Succulent Succot

Succulent Succot

September 24, 2009 16:01

Recently I savored a delicious vegetable dish at a buffet dinner at a Turkish restaurant in Anaheim, California. It was a simple dish of sauteed eggplant cubes and green pepper strips stewed in tomato sauce with a healthy dose of hot pepper flakes. The dish was delightful topped with jajik, also known as cacik, a sauce of yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic and dill. The tangy, creamy yogurt was a wonderful match for the sweet and spicy tomato sauce. I have enjoyed this association of tomato-sauced vegetables with yogurt from time to time, in diverse cuisines. Yogurt often accompanies givetch, a Balkan tomato-sauced vegetable stew. The pairing is also common in Afghan cuisine. At Khybar, an Afghan restaurant in Los Angeles, fried eggplant cooked with tomatoes, sweet peppers and garlic is topped with yogurt and served with aromatic basmati rice. The chef also sauces ashak, leek-filled tortelloni-type dumplings, with a savory tomato sauce and dollops of rich yogurt. The first time I remember tasting cooked vegetables matched with tomato sauce and yogurt was at a French cooking school in Paris. At Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne we learned to make an impressive eggplant charlotte of fried eggplant slices that lined a mold filled with layers of eggplant, tomato sauce and yogurt, that was baked and turned out of its mold like a cake. Vladimir Mirodan, author of The Balkan Cookbook, pairs sour cream instead of yogurt with tomato sauces, cooking stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini or stuffed onions in tomato sauce and either finishing the sauce with sour cream or spooning a dollop of sour cream on top. For Succot, since "Mediterranean-cuisine vegetables" like eggplant, zucchini and peppers, as well as tomatoes, are at the height of their season, it's a good idea to feature them on holiday menus. Whether you saute one vegetable or stew several together, you'll find that partnering them with tomato sauce and yogurt makes an easy, refreshing, flavorful holiday dish. ROMANIAN VEGETABLE CASSEROLE Vegetable casseroles like this, both meatless and with meat, are popular throughout the Balkans. An assortment of vegetables is layered with sauteed onions, peppers and tomatoes and baked with garlic and herbs until tender. I like this casserole as a vegetarian main course accompanied by rice or pasta. Top it with Yogurt Cucumber Dill Sauce (see next recipe). • 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil • 3 medium onions, halved, sliced thin • 2 sweet red peppers, cut in strips (about 1 cm.) • salt and freshly ground pepper • 700 gr. ripe tomatoes, chopped, or two 400-gr. cans tomatoes, drained & diced • 4 medium-sized boiling potatoes, cut in 2-cm. cubes (450 gr.) • 2 celery stalks, diced • 110 gr. mushrooms, sliced • 110 gr. green beans, ends removed, halved • 2 carrots, cut in small dice • 1 small eggplant (about 450 gr.), cut in 2-cm. cubes • 2 medium zucchini or pale-green squash (kishuim), cut in 2-cm. cubes • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste • about 3⁄4 cup vegetable broth • 4 large garlic cloves, minced • 1⁄4 tsp. sugar • 1 tsp. dried thyme • 1⁄4 cup chopped parsley Preheat oven to 175º. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet. Add onions and peppers and saute over medium heat about 10 minutes or until onion browns. Remove onions and peppers. Add tomatoes to pan and cook 10 minutes or until thick. Oil two 8-cup shallow baking dishes. Divide half of onion mixture between dishes, top with the potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with celery, mushrooms, beans and carrots and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon the tomatoes, then the eggplant, on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with zucchini and remaining onion mixture. In a small bowl mix tomato paste, remaining tablespoon oil, 1⁄2 cup broth, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, thyme, rosemary and 2 tablespoons parsley. Pour sauce over vegetables. Pour remaining broth in bottom of baking dishes. Cover and bake 30 minutes; check and add a few tablespoons broth to bottom of pans if they are becoming dry. Cover and bake 30 more minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with remaining parsley. Makes 4 main-course or 8 side-dish servings. YOGURT CUCUMBER DILL SAUCE This creamy sauce is good with vegetable casseroles or with simple vegetable sautes or stews. Use any kind of yogurt you like. The sauce is especially good made with sheep's milk yogurt. • 2 small cucumbers • 2 cups plain yogurt • 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill or 2 tsp. dried • 1 garlic clove or 1 green onion, finely chopped • salt and freshly ground pepper • cayenne pepper to taste Peel cucumber and coarsely grate it. In a bowl mix yogurt, dill, and green onion. Stir in grated cucumber. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Mix well. Serve cold. Makes about 8 servings. EGGPLANT WITH TOMATOES AND YOGURT This savory dish is inspired by the elaborate eggplant charlotte I learned to prepare in Paris. This recipe uses the same elements to make an easy-to-prepare dish. Serve it as a meatless Succot dish, accompanied by rice pilaf. Either flavor the eggplant stew with basil, or stir dill into the yogurt used to top it. • 800 gr. small eggplants, unpeeled • 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil • 1 medium onion, chopped • salt and freshly ground pepper • 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, or to taste • 450 gr. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or a 400-gr. can stewed tomatoes, chopped, with their juice reserved • 1 to 2 Tbsp. shredded fresh basil or 2 to 3 tsp. chopped fresh dill • 1 cup plain yogurt • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced (optional) Cut eggplant in crosswise slices about 1 cm. thick, then in cubes. In a large heavy wide casserole, heat oil, add onion and saute over medium heat 2 minutes. Add eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and stir over heat until eggplant is coated with onion mixture. Saute for 3 minutes, stirring often. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Stir in basil (but not dill). Season to taste with pepper. Mix yogurt with garlic, salt and pepper and fresh dill if using. Serve eggplant hot or cold, topped with the seasoned yogurt. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home and Feast from the Mideast.

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