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Archive for Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Harvest meals grace holiday hut tables

October 4, 2006

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— How do you eat when you're living in a hut?

Humbly - one pot meals are easy to make and clean up. But also heartily - these huts celebrate the harvest.

For a week starting at sundown Saturday, Jews around the world will eat their meals in a sukkah, a temporary hut or booth crafted in backyards and on porches in celebration of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Arriving just after Yom Kippur, Sukkot (known simply as "The Festival" in biblical times) celebrates one of Judaism's three great pilgrimage festivals and is considered a time to celebrate the harvest and pray for rains for the coming season.

The sukkah has its origins in the transient homes in which the Israelites lived during their 40 years of desert wanderings. Later, it evolved into temporary dwellings in fields and orchards so farmers could rest and eat during the harvest.

Within a sukkah, Jews study, sing, play games, relax, enjoy meals with friends and family and even invite ushpizin, symbolic guests such as biblical figures and dear ones from the past, to join in the festivities. Those who don't build their own sukkah can celebrate at a synagogue that does.

Over the centuries, some of the foods associated with the Sukkot celebration have developed symbolic meanings, such as the ladder challah. The ladder, an image that appears throughout Jewish holiday baking, symbolizes hope that prayers will climb to heaven.

While many people now opt for convenient stews or casseroles for one-pot home-to-hut solutions, traditional Sukkot fare includes a variety of stuffed foods made from chopped or "beaten" filling.

The custom dates to an ancient ceremony performed in the temple in which willow branches are waved or beaten during the prayers for rain. Today, the custom is repeated in daily synagogue prayers and is recalled in dishes such as chopped liver, stuffed vegetables and the tortellini-like kreplach.

Ruthie's autumn beef and pumpkin stew

3 pounds lean beef, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 sprigs rosemary, about 20 leaves

4 teaspoons coriander seeds, coarsely crushed, or 3 teaspoons ground coriander

8 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1 1/2 to 2 cups (about 10 ounces) crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups water

1 large onion, diced

1 heaping teaspoon crushed garlic

3 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into large chunks (at least 1-inch)

3 red or yellow bell peppers, cut into 1-inch slices

Rinse the meat and pat dry. Rub the black pepper into the beef chunks. In a large pot or casserole dish, heat the olive oil with the rosemary leaves over medium-high heat. When the oil sizzles, stir in the beef. Saute, turning the meat frequently to cook on all sides, until browned. Lower heat slightly and continue cooking 15 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the crushed coriander seeds and cardamom pods and cook briefly. Add crushed tomatoes, salt and water. Mix well and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. Stir in the onion and garlic, and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Add the pumpkin and pepper slices. Cook until the pumpkin is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over rice, bulgur, wheatberries, kasha or couscous.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

- Recipe provided by Ruth Levi Schuster, of Tel Aviv, Israel, the author's niece.

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Chef Ran Shmueli, a well-known culinary personality in Israel, creates a lamb stew that captures biblical flavors and the colors of the season.

Lamb stew

2 3/4 pounds shoulder of lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups sliced leeks

2 cups thickly sliced carrots

2 1/2 cups peeled and chunked celeriac (about 1 medium)

1/2 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight (to substitute canned chickpeas, rinse, drain and add with the squash)

10 garlic cloves

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

1/3 cup pomegranate concentrate

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks

2/3 cup chopped cilantro

Salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Seeds of two pomegranates, for garnish

Rinse the lamb chunks or slices, and pat dry. Cut away and discard excess fat. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the lamb and saute until browned. Use additional olive oil if needed to prevent sticking. Remove from the pan and set aside. Bring a kettle full of water to a boil. Meanwhile, add the leeks, carrots and celeriac to the same skillet the lamb was browned in and saute over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the uncooked chickpeas and 2 of the whole garlic cloves. Saute an additional 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and pomegranate concentrate, and cook another 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the bay leaves, remaining garlic cloves and lamb. Stir gently to blend. Add enough boiling water to just cover the meat. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 1 hour, or until tender. Stir occasionally.

Add the squash and cilantro and cook another 10 minutes. Serve hot on a bed of couscous or white rice. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 6 servings.

- Adapted from "The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking" by Phyllis Glazer

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