bounty of wonderful vegetables available during the Sukkot season. It also makes a beautiful, edible centerpiece for your dinner table in the sukkah.
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
- 3/4 cup dark raisins
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 1/2 cups of vegetable stock, divided use
- 2 small zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 small (1 pound) eggplant, sliced into 1-inch cubes
- 2 yellow crookneck squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds, or 1 cup asparagus cut into 1-inch lengths
- 4 ounces of mushrooms (any type), caps cut into quarters (portabellas cut into 1-inch cubes)
- 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained
- 4 Tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1 cup fine couscous
- 1 or more Tablespoons of finely minced parsley for garnish
- Heat a large frying pan or 4-quart saucepan for 30 seconds, add the olive oil, and heat for 15 seconds. Sauté the garlic and onion until lightly golden. Do not allow the garlic to brown.
- Add the carrots, tomato sauce, raisins, salt, cumin, and 1 cup of the stock. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the carrots are crisp tender--thoroughly cooked but firm and not mushy.
- Add the zucchini and the eggplant and cook for 10 minutes. Spoon in the crookneck squash or asparagus pieces, mushrooms, and chickpeas and stir to combine. Cook for an additional 10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.
- In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of stock along with the butter or margarine. Add the couscous. Cover, remove from the heat, and allow the pan to sit for 5 minutes.
- To serve, spoon the couscous into the center of a large rimmed dish, and surround with the cooked vegetables. Pour the sauce evenly over all, and sprinkle with a little parsley for garnish. Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side.
- Always heat your sauté pan before adding oil. This prevents the oil from adhering to the pan and the food from sticking to the oil.
- When cooking vegetables, always add in first those that require more cooking time.
- The fins of portabella mushrooms will blacken foods. Before adding a portabella to any recipe, scrape the fins off its underside with a spoon and use only the remaining mushroom cap.
Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, has been teaching at her own cooking school for more than thirty years and writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet.
Any Questions About These Recipes?
Tina will be delighted to assist you. E-mail AskTina@urj.org.
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