It’s time to exhale deeply as we approach the joyful holiday of Sukkot. We are in the homestretch of the fall holiday series and the tenor has shifted to lighthearted celebration.
Sukkot punctuates the final harvest of the agricultural season with eight days and nights of celebration and shared meals with family and friends.
Eating holiday dinners in the relaxed, informal space of a succah can be a great adventure. Kids love to decorate these spaces and eat outside, even if heavy sweaters and gloves are necessary.
Decorating options abound, with a focus on all things natural. My most creative friend, Elise, hosts dinners every night through the long week of Sukkot. She changes the theme each year and always surprises and thrills her guests with cool decor ideas and warming meals.
She has strung twinkling lights, hung Asian paper lanterns, wrapped the perimeter with dyed and painstakingly strung popcorn, punctuated the structure with stalks of corn from local fields, placed cornucopia overflowing with fruit, and hung wire wrapped veggies suspended from the uneven roof.
We construct a succah so the protection is not quite complete, noting the loosely constructed roof of branches and reeds. The sun and stars peek through, deepening our connection to the natural world and reminding us of our infinite potential.
We are prompted to imagine the temporary dwellings our ancestors erected in the desert as we traveled for forty years.
Food themes for the holiday fall into two general categories, both of which allow for plenty of creativity. As we celebrate the abundance of the harvest, consider serving stuffed foods. Rolled and stuffed cabbage, hollowed out and filled veggies, filled dumplings (wontons or kneidlach) and filled pastas and pastries (ravioli, borekas and knishes) reinforce the notion of plenty.
Dishes that reflect the harvest, especially those that have lots of veggies (abundant chopped salads and warming stews and soups) and lots of fruit (strudels) are another way of expressing our good fortune to have such ample and healthy food choices all around us.
Last weekend I attended a potluck birthday dinner party at E.’s. I paused to savor the bursting bright flavors of final tomatoes from her fading fall garden.
S. brought a bright golden corn and squash chowder to the buffet table in her slow cooker. Even without electricity, the warming unit kept things piping hot all evening. Every time the lid was lifted, the aromatic scents wafted through the crowd, beckoning hungry eaters back to the buffet.
It prompted me to think about how great a slow cooker would be in the succah, especially in the northeast, where we’re already feeling the seasonal shift and it’s becoming downright chilly.
The following Autumnal Soup recipe is prepared on the stovetop but feel free to shift to a slow cooker if you have one. Carry it out to your own succah or to a friend’s grand finale of a garden party. Transport it and leave the inner lining in the warming unit. Everyone will marvel at how clever you are. Thanks, S., for such a great idea.
And a special note of appreciation to Elise, for the great shots of her succah and for countless fabulous meals hosted there. She blogs at Much Ado About Stuffing.
And more thanks to Gil Marks, author of Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, for his remarkably thorough and indispensable resource.
Recipe: Melissa Roberts
- 2 medium red onions, chopped
- 4 celery ribs, halved lengthwise and chopped
- 3 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and chopped
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 3 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained and juice discarded
- 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 4 cups water
- 6 cups coarsely chopped Savoy cabbage
- 6 cups coarsely chopped escarole
- 1 (15 oz) can white beans, rinsed and drained
- Cook onions, celery, and carrots with 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper in oil in a wide 6 quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to caramelize, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir paste into vegetables and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
- Stir in tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon, then add water and broth, and bring to a simmer. Stir in cabbage and escarole and simmer, covered, until greens are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in beans and season soup with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve drizzled with some olive oil on top, some grated parmesan, too, if you like.