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Harvest Festival

October 12, 2005
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Illustration by Coco Masuda

Sukkot is the Jewish Thanksgiving. The weeklong festival begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur and includes many joyous aspects, each with its own name.

As Chag Ha'asif, it is the "Festival of the Harvest," which coincides with the full moon and harvest time of ancient Palestine. It is also called zeman simchatenu, or a "time of rejoicing" for the goodness and bounty of the earth.

The word Sukkot, meaning "booths," refers to the huts or temporary dwellings in which the Jews had to live in their 40 years wandering through the wilderness.

The building of the sukkah is the most visible and dramatic aspect of this holiday, and one that can involve the whole family. Children enjoy stringing cranberries and popcorn, and decorating the walls of the sukkah with autumn fruits and gourds. Everyone partakes of the excitement and novelty of eating the festival meals in the sukkah under its roof of boughs, which is constructed to allow the moon and stars to shine through.

Food served during Sukkot represent autumn and abundance partaken in the spirit of celebration and thanksgiving. The citron and palm branch (etrog and lulav) - symbols of growing things - represent this holiday, and figure prominently in the festival commemorations.

The menu, courtesy of Jewish Holiday Feasts, by Louise Fiszer and Jeannette Ferrary, is meant as picnic fare to be served outdoors at room temperature.

Sweet-and-Hot Pepper Tomato Soup With Mint

Late-harvest sweet tomatoes and roasted red peppers lend their flaming colors to this piquant soup, which begins this picnic-fare menu with a burst of seasonal flavors.

2 Tbsps. olive oil
6 ripe, fresh tomatoes or 4 cups canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. harissa or 1/2 tsp. hot-pepper sauce or cayenne
1 Tbsp. honey
1 cup tomato juice, vegetable stock or water
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Cook tomatoes and peppers on medium-high heat until mixture thickens, about 12 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, cumin, harissa and honey. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Add tomato juice and purée in a blender or food processor. Stir in lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve at room temperature, hot or chilled.

Sprinkle with mint before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Baked Figs With Honeyed Yogurt

This barely cooked dessert mixes an unexpected peppery punch with drizzles of honeyed yogurt. It makes a memorable conclusion to an out-of-doors dinner. There's something elegant about these petal-like figs, even if you do eat them with your hands - which is, after all, what everybody wants at a picnic.

16 fresh black figs
2 Tbsps. canola oil
2 Tbsps. freshly ground pepper (finely ground)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsps. honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly brush figs with oil.

Sprinkle each fig with pepper.

Place figs upright on an oiled baking sheet and bake till darkened and soft, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine yogurt with lemon juice and honey.

With kitchen scissors, cut a deep "X" on top of each fig. Figs will appear to have four petals.

Place two figs on each plate and drizzle with the honeyed yogurt.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

Fennel, Cucumber and Orange Salad

The orange in this salad takes the place of the traditional citron, a yellow, fragrant fruit that flourishes in Israel but is rarely available in the United States.

Citrus Vinaigrette:

1/2 tsp. aniseed, crushed
3 Tbsps. white-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice <
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
4 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 medium fennel bulbs, cored, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 oranges, peel and pith cut away, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients until well-blended.

On a large shallow platter, arrange cucumber, fennel, oranges and onions.

Pour vinaigrette over salad and sprinkle with parsley.

Makes 8 servings.

Pita Stuffed With Eggplant Salad and Feta Cheese

Like a cornucopia, these pita halves spill over with the season's goodness, from herbed vegetables and briny olives to the irresistible pungency of feta cheese.

3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 11/2 lbs.)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups seeded and chopped tomatoes, drained of liquid
2 Tbsps. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsps. balsamic or red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsps. capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup imported black olives, pitted and halved
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 oz. feta cheese, cut into small cubes
salt and pepper
8 pita breads (6 inches in diameter), halved and lightly toasted

In a large skillet, heat oil.

Sauté eggplant, onion and garlic until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, thyme and vinegar.

Cook until bubbly and mixture thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in capers, walnuts, olives and parsley. Let cool completely, then gently toss with feta cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff each pita with eggplant salad.

Makes 8 servings.

Co-author Louise Fiszer, a nationally-known cooking teacher and food consultant, is a new food columnist for the Jewish Exponent.

 

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