My sweet gourd
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Freshly harvested fruits and vegetables make Succot a joyous festival
Succah is a joyous occasion, described in Jewish literature as z'man simchateinu - the Season of Our Rejoicing. But it is also the Harvest festival. What better time to visit a local farmers' market and be inspired by locally grown cauliflower (wonderful steamed and layered with kosher mozzarella); fresh beetroot for a haimishe borscht; parsnips ready for roasting with a little grated fresh ginger and honey; alongside swedes, celeriac and an array of potatoes.
Then there are apples, pears and plums - all British - delicious to eat, raw or cooked. Whether you build a succah or not, you can create luscious dishes to enjoy at your Yomtov table.
Round pumpkins are an important motif in Judaism - their shape symbolises a good life , their golden colour reminiscent of coins. They are also the base of a colourful soup served in a shell that doubles up as a dramatic container.
For 6-8 portions and second helpings, select a very large pumpkin that is heavy for its size. Cut a lid off the top and save. Scoop out the flesh; check that a large Pyrex bowl will fit in the cavity. Sweat two large peeled and roughly chopped onions with a dessertspoon of olive oil. When the onions are soft, add 500g, 1lb 2oz of peeled chopped carrots and 500g, 1lb 2oz cleaned potatoes cut into rough chunks, and cook until tender, approx 25 minutes adding the pumpkin flesh for the last 10 minutes, with 2.4 litres, 4 pints stock - vegetable or chicken.
Then process with 25g, 1oz, of fresh parsley, freshly milled salt and pepper and a teaspoon of paprika or cumin. Add a little more stock if necessary. To serve, add the soup, garnish with more parsley and replace the lid.
Follow perhaps with spicy roasted vegetables with a twist. For 4-6 people, preheat oven 200°C, 400°F gas mark 6. Peel, de-seed and cut one small butternut squash into chunks. Peel and cut two red onions, each into eight wedges. Clean two large organic leeks, and four large organic carrots peeled and cut in thick diagonals. Rub the vegetables with two dessert spoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ginger and paprika, splash over 75ml, 3oz approx stock, red or white wine roasting for ½ hour in a moderate oven.
Add a well-drained and rinsed tin of chickpeas (optional) and cook for another 15 minutes. Serve with couscous.
My husband's favourite Sephardic-style recipe is a whole butternut squash cut in half with the flesh scooped out and sauteed with a mixture of fried onions, cooked green lentils, part-cooked rice, a handful of currants, roasted pine-nuts, a little chopped dill, plenty of chopped coriander, some cinnamon and a little Kiddush wine.
If you prefer you can add some leftover cooked meat or chicken to this fragrant dish. Stuff the cavities with the mixture. Cover with foil and bake for an hour in a moderate oven, Gas mark 4, 180°C, 350°F until vegetables are tender. Serve with a rich tomato sauce. For dessert, baked apples or plums are delicious stuffed with chopped stem ginger and a handful of sultanas. Perhaps this year try my holishkes, for a traditional Succot that your grandmother might have prepared.
Traditional succot Holishkes
Serves 4 - 6 people
1 large onion, 1 garlic clove, peeled, chopped and finely and sweated till soft in 1 dessertspoon oil
50g(2oz) raw white rice or 150g (5 ½ oz) cooked brown rice
450g, 1 lb minced meat (or Quorn mince)
2 large carrots, peeled and grated finely
12 large cabbage leaves - 1 organic pointed or Savoy works well
Juice and finely grated rind ½ lemon or, my preference, ½ orange
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon honey
225ml (8fl oz) passata or sugocasa or homemade tomato sauce
A little extra stock
25g, 1oz, finely chopped parsley
● Cut away the cabbage leaves and blanch by covering in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and drain.
● Mix onions, carrots, meat, cooked rice, grated rind and grated carrots with spices and parsley. Season to taste.
● Shape a ball of mixture and fill cabbage leaves, rolling towards the spine and tucking it in.
● Place each holishke close to its neighbour in a heavy oven-proof dish. Mix fruit juice with honey and tomato sauce and pour over the holishkes
● Cover and cook on Gas mark 4, 180° C, 350° F for 30 mins.
● Then check for moisture, add a little stock if required and bake for a further 20 mins. You may wish to remove the lid and brown the holishkes for the last 20 mins.
● Serve with new green cucumbers and a green salad and enjoy.