‘Succot is reserved for specialties we don’t indulge in year round,” wrote Renee Muller, author of the new kosher cookbook, Our Table.One example is Muller’s pecan chocolate bars, which she finds impossible to resist and therefore bakes only for special occasions (see recipe). Muller wrote to me that for Succot she also likes to prepare other American- style desserts like lemon meringue pie and warm chocolate cookies with ice cream and fudge sauce.Being prepared is important to Muller, especially for the holidays. She wants to be certain that she has a tasty dish ready in case unexpected guests arrive. Her colorful roasted pepper and mushroom salad, for example, “will stay fresh in the fridge for a good week, which makes it great for Yom Tov” (see recipe).Many of Muller’s dishes, such as her pecan chocolate bars and her mushroom barley soup (see recipe), can be frozen, and she includes a symbol FF on her freezer- friendly recipes. Often she makes a double batch of a recipe and freezes half for a future occasion.Although Muller lives in New Jersey, the main influence on her cooking is northern Italian. Having grown up in Lugano, in the Italian-speaking Ticino region of Switzerland, Muller fondly remembers the time she spent in the kitchen with her grandmother and her mother.“Insaporire [which translates as “to flavor”] is a fundamental part of Italian cuisine,” writes Muller. “It is not merely the spicing, it is knowing when to add what, and for how long. It is getting your dish from being simply good to really great. Letting onions sauté long enough so that their natural sugars seep out and caramelize. Picking the right produce for the right season, even when everything is available, all year, everywhere. These are the many tricks one learns along the way, usually from watching a grandma cook... I find this especially true when it comes to soups. I used to be intimidated by soups... Over the years, I learned and accumulated ways to insaporire... Adding tomato sauce? That’s one way of insaporire.”Tomato sauce gives a warm orange hue to Muller’s mushroom barley soup, which is made with zucchini and a variety of other vegetables. “Why the tomato sauce, you might ask?” writes Muller. “...It’s the Italian in me. We add tomato sauce to practically anything.” Ingredients that are popular in Israel also inspire Muller’s cooking. She makes pinwheels out of malawah dough that she brushes with sweet and sour sauce and sprinkles with mixed spice. Muller used to bring bottles of silan (date honey) back to her home every time she visited Israel, and is glad that now she can easily find silan in the US “I use it anywhere honey is used,” she wrote; “...it adds depth and interest to so many dishes.” To make candied sweet potatoes, she bakes cubed sweet potatoes with silan, olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika. For an easy, flavorful fish course, she bakes salmon with silan, lemon and mustard (see recipe).The following dishes can be made in advance and are easy to prepare, and all are parve – suitable for meat or dairy meals. They can also be served together as a Succot menu; just add Israeli salad and cooked green vegetables and potatoes to serve with the salmon. IRRESISTIBLE CHOCOLATE PECAN BARS“These bars aren’t baked too often at my house,” wrote Renee Muller. “If they are baked, I kinda hide them in the washing machine or something. They are just impossible to resist.”The cookie bars are composed of a vanilla- flavored filling with whole pecans and chocolate chips baked in a crust flavored with brown sugar and crushed pretzels.For this recipe Muller recommends using Pyrex pans – either one 23 x 33 cm. (9 x 13 inch) or two 11-cup pans.The bars keep well in the freezer.Makes about 36 bars For the crust:❖ 1½ cups flour❖ ½ cup (110 gr. or 4 ounces) margarine, softened❖ ½ cup crushed salted pretzels ❖ ¼ cup brown sugar For the filling: ❖ 3 eggs❖ ¾ cup corn syrup ❖ ¾ cup sugar ❖ 2 Tbsp. margarine, melted and cooled ❖ 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract ❖ 1½ cups chocolate chips ❖ 3½ cups pecans Preheat oven to 175ºC (350°F).Prepare the crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, combine all crust ingredients – the flour, margarine, pretzels and brown sugar; mix until just crumbly. Evenly spread the crumb mixture in the Pyrex pan; use a spoon to press down and compact the crumbs. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes.Remove from oven; let cool a bit while you prepare the filling.Prepare the filling: In the same bowl (no need to wash), combine eggs, corn syrup, sugar, margarine and vanilla.Whisk until combined. Add chocolate chips and pecans; mix with a fork until just combined. Gently pour over cooled crust.Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until sides are set and center is still a bit bubbly.Let cool; slice into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.ROASTED PEPPERS AND PORTABELLO MUSHROOM SALAD“There are certain homes where this salad is my ‘ticket in,’” wrote Muller. “Always a favorite, it is requested again and again.”Muller serves the salad over crunchy artisanal flatbreads, as a warm salad alongside meat or fish, or “as a garnish over some lightly baked tilapia or salmon...Any way you serve it, it will be the hit of your meal.”You can keep it in the refrigerator for a week. It is best served warm, but you can serve it at room temperature.Muller emphasizes the importance of using fresh garlic, not frozen cubes, for this salad. If there is room in your oven, you can bake the peppers and mushrooms simultaneously.Serves 8❖ 6 red bell peppers, halved and cored ❖ 6 portabello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced ❖ Olive oil for drizzling ❖ Soy sauce for drizzling For the dressing: ❖ 7 or 8 scallions, sliced ❖ ½ cup sugar ❖ ¹⁄3 cup vinegar ❖ 2 tsp. olive oil ❖ 3 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard ❖ 10 cloves fresh garlic, crushed ❖ Reserved pan juices from roasting peppers
Preheat oven to 175ºC (350°F). Arrange peppers in a roasting pan, skinside up. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and soy sauce. Cover; bake for 45 minutes. Uncover; continue baking until slightly charred, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cover tightly, and let rest for 30 minutes. This will ensure that the peppers will be easy to peel.Carefully remove pepper peel; discard peel. Slice peppers into long, even strips. Reserve ½ cup of pan juices for the dressing. Set aside.Place mushrooms into a roasting pan; drizzle liberally with olive oil and soy sauce. Cover; bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.Combine the dressing ingredients – the scallions, sugar, vinegar, olive oil, mustard, garlic and reserved pepper roasting juices – with the peppers and mushrooms. Serve warm.MUSHROOM BARLEY SOUP DONE RIGHT “This is no ordinary mushroom barley soup,” wrote Muller. “This is mushroom barley soup, done right. This is the kind of soup that will sit in my freezer all winter long, divided into small portions, so that Child A will be able to have some any time she wants, without having to wait too long for it to defrost.”Muller wrote to me that this soup is good for Succot dinners and for many other occasions. “It’s perfect for Motzei Shabbat, Erev Shabbat, before supper is ready, once supper is done, after homework, before bedtime, Sunday lunch, anytime – really kind of soul food.”To save time, Muller chops the carrots and parsnips in a food processor.Serves 12 / Makes 6 liters (6 quarts)❖ 3 large carrots, peeled, cut into large chunks ❖ 2 parsnips, peeled, cut into chunks ❖ 2 Tbsp. oil ❖ 2 onions, diced small ❖ 5 garlic cloves, minced ❖ 1 knob celery root, finely diced ❖ 2 small zucchini, finely diced ❖ 1 small yellow squash, finely diced ❖ 7 celery stalks, sliced ❖ 285 gr. (10 ounces) white button mushrooms, sliced❖ 285 gr. (10 ounces) baby bella or brown button mushrooms, sliced ❖ ½ cup barley, rinsed ❖ 2 tsp. salt ❖ ¼ tsp. pepper ❖ ½ tsp. paprika❖ ½ tsp. garlic powder ❖ 2 Tbsp. flour ❖ A 425-gr. (15-ounce) can tomato sauce Place carrots and parsnips into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” blade. Pulse a few times until vegetables are coarsely chopped (but don’t let it run too long; you want small pieces, not puréed vegetables).Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion and garlic; sauté onions until translucent. Add chopped carrots and parsnips, knob celery, zucchini, squash, celery, and mushrooms; sauté a few minutes longer. Add barley and spices. Cover with water; bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add flour; stir. Cook soup for about 1½ hours, or until barley is tender.Add tomato sauce; stir to combine. Taste; adjust seasoning. Serve hot.SILAN, LEMON AND MUSTARD SALMONMuller loves silan (date honey) drizzled over snacks of yogurt and granola, and in savory dishes like this salmon entrée. You can serve the salmon hot or at room temperature.Serves 4❖ 4 salmon fillets, 3 cm. (1.25 inches) wide ❖ Juice of 1 lemon ❖ ¼ cup silan (honey can be substituted) ❖ 4 Tbsp. mustard ❖ 5 garlic cloves, crushed ❖ 1 Tbsp. olive oil ❖ 2 Tbsp. soy sauce ❖ Dash of salt ❖ Dash of black pepperPreheat oven to 205ºC (400°F) (or if your oven has a “roast” feature, now is the time to use it). Place salmon fillets in a baking dish.Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl, mixing until uniform. Pour over salmon; marinate for 20 minutes.Using a spoon, baste the salmon.Bake, uncovered, for 17 to 20 minutes (if using the “roast” feature, you will need no more than 17 minutes). Serve hot, or if refrigerated after baking, bring to room temperature to serve.■ Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.