Looking for a special dish to serve on the Sukkot holiday? A little-known ancient culinary tradition for this unique festival includes consuming stuffed foods made with a chopped — gehakte in Yiddish, meaning beaten — filling, to symbolize how we beat willow branches on the ground on Sukkot in the annual prayer for rain. (The “beaten filling” custom also applies to Yom Kippur, when we beat our breasts to acknowledge our sins, and on Purim, when we beat our feet at the mention of Haman’s name during the megillah reading.)
Many countries have their own version of stuffed vegetables used for both everyday and holiday fare but this dish, which hails from Georgia on the Balkan Sea, also includes stuffed pears, and the entire layer is then topped with dried fruit. Although the traditional recipe uses tomatoes and zucchini, I also like to stuff halved or whole multi-colored peppers, which withstand longer cooking without losing their shape.
Georgian Stuffed Vegetables and Pears (serves 6-8)
*Note: If the quantity in the recipe seems formidable, don’t hesitate to cut the recipe in half, or, double it if necessary. Brown rice may also be substituted for white rice if desired, and chopped nuts/cooked chickpeas or other beans, may be substituted for the meats. In a hurry? Jarred tomato sauce (not paste or chopped tomatoes) may be substituted for the sauce in this recipe.
Vegetables for stuffing:
- 1 medium eggplant
- 2 large firm but ripe tomatoes
- 1 large onion
- 2 medium zucchini (or round zucchini)
- 2 large firm but ripe pears
- 350 grams (12 ounces) lean ground beef
- 230 grams (½ pound) ground lamb
- 1 medium onion, chopped (½ cup)
- ⅓ cup each: chopped cilantro, Italian parsley, fresh mint
- 2 large garlic cloves, pressed
- ⅔ cup cooked white or brown rice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ⅓ cup each, cut into strips: Calimyrna figs, dates, apricots
- 2 ½ tablespoons raisins
- 1 small red bell pepper, diced
- 1 small orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
- Chopped leaves of 2 sprigs fresh mint
- 1 large onion
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 400 grams (14 oz) crushed tomatoes
- bay leaf
- ½ tablespoon paprika
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Rinse the tomatoes and use a sharp knife to hollow out a large indentation. (Alternately, tomatoes may be halved like boats).
- Cut the top off the eggplant and hollow out the inside (or cut in half).
- Cut off a thin slice from the top of the tomatoes and scoop out the flesh (may be added to the cooking sauce), leaving a firm rim to hold the stuffing.
- Slice off the top of the onion, and hollow out a bowl-shaped space. Cut a slice off the bottom so the onion will stand upright.
- If using round zucchini, cut off the top as a lid and hollow out the flesh with a spoon. If using long zucchini, cut off the top and tail, and cut into 8 centimeter (about 3 inch) pieces. Hollow out each piece leaving a rim. Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and turn over on a rack to drain for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse and pat dry.
- Set all the vegetables aside, cut side down.
- Cut the top off the pears and use an apple corer to scoop out the insides leaving enough at the base so the filling will not escape.
- Mix together all the ingredients for the stuffing and stuff the vegetables and pears, pressing down gently on the filling. Lightly oil the bottom of one or two of the largest, widest cooking pots you have, preferably with shallow sides.
- Prepare the sauce (recipe follows), and pour over and around the vegetables. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 45-60 minutes, checking occasionally to see that there is enough liquid in the pan. If not, add a little more boiling water.
- Mix the dried fruit strips with the raisins, chopped bell peppers and mint leaves, and sprinkle on top of the vegetables and pears. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the fruit is just tender but still brightly colored. Serve warm.
- Heat 1½ tablespoons olive oil in a skillet, and sauté the onion until golden.
- Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, ½ tablespoon paprika, salt and pepper and a teaspoon of honey. Stir and slowly add 1½ cups water, bring to a boil and cook, partially covered, over medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
Adapted from “The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking” by Phyllis Glazer and Rabbi Miriyam Glazer (Harper-Collins)