Green Eats: The good stuff

It is a tradition to eat stuffed foods before and after the fast of Yom Kippur.

Stuffed pepper 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Stuffed pepper 311
(photo credit: MCT)
Those faithful readers who have followed my columns in The Jerusalem Post over the years have noticed that I have a special affection for Yom Kippur. In fact, I relish the opportunity for introspection and to enjoy the profound quiet and peace of this special day.
I also like to honor the culinary traditions of the Jewish holidays and there’s even an ancient one for Yom Kippur: the custom of eating stuffed foods before the fast. For centuries in Eastern Europe, stuffed foods made with a chopped (gehakte in Yiddish, or “beaten”) filling were traditional fare on Yom Kippur (when we “beat” our breasts to acknowledge our sins), on Succot (when we “beat” willow branches in our prayer for rain) and on Purim (when we “beat” our feet at the mention of Haman’s name).
It’s not so hard to do – stuffed vegetables, ravioli-like pastas, stuffed chicken and even stuffed fruits are all possibilities.
Take roasted eggplant and meat-stuffed dried fruit for example, in which the roasted eggplant provides a sensational smoky taste that makes a great contrast to the sweetness of the dried fruit.
And here’s a tip from me: Unless you have an electric stove, use the traditional stove-top rather than the oven method of roasting the eggplant. Granted, salting, squeezing and baking eggplant is an easier method of roasting, but it cannot capture the unique flavor of the fire-roasted method. First, make an aluminum-foil collar to fit around the burner itself (this will make clean-up easier), then place a metal grill (the type from a small portable grill or a drying rack for cakes and cookies) on top.
Center the eggplant on the grill directly over the flame and turn frequently until the eggplant is tender throughout.
Slice down the center and scoop out the contents while still warm because the eggplant meat will darken as it stands.
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Makes 16-18 pieces (easily doubled)
✔ 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil ✔ 1 small onion, finely chopped ✔ 1⁄4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped ✔ 4 figs ✔ 4 medjool dates ✔ 4 dried apricots ✔ 4 prunes ✔ 150 gr. ground beef or lamb ✔ 1⁄2 cup roasted eggplant ✔ Salt, black pepper, cumin to taste ✔ 4-5 cherry tomatoes cut into thin slices
Rinse, dry and place the eggplant on a stove-top burner on medium-low flame and roast, turning often, till tender on all sides.
Remove, let cool till easy to peel, making sure to remove all charred pieces. Mash with a fork to a smooth puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Rinse dried fruit and soak in warm water till softened.
Drain and dry on a paper towel. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions till softened, stirring often. Add the nuts and sauté an additional minute. Crumble in the meat and sauté, stirring often, till browned, breaking it up into small crumbs. Blend in the roasted eggplant and remove from heat.
Preheat the oven to 180º.
Snip off the tips of the figs and cut them and the apricots crosswise almost till the end to create a pouch. Cut the prunes and dates down lengthwise and remove the pits. Taking one fruit at a time, use a forefinger to create a little pocket and fill each with 1 to 11⁄2 teaspoons of the meat filling.
Place the fruit in the baking pan and heat 10-15 till heated through.
Makes about 12-15 stuffed peppers
✔ 12-15 medium bell peppers (yellow, red, green)
✔ 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
✔ 2 onions, chopped
✔ 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
✔ 2 cups round brown rice
✔ 41⁄4 cups water
✔ 1 cup cooked tiny blackgreen lentils
✔ 1 medium eggplant, diced
✔ 2 medium zucchini, diced
✔ 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
✔ 1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
✔ 1⁄2 cup chopped parsley or coriander (or combination)
✔ Salt, pepper and cumin or baharat spice to taste
✔ 2 medium onions, chopped
✔ 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
✔ 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
✔ 800 gr. can crushed tomatoes
✔ 2 carrots, grated 
✔ 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
✔ Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the tops off the peppers and reserve. Scoop out and discard seeds.
Set aside.
In a medium pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic till softened.
Add the rice and water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 35 minutes until done.
Let cool, fluff with a fork and add cooked lentils.
Heat oven to 220º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place diced eggplant, zucchini and sweet potato on the baking sheet and toss with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Roast for 20 minutes or until golden brown and slightly crisp, stirring occasionally. Add to the rice mixture together with walnuts and parsley.
Taste and season with salt, pepper, cumin and/or baharat. Lower heat to 200º. Stuff the peppers up to the top and place standing up and snugly in a large pot. Cover with their own tops.
For the sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and sauté onions and garlic till softened. Add the rest of the ingredients except the basil and pulverize in a blender.
Add the basil and pulverize briefly. Pour around the peppers and bake covered for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional minute. Peppers may also be cooked, covered, on the stove till tender.
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