You know what they say – be careful what you wish for! Well, I asked my friend and fellow J-weekly columnist, Faith Kramer, if she had any special recipes for Sukkot. OH MY GOSH! She sent me too many to share all of them. I’ll share some here and you are free to visit her archived articles on the J-weekly website or on her food blog.
Here’s what she wrote to me.
Sukkot, the last of the Jewish calendar’s three major harvest festivals, is probably the most joyous of Jewish holidays and is considered the Season of Our Rejoicing (Z’man Simchateinu), a celebratory period after the introspection of the High Holidays. The holiday also commemorates God’s protection of the Jews during the 40-year exodus from Egypt to Israel.
To me it’s the holiday of potlucks and outdoor dining and I like to build on the traditional food customs and serve a wide range of food reflecting the diversity of our Jewish experience past and present.
The celebrations center on the building and decorating of a sukkah (an open hut, the plural is sukkot), a reminder of our ancestors’ life on the move in the dessert as well as the temporary dwellings built in the ancient fields during harvest time. It is considered a mitzvah to eat (and even sleep) in the sukkah and to decorate it with fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in honor of the harvest. Different communities have different customs, with Israeli sukkot featuring grapes, olives, pomegranates, wheat, barley, dates and figs (all mentioned in the Torah). Sukkot from other communities (including Sephardic and Mizrahi) feature other foods, flowers, fabric decorations, elaborately painted Torah scenes on panels and special pastries. For all, having others over to share in Sukkot meals is an important part of the celebration.
One feature of the holiday is having the Four Species present in the sukkah. An etrog (a type of citron, a bumpy, thick-skinned yellow citrus fruit) along with palm, myrtle, and willow branches are shaken during special blessings to mark the holiday.
Food traditions for the holiday center on several themes:
Grains: On the first night, it is traditional for each individual to eat at least two ounces of grain. One custom is serving different dishes made with different types of grain, including oat, rye, barley, spelt and wheat.
Harvest Abundance: Lots of fresh and cooked fruit and vegetable dishes. Stuffed, filled and layered vegetable dishes are traditional in many cultures to symbolize abundance. For Libyan Jews this might include a spicy stuffed onion dish. For some stuffed cabbage is a traditional food. Others serve moussaka (eggplant casserole), fruit or cabbage strudels, or stuffed pumpkin. For some Eastern European Jews, tzimmes (a stew vegetables and dried fruits sometimes with meat) is traditional as are pickled vegetables.
Filled and Stuffed: The theme of abundance is more than just for fruits and vegetables. Everything from knishes to borekas to tortellini to filled challah is served under the sukkah.
Portability: One characteristic of Sukkot foods is that are easy to transport to the outdoor table under the sukkah (yours or someone else’s). Stews and casseroles fit the bill, as do salads, pastry-based entrees, and easy to share desserts.
One tradition that is not food related is the one of “inviting” a different biblical matriarch or patriarch to the sukkah each day for discussion and study. I think this should be extended to “inviting” departed loved ones to the sukkah (maybe hanging their photo for all to see) remembering them and serving food they enjoyed and creating a new tradition for the holiday. For example, for my grandfather Lou I might offer up rye bread. For my grandma Anna it would be cheese blintzes.*
However you celebrate Sukkot – in or out of a sukkah – I hope your holiday is meaningful and delicious.
Faith Kramer writes a twice-a-month Jewish cooking column for the j., the Jewish News of Northern California. Her cookbook, 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen publishes this November. Contact her at email@example.com.
*We’ll have to explore this idea next!