Season to Taste: Fit for a Table or a Booth
Sukkot—the autumn harvest festival that begins on the night of October 6—is one of my favorite holidays. As shorter days make way for crisp, cool nights, the early fall color palette of burnished golds, rusty oranges, deep reds and woodsy browns is represented in the festive decorations of dried gourds, fresh pomegranates and popcorn strands that adorn the outdoor sukka.
The holiday’s timing also lends itself to serving delicious foods made with a bounty of early autumn grains and produce. For centuries, Jews have brought stuffed foods to the Sukkot table to symbolize the abundance of the season. Ashkenazim tend toward the more traditional stuffed cabbage, while Sefardim serve zucchini, eggplant or peppers filled with meat, dried fruit and herbs.
A more recent american culinary conceit perfect for Sukkot adaptation is the Turducken, first popularized by New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme in the 1980’s. To make Turducken, a fully boneless stuffed hen is stuffed into a fully boneless duck, which is then stuffed into a fully boneless stuffed turkey. This is not a joke, and it is delicious, if a bit over-the-top. Years ago I watched the process at Aaron’s Kosher Gourmet in Queens, New York. The old adage definitely applies: Don’t Try This at Home (luckily, you can order one at www.aaronsgourmet.com).
But for home cooks, simplicity is key. These recipes eschew sloshy broths and saucy dishes prone to tipping and are designed to make transport from indoor kitchen to temporary outdoor dining venue a breeze. If you don’t have a sukka, simply enjoy these recipes in an al fresco feast—weather permitting, of course.
Honey-Glazed Carrots with Za’atar
Lemon zest represents the fragrant etrog, a symbol of Sukkot. Serves 4-6.
-6 carrots (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch coins
-1/4 cup olive oil
-3 TB za’atar, divided
-3 TB honey
-1/2 tsp lemon zest
-1/2 tsp salt
-salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Combine olive oil, 2 TB of za’atar and 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl. Add carrots and toss to combine. Spread in one layer in a large baking dish, drizzle with 2 TB honey and roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring once, until carrots are slightly wilted and charred. Remove from oven, cool slightly and sprinkle with remaining honey, za’atar, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.
Beets with Basil Oil
Bright green oil makes a beautiful counterpoint to the roasted beets. Add goat cheese, hazelnuts and baby greens to make a light salad. Serves 4-6.
-6-7 medium beets (about 2 pounds), tops trimmed
-1 1/2 cups olive oil, divided
-2 cups fresh basil leaves
-salt to taste
Blanch basil in boiling water 10-15 seconds. Remove excess moisture from basil with paper towels. Place basil and 1 cup olive oil in a blender and purée until smooth and uniformly green. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding solids. Can keep, tightly covered, 2-3 days in refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 375°. Rinse and dry beets thoroughly. For each beet: Place beet on an individual square of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 TB olive oil and salt. Seal foil around beet. Place beets on a baking dish and bake for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until beets are easily pierced with a fork; let cool while wrapped in foil. Using a paper towel, beet skins should rub off easily. Slice beets into thin circles. Drizzle with basil oil and serve at room temperature.
Stuffed Zucchini with Currants and Pine Nuts
-6 medium zucchini (about 2 1/2 pounds)
-1/4 cup olive oil, divided
-1 cup finely diced onion
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 pound ground beef
-3/4 cup cooked rice
-1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
-1/4 cup tomato paste
-1/4 cup dried currants
-1/4 cup pine nuts
-3/4 tsp salt
-1 tsp cumin
-3/4 tsp cinnamon
-1 tsp hot chili sauce, or to taste
-2 TB minced parsley
-2 tsp minced thyme
-salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 450°. Trim ends off zucchini. Using a melon baller or apple corer, hollow out and discard flesh and seeds of zucchini, leaving about 1/4 inch flesh intact.
2. Steam zucchini in a steamer or microwave-proof glass dish until just tender, about 4-5 minutes. Drain immediately and cool.
3. Heat 2 TB olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add ground beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Add rice, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, chili sauce, currants, pine nuts, cumin, cinnamon and salt. Simmer until most liquid is evaporated. Add parsley, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool slightly.
4. Spoon about 1/3 cup filling into each zucchini. Drizzle with remaining 2 TB oil and reserved tomato juice. Bake in oven-proof dish covered with foil about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 20 minutes, or until zucchini is easily pierced with a fork.