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), family and friends are invited to eat outdoors in the sukkah, harkening back to ancient times when farmers built flimsy booths for shelter while bringing in the harvest, and serving 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 and etrog and welcoming special guests (ushpizin) into the sukkah.
Decorations can be simple or elaborate. 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 (as religiously required) but still provide shade during the day.
This year, the cooler early-October weather 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.
Pear Bisque (Dairy)
Serves 6 to 8
Made in a jiffy. No need to peel pears. Just place all ingredients in blender and give it a whirl.
4 large ripe pears, cored and cut up coarsely
2 cups apple juice
1 cup canned evaporated milk
1/4 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 Tbsp. finely grated orange peel
Orange wedges to garnish (optional)
Place all ingredients, except orange wedges, in a 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.
Tunisian Mishua (Pareve)
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!
2 large bell peppers, green and yellow, seeded and cut in ½-inch strips
3 large tomatoes, quartered
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. cumin
1-1/2 tsp. 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
Preheat the broiler. Place the peppers and tomatoes on a baking sheet. Toss with the olive oil, cumin and garlic.
Place under broiler, 5 to 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.
Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Dairy)
For vegetarians, a satisfying appetizer or main dish.
4 large Portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
5 to 6 pitted black olives
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely snipped fresh parsley
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
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 a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Place mushroom stems and olives in the 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.
Mango Chicken Waldorf (Meat)
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.
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cubed
1-1/2 cups diced mango
1/2 cup seedless red or green grapes, halved
1/2 cup diced green and yellow bell peppers
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecan halves
2 tsp. dried dill
Arugula garnish (optional)
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 to lined individual salad bowls.
Sukkot Fig or Plum Tart (Dairy)
Serves 8 to 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).
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1-1/4 cups, plus 2 Tbsp., all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
12 to 15 fresh figs, stems removed and halved
3 Tbsp. water
1 to 2 Tbsp. honey, warmed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix the butter and vinegar.
With a wooden spoon, blend in 2 Tbsp. of the sugar and 1-1/4 cups flour to make a smooth dough. Press into the 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 Tbsp. flour, remaining sugar and ginger. Add the figs and toss to coat. Arrange figs, cut-side up, on top of the dough to cover. Sprinkle with 3 Tbsp. 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.