Creating joy in the sukkah‏

Sukkot dishes commonly include a plethora of vegetables and fruits native to the Land of Israel.

 (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
After experiencing such a sad Seder night this Passover, I never thought I’d also be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot all alone without my four children at my side to enjoy the festive meals. It’s so difficult to be separated from family and dear friends during the holidays.

Sukkot has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love purchasing the four species and decorating my sukkah with chains and decorations made by the youngest members of the family. Normally I invite lots of friends and family to enjoy the myriad dishes and treats I prepare every year to celebrate.

I have special foods and serving dishes I use only on Sukkot. When I started thinking about how sad it was that I wouldn’t be able to prepare all of these dishes this year, I suddenly realized there was no reason I couldn’t prepare all these dishes, just in smaller quantities.
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So I started getting organized and prepared my beloved quince jam ahead of time, so I could send a jar of it, together with other treats, to all of my children and relatives in time for the holiday. I decorated my sukkah just as I would any other year in an effort to forcefully create some happiness and joy.

You may be asking if I was successful in my endeavor. For me, other than being together with loved ones, what makes each holiday special is the traditional foods we eat each year in the sukkah. And that’s what I did – I made everything I would have prepared in a normal year. This is my way of getting through such a difficult period.

There aren’t too many dishes specifically identified as foods traditionally eaten on Sukkot, also known as the Harvest Festival. On Sukkot, we are commanded to rejoice in nature and thank God for our harvested food. Thus Sukkot dishes commonly include a plethora of vegetables and fruits native to the Land of Israel. Sauces often include pomegranate seeds, raisins, dates and figs, which are among the Seven Species that grow in the Land of Israel.

It is also common to prepare hot dishes that can be served outside and that won’t get cold too quickly, such as stuffed vegetables. Below, you will find three recipes for vegetable dishes that are perfect for serving in the sukkah. The first is stuffed tomatoes with herbs and rice, the second is tahini cauliflower and mushrooms, and the third is eggplant sinia, one of my all-time favorite dishes.

Chag sameach and betayavon!

Stuffed tomatoes with herbs and rice

Makes 7 servings

7 tomatoes

1 cup basmati rice, cooked halfway in water (don’t let completely soften) ½ cup pomegranate seeds or raisins

2 tomatoes, crushed

¼ cup olive oil

¼ tsp. chopped parsley

¼ cup chopped cilantro

2 Tbsp. chopped oregano

2 Tbsp. chopped mint

3 medium onions, chopped and fried, then drained

½ tsp. cumin or Baharat

¼ tsp. cinnamon

Salt and pepper, to taste

Tomato sauce:

4 Tbsp. olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped finely

Crushed tomatoes, without liquid

1 sprig of mint, chopped finely

¼ cup oregano or thyme, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp. sugar

150 gr. tomato paste

Slice off the tops of the tomatoes, leaving one small section of the top attached. Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out the insides of the tomatoes, making sure that the top part does not get detached from the tomato. Place all the inside pieces of the tomatoes in a bowl.

Place the rice in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the herbs, and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you’d like it to be spicy, you can add a ½ tsp. of harissa.

Take spoonfuls of the rice mixture and fill the tomatoes, then close with the tomato tops that are still attached. Place the tomatoes in a baking tray or pot that can go in the oven.

To prepare the sauce, heat the oil in a medium pot. Add the onions and sauté for 2-3 minutes until they begin to brown. Chop up the insides of the tomatoes and add them to the onion and cook another minute or two.

Add the rest of the ingredients and then pour in ¾ or 1 cup of water. Mix well. Lower the flame to medium and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour the sauce on top of the tomatoes and bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180° for 60-90 minutes. Serve hot.

Level of difficulty: Medium.

Time: 1.5-2 hours.

Status: Pareve.


Tahini cauliflower and mushrooms

Makes 6-8 servings.

1 cauliflower, separated into small and medium florets

4 Tbsp. olive oil

1 spicy green pepper, chopped finely

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Mushroom sauce:

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 small baskets of mushrooms, sliced or halved

Tahini sauce:

1 cup raw tahini

Juice from 2 lemons

1-1 ½ cups water (depending on how thick you want the tahini to be) Salt and pepper, to taste

½ tsp. sumac (optional)

Toppings:

¾ cup pine nuts, roasted

¼ - ½ cup parsley, chopped

Spread the cauliflower florets on a baking sheet and add the green pepper and garlic on top. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Stir the pieces so that the oil covers everything. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 200° for 20-25 minutes. Stir cauliflower florets every once in a while.

In a large pan, heat olive oil and add mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the cauliflower.

To prepare the tahini sauce, pour the raw tahini into a bowl and then add the lemon juice and water and mix well. Add the salt and pepper and then pour tahini sauce on top of cauliflower and mushrooms. If using sumac, add it now and then put the pan in the oven for 5-7 minutes.

Take out of the oven and sprinkle pine nuts and parsley on top. Serve hot.

Level of difficulty: Easy.

Time: 1 hour.

Status: Pareve.

Sinia

Makes 6 servings.

1 large eggplant

Kosher salt

1 large red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

3 spicy peppers

Oil for frying

Spicy tomato sauce:

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tomatoes, crushed

5 large cloves of garlic

100 gr. tomato paste

½-1 cup water

Salt and pepper, to taste

3-4 Tbsp. vinegar

Topping:

Basil leaves, whole or chopped

Cut off both ends of the eggplant. Rinse well and cut into ½ cm.-thick slices. Spread them out on a tray and sprinkle kosher salt on top. Let them sit for 1 hour.

Clean the peppers and remove seeds and the pith. Cut the bell peppers into 2 cm.-wide strips. Cut the spicy peppers into two pieces.

Heat oil in a pan so that it’s 2 cm. high (like you would for frying schnitzel). Pat the eggplant slices dry and then fry on both sides until they turn dark brown. Remove from the pan and place on paper towels. Pat the peppers dry and fry them on both sides for 2-3 minutes. Place them in a bowl and let the oil drip off of them.

To prepare the sauce, heat the oil in a large pan and add the crushed tomatoes and garlic. Sauté for 1 or 2 minutes and then add the tomato paste. Stir and add the water, salt and pepper. Stir again and turn the flame down. Cook for another 10 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency. You can add up to ¼ cup more water if you so desire.

Pour a thin layer of sauce in a medium pan. Arrange a layer of eggplant slices on the sauce, then add a layer of peppers. Add another layer of sauce and then start over again with layers of eggplant/peppers/sauce. Shake the pan gently so that the sauce covers everything evenly. Bake in an oven that has been heated to medium heat for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Level of difficulty: Easy.

Time: 1 hour.

Status: Pareve.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.