Seasonal bounty

Succot-themed recipes; Beet and Pomegranate Salad, Baked Pears and Braised Chicken with Cilantro, Lemon and Figs.

Mahane Yehuda Market 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Mahane Yehuda Market 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
When I was growing up in Chicago, Succot wasn’t a time when it was particularly nice to be outside. October can get pretty cold in the Windy City. The foods we ate in the succa were designed to keep us warm: soup, stuffed cabbage, hearty tagines – foods that were appropriate to the season and place.
Here in Israel, Succot feels like an extension of summer. The rain hasn’t begun yet. It’s still sunny. The market is overflowing with produce: mangoes, plums, pomegranates, pears and figs – and that’s only the fruit. Succot all over the world is a celebration of nature and the harvest, whether you are in frigid Chicago or in sunny Israel. If there is any time to eat local and seasonal food, Succot is that time.
The following recipes take advantage of the great abundance of seasonal fruit we enjoy here in Israel during the Succot holiday.
Beet and Pomegranate Salad
Beets and pomegranates are two of the most beautiful foods in the world. This salad, adapted from Janna Gur’s book The Book of New Israeli Food pairs them in this visually stunning, and delicious dish. Roasted beets are tossed in a dressing of pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice and pinch of cayenne. It is finished off with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, parsley or cilantro and a good glug of olive oil. Pomegranate concentrate can be found in most Israeli grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can also reduce unsweetened pomegranate juice in a saucepan until it is thick and syrupy, and then use that.
Ingredients: 3-4 medium beets 2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 (or to taste) dried chili peppers, crushed coarse sea salt 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1⁄2 cup parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped 1 cup pomegranate seeds
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit).
1. Wrap each beet individually in tin foil. Place in the oven and roast until the beets can be pierced easily with a knife (exact cooking times will vary. Start checking on them about 30 minutes in. For very large beets, roasting times can run over an hour). Remove beets. Cool and peel. (Beets can be roasted up to a day in advance. If you are doing this, do not peel the beets until you are ready to use them.) Cut the beets into a medium dice.
2. Mix the beets with the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, chili peppers and salt. Set aside for 15 minutes.
3. Add the parsley or cilantro and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle olive oil on top. Serve.
Braised Chicken with Cilantro, Lemon and Figs
Braised chicken has an undeserved reputation as a homely dish. In reality, though, it can be as elegant and complex as any other chicken dish and, when reheated, holds up better than roasted or baked chicken. In this dish, which is adapted from the December 1996 edition of Bon Appetit Magazine, the chicken is braised in the classic combination of white wine and chicken stock. What makes it less mundane is the addition of figs, cilantro and some lemon juice. Despite the figs, this dish is less sweet and more earthy and grassy than you would think, and a last-minute addition of fresh cilantro keeps it bright, both in terms of flavor and presentation. It is great served with any number of grains, but goes especially well with quinoa.
Ingredients: 1 three-and-a-half to three-and-three-quarter chicken, cut into 12 pieces 4 teaspoons olive oil 2 cups chopped onions 3 large garlic cloves, minced 1 cup chicken broth 1⁄2 cup white wine 1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 8 figs cut in half lengthwise
1. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the chicken, skin-side down, and fry for about 7 minutes until brown on all sides. Take care not to crowd the pot or the chicken will stew, and not brown. You may need to do this in batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
2. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the pot and lower the heat to medium. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 10 minutes until golden. Pour in the wine, simmer for a few minutes while scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Then, stir in the broth, the half-cup of cilantro and the lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Add the figs and the chicken to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes until the chicken is tender. Alternatively, you could put this in a preheated oven at 160 degrees Celsius (325 degrees Fahrenheit) for 45 minutes.
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Boil the juices in the pot for about 5 minutes until they have thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro over and serve.
Baked Pears
This dessert, which was adapted from a recipe posted by the food writer sdebrango on, is an elegant way to serve baked pears. The pears are baked in little individual parchment paper parcels and can be presented at the table as little edible gifts. The original recipe called for walnuts and raisins. I prefer pears with almonds and ginger. If you have your own nut and dried fruit combination you like, feel free to substitute. Additionally, I list coconut oil, which can be found at most health-food stores, as an optional ingredient, but if you don’t have any, feel free to leave it out. The pears will come out just as good, if a little bit lighter and less complex. If you happen to be making a dairy meal, butter can of course be used in place of the oil.
The Filling Ingredients: 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup blanched almonds (depending on the size of your pears) 1⁄8-1⁄4 cup candied ginger, chopped (depending on the size of your pears) 1⁄8-1⁄4 cup dried cherries (depending on the size of your pears) 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes until they are golden and smell fantastic. Keep an eye on them. They go from smell-fantastic to burnt quickly.
2. Chop the almonds. In a small bowl, toss together the almonds, dried fruit, brown sugar and cinnamon. This step can be done a day in advance.
The Pears Ingredients: 8 medium pears
1-1 1⁄2 teaspoons coconut oil, softened (optional) 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup demerara sugar (depending on the size of your pears) Almond-dried fruit mixture 8 sheets parchment paper Kitchen twine
1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit). Wash the pears. Using a small paring knife, core the pears from the bottom. Leave the stem. Peel the pears. Stuff each one with the almond-dried fruit mixture. If you are using the coconut oil, rub the pears with the oil and then roll each pear in the demerara sugar. If you are not using the oil, just roll the pears in the sugar.
2. Place each pear in the middle of a sheet of parchment paper, gather it up around the pear and tie the neat package with kitchen twine. Place the pears on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes. (Larger pears can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.) Serve pears in their packages.