Sukkot, Shmini Azret & Simchat Torah | October 17-25

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The fall season is chock-a-block with harvest festivals, all over the world. Just as new life in springtime is celebrated the world over, so too is the gathering of the summer’s bounty in autumn. For those of us separated from an agrarian life by generations and miles, harvest festivals are all that remain of this incredibly important milestone. From the pemmican and squashes of the Native American Nanomonestotse peace festival to the rice-flour dumplings eaten at Chuseok in Korea, almost every culture still celebrates a feast that punctuates the end of a bountiful season and the beginning of a more austere wintertime diet.

As anyone with children in New York City schools knows, Jewish or not, some of the most important and certainly the most densely scheduled Jewish holidays fall during the autumn. As children, we knew about Rosh Hashanah, when Jews dip apples and challah into honey and bake honey cakes to symbolize hopes for a sweet year, and Yom Kippur, the day of fasting that signals atonement and hope for redemption. But only as adults living in Brooklyn did we begin to become familiar with Sukkot, a joyful and communal holiday when observant families eat their meals together outdoors, in the last of the good weather, inside a sukkah or temporary structure built outside one’s home. Local synagogues erect sukkahs on their front sidewalks in Brooklyn, some homely and others fancifully designed. Sukkot is followed directly by two more days of celebration (or only one in Israel) before the high holiday season concludes.

One tradition for these harvest feasts, both Jewish and in other cultures, is to serve stuffed foods. What better way to symbolize abundance than to stuff delicious ingredients into an equally delectable, edible vessel? In that spirit, and to honor the sublime mixture of Jewish and Arab tastes that defines Israeli food, we made stuffed peppers and stuffed eggplant, both adapted from the Jerusalem cookbook. These are wonderful dishes for any home cook: they can be made ahead of time and will even improve with a day or two to develop their rich flavors, and they can be served warm or at room temperature. We love how they contain vegetables and protein all in one dish. Best of all, they look impressive but are surprisingly unfussy, unlike some more finicky stuffed dishes such as koosah. Inspired by the abundance of apples at our local farmers markets this time of year, we chose to make a simple, subtly spiced apple cake for dessert. 

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Stuffed Peppers

Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

For the Stuffing

¾ cup basmati rice

1 ½ tbsp baharat spice mix (recipe follows)

½ tsp ground cardamom

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

14 oz (400 g) ground lamb

2 ½ tbsp chopped Italian parsley

2 tbsp chopped dill

1 ½ tbsp dried mint

1 ½ tsp sugar

Salt and pepper

For Peppers

7 or 8 medium sweet or mildly spicy long peppers, such as Romano or Poblano

1 large or two medium tomatoes, diced

2 medium onions, chopped

1-1 ½ cups vegetable stock

Make stuffing first: boil rice covered with lightly salted water in a small saucepan for 4 minutes, then drain and rinse with cool water. Set aside. Combine meat with all the other stuffing ingredients in a medium bowl, add drained rice, and mix well with your hands until well combined.

Slice open each pepper ¾ of the way lengthwise, starting from stem end (leave stems attached). With a small paring knife or your fingers, carefully seed peppers. If using poblanos, you may want to use gloves or a spoon to avoid touching the seeds and ribs too much with your bare skin. You can rinse out any loose seeds under the faucet. Without breaking pepper open too far, stuff each with filling until you’ve used it all up: the size of your peppers will determine how many you use, and remember that the filling will expand a bit with cooking.

In a frying pan with a lid and large enough to hold the peppers in a snug single layer, place chopped onions and tomatoes. Snuggle the peppers on top, and pour in just enough stock to come about ⅛” up the side of the peppers (the vegetables will release more liquid while they cook). Cover tightly with a lid and simmer over lowest heat possible for about an hour. Check periodically to make sure lid is on well and that there is some liquid in the pan; add stock as necessary.

Serve peppers warm or at room temperature.

Baharat

This spice mixture is similar to raz al hanout, the Moroccan blend, which contains ginger and no cardamom; in a pinch, you could substitute. But baharat is versatile and full of flavor, and if you cook any other Ottolenghi-inspired dishes, you’ll be happy to have some on hand! This amount will fill a standard spice jar.

2 tsp black peppercorns

2 tsp coriander seeds

2 small cinnamon sticks, coarsely chopped

1 tsp whole cloves

1 tsp allspice berries or ground allspice

4 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp cardamom pods

1 whole nutmeg, grated

Grind all spices in a coffee or spice grinder until finely powdered. Store in an airtight jar.

 

Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb & Pine Nuts

Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

3 medium sized eggplants halved lengthwise

6 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp sweet paprika

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 lb ground lamb

4 tbsp pine nuts

1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp tamarind paste

3 cinnamon sticks

salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the eggplant halves skin side down in a roasting pan large enough to hold them snugly. Brush the eggplant halves with about half of the olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes until golden. Remove from oven.

While the eggplants are roasting, start the stuffing. In a small bowl, mix together the cumin, paprika and ground cinnamon. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions and then half the spice mixture and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the lamb, pine nuts, tomato paste, parsley, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt and some fresh ground pepper. Cook, stirring often until the meat is cooked, about 10 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of water to the remaining spice mix. Stir in lemon juice, tamarind paste, 1 tsp sugar, cinnamon sticks and 1/2 tsp salt until well combined.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Pour the remaining spice mix into the bottom of the roasting pan with the eggplants. Spoon the lamb mixture generously on top of each eggplant. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast for 1 hour. Half way through the cooking, remove foil and baste the eggplants with the sauce on the bottom of the pan. Add more water if necessary. Pour remaining sauce over the eggplants before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with some chopped parsley if desired.

Serves 3-4.

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Apple Spice Cake

When we have apples to spare, this flavorful bundt cake is a fall favorite. It’s extra moist and flavorful so there’s no need for icing. If we’re serving this at a dinner party, we like to brush a calvados syrup over the top. Serve it plain or with a dollop of whipped cream.

2 ¼ cups flour

2 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp ground ginger

Pinch of salt

½ tsp baking soda

3 cups peeled and diced tart apples (we used a local mutsu variety, similar to a granny smith)

¼ cup golden raisins

¼ cup chopped walnuts

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 ½ cups dark brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 large eggs

½ cup plain yogurt or sour cream

½ cup applesauce

Syrup (optional)

⅓ cup calvados (substitute apple cider for an alcohol free option)

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine apples, raisins and walnuts. Add 3 tbsp of flour mixture to apple mixture and toss to coat.

Combine butter, brown sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time then stir in yogurt and applesauce.

Slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until blended. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in apple mixture by hand. Pour batter into the buttered bundt pan and cook in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. Let cool in pan for about 1 hour, then unmold the cake onto a serving plate.

While the cake is cooling make the syrup, if using. Combine all the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer. Stir until sugar dissolves and simmer for 5 more minutes. Once syrup cools a bit, brush the top and sides of the cake with the syrup until it’s absorbed.

 

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