Harvest cornucopia

By DAFNA LASKIN
October 12, 2011 16:20

Succot is the perfect opportunity to give a culinary homage to the seasonal harvest period.




grape and bulgur salad

bulgur salad 311. (photo credit: Dafna Laskin)

In a country that grows 95 percent of the produce sold, nearly every day in Israel is a celebration of the bounty of the land. Succot, however, is the perfect opportunity to give a culinary homage to the seasonal harvest period. After the heavy meals that accompany Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Succot provides a chance to focus on the beautiful and healthy vegetables, grains and fruits that have sustained us throughout the year.

When I was growing up in New England, pumpkins, gourds and squash were always prominent in our succa. We would take a trip to the apple orchard and pick up a few small gourds as well, and then tie them onto the roof of the succa. As a child I wondered if Jewish families in other parts of the world did the same thing, and was pleased to find that they may have, at least in Morocco, which is the origin of this pumpkin soup recipe from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America. It’s certainly a fancier twist on the “orange soup” that carries so many Israelis through the chilly winter months. The soup can be made vegetarian with vegetable broth or as a hearty meat stew with chicken broth and 220 grams of stewing beef.

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In many ways, the autumn Succot harvest was the most important of the year for those dwelling in Israel in biblical times. While other harvests may have netted more diet staples, the fall harvest features grapes – to be enjoyed fresh but more likely to be made into wine. Succot is considered thanksgiving for an entire year of bountiful produce, but surely the winemaking during the grape harvest played some role in the joyousness associated with the holiday. In this grape and bulgur salad adapted from The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special Cookbook, fresh and juicy grapes, cucumbers and peppers are paired with nutty bulgur for a bright cornucopia of healthy produce.

Olives have been a staple of the Land of Israel since biblical times, when olive oil was much used for burning, anointing and as a sacrifice in itself. The olive symbolizes many facets of Judaism, and I wished to highlight the salty, briny fruit studded throughout buttery, herbed potatoes in a simple, earthy side dish, delicious hot or at room temperature.

Last Rosh Hashana was my first in Israel, and I spent it with my aunt and uncle in Nahariya. Accustomed to spicy, dense honey cakes and crunchy teiglach, I was pleasantly surprised that the night’s dessert was a honey panna cotta drizzled with pomegranate seeds. For me, it was the ultimate confection for a sweet new year in Israel: pomegranate seeds, in season and one of the seven species, dotted like jewels over milk and honey – the signs of agricultural prosperity and permanence.

MOROCCAN PUMPKIN SOUP

Serves 8-10

1 340-gr. can chickpeas
1 kg. pumpkin, or butternut or calabaza squash, peeled and cut in chunks
1 onion, peeled and quartered
8 cups water or to cover
2 tsp. cinnamon or to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. sugar or to taste

Drain the chickpeas and peel off the outer skin.

In a soup pot mix the squash, chickpeas and onion, covering with the water.

Simmer, covered, for 2 hours.

Add the cinnamon, vegetable broth and sugar. Blend, but do not puree, all the ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Adjust seasoning to taste. Reheat and serve. If the soup is too thick, add more water when reheating.

GRAPE AND BULGUR SALAD

Serves 8

2 cups raw bulgur
21⁄2 cups boiling water
1 cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1 cup minced red onions
2 cups walnut halves
2 cups rinsed and stemmed seedless red grapes

Dressing
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Place the bulgur in a heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over it, cover and set aside to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. (The issue of how to cook properly cook bulgur is a thorny one, but this is my preferred method.)

While the bulgur soaks, cut the cucumber lengthwise into halves, then again in half lengthwise. Slice all 4 long strips crosswise into bite-sized pieces. Stem, seed, and chop the bell pepper. Place the cucumbers, peppers, and minced red onions into a serving bowl and set aside.

Toast the walnuts in a single layer on an unoiled baking sheet in a toaster oven at 175ºC for about 5 minutes. Let them cool slightly and chop. Halve each grape, and toss into serving bowl along with the walnuts. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients.

Once softened, fluff the bulgur with a fork and refrigerate, uncovered, until cooled. Add the cooled bulgur to the serving bowl, pour on the dressing, and toss well.

OLIVE AND HERB POTATOES

Serves 6

20 of your favorite olives, pitted and roughly chopped or sliced into rings (I prefer the dusky, purple Kalamata variety)
7 or 8 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
1⁄3 cup fresh herbs, roughly chopped (I always include parsley, but the rest depends on what is available; chives, cilantro, chervil, basil and even mint can all feature nicely in this dish)
2 Tbsp. butter (substitute olive oil, not margarine, for a parve dish)
1 tsp. lemon zest
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Bring potatoes to a boil in a large pot and cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain, pour into serving dish and toss with butter, olives, pepper and lemon zest. Sprinkle herbs on top and toss once more before serving.

HONEY PANNA COTTA WITH POMEGRANATE SEEDS

Serves 8

11⁄2 cups milk
21⁄2 tsp. powdered unflavored gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
1⁄3 cup honey, plus extra for drizzling
1⁄8 teaspoon salt 1 pomegranate, seeds removed and set aside Ice cubes for water bath

Pour milk into a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for a few minutes to let the gelatin dissolve.

Combine the cream, honey and salt in a small saucepan and heat on stove over medium heat just until it begins to steam. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Take the cream mixture off the heat and add in the milk and gelatin, stirring well to make sure all the gelatin dissolves.

Pour mixture into a clean bowl and set into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and water. Let mixture cool to room temperature, stirring often.

Pour cooled mixture into a regular loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in refrigerator. When ready to serve, invert the panna cotta onto a serving plate, sprinkle the top and sides with pomegranate seeds and drizzle with honey. Serve immediately.

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