Hoping the weather cooperates for Sukkot

Zayda Joe Lewis gets help decorating the sukkah.

Zayda Joe Lewis gets help decorating the sukkah.

 

I should be thinking about the meaning of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot that started last night. Instead I’m fretting about the weather.

The Jewish religious calendar is unique in that it is both lunar and seasonal. Months have 28 or 29 days. This means that over the years, the religious dates get out of whack with the secular—and natural—calendar.

Muslims also follow a lunar calendar, but their holidays aren’t connected to the physical seasons–so Ramadan and other holidays can occur at any time of the year.

The Jewish calendar uses a system that adds a “leap month” seven times in 19 years  a second month of Adar, which usually occurs around February — to keep holidays and seasons in their traditional relationship. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for either of the two Jewish harvest festivals—Sukkot in the fall and Shavuot in the spring—to wander through the seasons. It’s hard to celebrate a harvest in January, even in balmy Israel.

Holidays are “late” after a leap year

Last year was a leap year, so everything was pushed back 28 days compared to last year. That means this year, the fall Jewish holidays were “late”–Rosh Hashanah didn’t start until October 3, just a few days earlier than the latest date it can possibly be.

Apartment dwellers can build a sukkah on a balcony. Photo by Katie Chao and Ben Mussig via Flickr Creative Commons.

Apartment dwellers can build a sukkah on a balcony. Photo by Katie Chao and Ben Mussig via Flickr Creative Commons.

This wouldn’t be a problem except for the festival of Sukkot, which began this year at sundown on October 16.

The holiday doesn’t celebrate only the fall harvest. Mainly, it commemorates the 40 years when the Israelites wandered in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Wherever they camped, they lived in temporary structures, and so on this holiday, we build little huts in our backyards, on our patios or even on our balconies.

These huts are called “sukkot” (singular “sukkah”), often translated as “booths,” which, frankly, I never understood since, while small, they are much larger than phone booths, voting booths or restaurant booths.

We usually interpret the command to “live” in these huts as meaning we take many of our meals in them.

Michigan weather a challenge

In Israel this isn’t much of a problem, but in Michigan, and much of the U.S., it can get pretty darn cold in mid-October, especially after sundown when most of us eat our main meal. And when it rains, eating in the sukkah is just out of the question; the sukkah is supposed to be covered with organic material such as pine boughs, reeds or bamboo, and one is supposed to be able to see the stars through the roof. Unfortunately a roof that lets in a view of the stars also lets in whatever moisture falls from the heavens.

The weatherman is forecasting a high in the low 70s for Sunday in our part of the U.S. Perfect! But they’re also forecasting rain. So while I purchased fancy plastic plates to use in the sukkah, I’ll also be setting my dining room table. In mid-October, you just don’t know!

One thing I will be doing is serving my famous stuffed cabbage, which I make every year at this time. It’s traditional to celebrate the fall harvest by eating stuffed vegetables, a symbol of bounty.

Last year I gave you a recipe for Armenian stuffed grape leaves. Today I offer a nice recipe for apple-stuffed acorn squash. I modified it slightly from a recipe I found on www.food.com, where it was posted by Elana’s Pantry.

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Apple-stuffed Acorn Squash

Apple-stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients

  • 2 small to medium acorn squashes
  • boiling water
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into ¼-inch pieces
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 Tbs. butter, margarine, grapeseed oil or coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut squash in half and remove pulp and seeds with a spoon. You may need to cut a very thin slice off the bottom to make it stand flat.
  3. Place the squash halves cut-side down in a large Pyrex baking dish.
  4. Pour ½ inch of boiling water (or apple cider) into the dish.
  5. Bake the squash for 30 minutes.
  6. While squash is baking, combine the apples, cranberries, cinnamon and butter or oil.
  7. After 30 minutes, remove the squash, turn the halves over, and fill the center of each with the apple mixture, packing it down. Cover loosely with foil.
  8. Add a little more boiling water to the pan if necessary.
  9. Bake another 30 minutes. Test to see if the squash is gone by piercing it with a toothpick or skewer; it should go in easily.
  10. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or longer if necessary to get the squash soft.
https://www.readthespirit.com/feed-the-spirit/sukkot2016/

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Categories: Side DishesUncategorizedVegetarian Dishes

Grape Leaves from My Garden

Grapevines shade my husband's garden swing.

Grapevines shade my husband’s garden swing.

My husband has a wooden swing in the backyard where he likes to hang out on summer afternoons, but it’s right in the sun and can get a little uncomfortable.

To provide some shade, he planted two grapevines next to the swing, one on each side, a couple of years ago, hoping they’d climb up over the swing. I have no idea what kind of grapes they are – one is white, and one is red.

Grapes on the vine!

Grapes on the vine!

