If you have ever had a backyard garden, then you know the joy of the late-summer, early-fall harvests. If all has gone well, your garden is now bursting with a ton of tomatoes, enough green beans to feed your family for months and lots of other veggies that you worked so hard this summer to feed, water, and protect from bugs and bunnies. And only a fellow farmer understands the joy of each perfectly formed tomato, gorgeous cucumber, or exquisite carrot.
My dad totally and passionately understood the joy of backyard gardening. When we moved into our house when I was 4, my dad immediately dug a backyard garden right next to our garage, a patch about 40x50. Eventually, that garden grew bushels of all kinds of vegetables for decades.
My poor dad worked hard to engage me in this activity, but other than watering the garden (playing with the hose) I was immune to his passion for every kind of fruit and vegetable — from the apple trees I loved to climb, to the zucchini that lined our dining room table, I showed no interest or talent for his summer hobby.
At this time of year, my dad would come in from the garden, with basket loads of vegetables, and tomes of tomatoes. He would choose a tomato, hold it up and exclaim, “Look at this tomato. Isn’t it gorgeous? Have you ever seen a more perfect tomato?” He would go on and on. Finally, he would slice it, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper, take a bite and close his eyes in pure ecstasy. I would look at him and wonder what was wrong with him — it was a TOMATO! Then, decades later, I started my own vegetable garden. And, sure enough, there I was extolling the beauty of a home-grown tomato.
Every year, I became more and more involved in my 20x30 foot patch of land in the sunniest spot in my yard. By February, I was planning and plotting the land and wishing winter away. My kids helped me decide what to grow.
Giant Pumpkins? We tried and got one 8-pounder and leaves that spread over much of the back yard! Garlic and Purple Cabbage and Green Cabbage. And Brussels Sprouts and more! Some failed (cauliflower that never turned that beautiful creamy white) but more succeeded. One summer I had so many huge heads of green cabbage I could have opened a stand. I had a full freezer of stuffed cabbage! And we always had bushels of all kinds of tomatoes which my kids loved to pick, but not to eat!
There is something magical and spiritual about a vegetable garden. Yes, the hard work is often backbreaking and at times frustrating when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. But the joy of seeing those tomatoes turn red and the peppers hang heavy on the vine and the perfume of dill and basil and mint and chives — all combine to bring joy to my heart and the hearts of anyone who has ever planted a seed.
Sukkot is just around the corner. It is time to celebrate the harvest and give thanks for the bountiful crops that will sustain us through the dark winter. As we dine in our open huts and look at the vastness of the stars in our universe, we should think with wonder about that one tiny seed that can mix with the earth and water and produce that perfect tomato that inspired such joy in my dad. Sukkot is a wondrous holiday that celebrates the true miracle and blessing that is the fall harvest.
Simple Roasted Tomatoes (Pareve)
Even if you did not grow your own tomatoes, this is a perfect way to save some farm stand summer tomatoes for winter sauce that will sing with summer freshness.
5 to 7 lbs. tomatoes (Compari, Cherry, Roma, even larger Better Boy, Beefeater, etc. )
1/2 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper
Several cloves garlic, some finely minced, several left whole
OPTIONAL: Several basil leaves cut into a chiffonade • Fresh oregano leaves, minced • Any other fresh or dried spices or herbs you like
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with foil and brush liberally with olive oil. Set aside.
Wash the tomatoes, cut off the stem ends and any blemishes in the skin. Cut small tomatoes in half from stem to flower end. Cut the larger tomatoes into 4 to 6 wedges. Place in a large bowl.
Mince the garlic and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Add 1/2 cup olive oil to the bowl and toss gently to mix. Spread on the prepared pans so that the tomatoes are crowded but in a single layer. Scrape any oil and liquid from the bowl onto the tomatoes. Drizzle each pan with the remaining olive oil, add more minced garlic, spread the garlic cloves throughout the pan and scatter the herbs, salt, and pepper over the pan.
Place in the oven and roast, turning the trays once, after 15 to 20 minutes. Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes or until there is some charring. Don’t let them burn. Let cool and scrape into a freezer container. Make sure to include any liquid and garlic. Cover and freeze.