Last year we even had two minuscule clusters of grapes, which the birds enjoyed. This year, we had enough to make a couple of pints of grape juice.

But I was also interested in the vines for grape leaves. Living in Detroit, with its large Greek, Chaldean and Arab populations, we’ve been enjoying stuffed grape leaves for decades. They’re often stuffed with lamb, but we eat vegetarian versions. I’ve never made them, but with lush grapevines growing right outside my kitchen window, I thought this was a great time to try.

Stuffed vegetables are popular for the seven-day Jewish festival of Sukkot, which we finished last week. Sukkot is partly a harvest festival, and stuffing freshly harvested veggies is a good way to celebrate. Long-time readers of this blog will remember my piece from two years ago about stuffed cabbage for Sukkot.

Everyone says it’s better to pick grape leaves in the spring, when they’re younger and more tender. But I found enough leaves on our vine that weren’t yet old and tough.

I’d been interested in trying my hand at stuffed grape leaves since last spring, when I participated in a program about food with Jewish and Chaldean (Iraqi Catholic) women. One of the Chaldean women told how almost every cook in her community keeps a large supply of grape leaves on hand.

The women frequently gather in groups to stuff grape leaves, she said, kind of like a Middle Eastern version of a quilting bee.

One family she knows almost got in trouble because of her grape leaves. The family had a house fire, and after the firemen took care of the emergency, they were about to arrest her; they had looked in her freezer, which was full of grape leaves, and thought she was growing marijuana illegally!

Thank you, Joan Nathan!

Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan

What convinced me to finally take action was this video and recipe from Joan Nathan, the doyenne of American Jewish cooking, which showed up in my Facebook feed. Her book, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, is one of my all-time faves.

I followed her recipe and her directions, and the result was dee-lish! As she says, you don’t need to grow your own grapes or raid a neighbor’s vine; jarred grape leaves, available in any Middle Eastern or specialty grocery store, will do equally well.

These Armenian stuffed grape leaves are super-flavorful, with onions, tomatoes, currants and pine nuts, and a variety of seasonings including mint, dill, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.

The filling isn’t hard to make; the only fiddly part of the recipe is actually stuffing and rolling the leaves, which was a little challenging to one used to making the much larger stuffed cabbage rolls.

I took them to a holiday lunch at a friend’s house and they were scarfed up in no time!

Joan suggests trying the same stuffing with chard leaves. We had some chard in our garden, so I made a few that way. The taste was great, but the chard leaves, which are long and thin, were actually harder to roll than the grape leaves.

If you make more than you can eat at once, you can freeze them. Put the extra rolls in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to make sure all the rolls are lightly coated with oil, then place them in a plastic freezer bag. Defrost in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

Armenian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Yield: About 60 stuffed grape leaves

Armenian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Ingredients

  • One 15-oz. or 1-lb. jar of grape leaves (about 70 leaves) -- or 70 fresh grape leaves
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup currants
  • 3/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh dill
  • 1 Tbs. dried or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 Tbs. salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup short- or medium-grain rice, uncooked
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes or 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, with juices
  • 2 lemons

Instructions

  1. Drain the grape leaves, then carefully unwrap each leaf, remove and discard any stems, and put the leaves in a large bowl with water to cover. Let soak while you prepare the filling.
  2. Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large covered skillet, and add the onions. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Uncover the skillet and sauté for a few more minutes until beginning to turn golden.
  4. Add the pine nuts, currants, parsley, dill, mint, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, salt, pepper, rice, 1 cup of water, sugar, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the rice is almost cooked.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of 1 of the lemons, then set aside to cool slightly.
  6. Line the bottom of a heavy 6-quart pot with 10 of the leaves, dull side up.
  7. Put 1 leaf on a flat surface, dull side up, with the stem end toward you. Spoon on 1 tablespoon of filling near the stem end of the leaf and flatten the filling to the width of the leaf. (Editor's note: I'm sure she means one level measuring-spoon tablespoon; don't use a soup spoon or you'll have too much for one leaf. It may be easier to use a teaspoon.)
  8. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold the sides into the center and roll away from you. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
  9. Arrange the stuffed grape leaves, seam sides down, in rows along the bottom of the lined pot, then stack them on top of each other.
  10. Pour 1 cup of water over the leaves and place a small plate on top to keep the leaves weighted down. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes more. Allow to cool in the pot, then drain.
  11. Serve warm or at room temperature as an appetizer, sprinkled with the juice of the remaining lemon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If you like, you can also top them with yogurt.
  12. To freeze: drizzle with olive oil and toss lightly to cover all the stuffed grape leaves with a thin film of oil, then pack into a plastic freezer bag or container.
https://www.readthespirit.com/feed-the-spirit/grape-leaves/

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: AppetizersSide DishesVegetarian Dishes