Makes about 5 to 8 cups. Great tossed with pasta, as pizza sauce, or sautéed with ground beef, chicken, or turkey.
Baked Zucchini Stuffed Tomatoes (Dairy)
6 large tomatoes
6 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 small zucchini, shredded (about 2 to 2-1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon (optional)
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano (optional)
1 to 1-1/2 cups cooked couscous or quinoa
Optional: 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese or
1/2 cup feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Carefully cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the pulp and seeds. Reserve the pulp in a small bowl. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with salt and turn upside down onto a plate. Let drain for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet, add half the olive oil, the onions and leek. Sauté until golden. Add the zucchini, the tomato pulp and the herbs, and heat until softened, 3 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the couscous or quinoa, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
Rinse the tomatoes and pat the insides dry. Fill with the stuffing. Place in a shallow glass baking dish. Bake until soft and bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes. Top with cheese during the last 10 minutes of baking. Makes 6.
Zucchini and Pepper Grill (Pareve)
Don’t put the grill away just yet!
2 green peppers
2 red peppers
10 to 12 cherry tomatoes
10 to 12 small button mushrooms
NOTE: You can add any vegetables you like to this dish. Anything works, eggplant cubes, red onions, Vidalia onions, chunks of corn on the cob, etc.
3 Tbsp. extra virgin Olive Oil
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Generous Pinch Za’atar or Sumac
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Soak 8 to 12 thin bamboo skewers for 30minutes. Cut the zucchini into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut the peppers in half, remove seeds and the white membrane, and cut the peppers into pieces about 1-inch square.
Mix the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the zucchini and turn to coat. Let stand for about 30 minutes. Add the peppers and tomatoes and toss to coat.
Heat the grill to medium high. Skewer the zucchini, tomato, and pepper pieces alternately and place on a hot grill. Let cook for about 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until slightly charred and softened. Brush with more marinade if desired. Serves 4 to 6.
A delicious and simple side dish.
Acorn Squash with Fruit Stuffing (Pareve or Dairy)
2 acorn squash
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1-1/2 cup chopped apples
2 Tbsp. melted butter or pareve margarine
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or other nuts (optional)
1 tsp. lemon juice
Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and lightly grease the foil or spray with non-stick spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Carefully cut the acorn squash in half. Scoop out the stringy insides and seeds and discard. Place the cut side down on the prepared pan and add 1 cup of water to the pan. Bake the squash in a 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Meanwhile, soak the cranberries in the cranberry juice. Sauté the apples in the butter or margarine until slightly soft and brown. Add the raisins, cranberries and juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts, if using. Cook for 3 minutes or so to reduce liquid.
Carefully turn the cooked squash over and place in a shallow baking pan. Fill the cavity with the apple mixture and press down firmly. Drizzle with the maple syrup. Add more water to the bottom of the pan.
Cover lightly and bake for another 30 minutes until squash is tender. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
If the squash halves won’t sit upright, crumple up some aluminum foil and make a “nest” for them to sit in. Serves 4 to 8.
Tri-Colored Cole Slaw (Pareve)
This recipe is enough for a crowd. For fewer people, use about half of each ingredient.
1 small head purple cabbage
1 small head green cabbage
1 to 2 pounds carrots, peeled
1-1/2 to 2 cups mayonnaise, regular, low, or non-fat
1/2 to 1 cup vinegar (more if you like)
1 to 2 tsp. salt
1 to 3 Tbsp. sugar (more to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp. paprika
OPTIONAL: Caraway seeds, dill, minced chives, or other herbs that you like
Remove the outermost leaves of the cabbages and discard.
Cut both cabbages into quarters and remove the cores. Then cut them into pieces to fit your processor feed tube.
Shred the cabbage and carrots with the medium shredding dish of a food processor or hand grate with the medium side. Place in a large bowl and toss to mix. Whisk the mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, sugar and paprika together, and pour over the shredded cabbage and carrots. Add any herbs or seeds you like. Mix well, cover and refrigerate.
NOTE: You can garnish with some sliced scallions or fresh minced parsley. Serves a crowd.