This week, any visitor to Israel unfamiliar with Jewish tradition could be somewhat taken aback by the transient-looking shacks perched on porches, set in backyards, built alongside restaurants and on hotel terraces. Lest they assume the huts are part of another social protest, it could be wise to explain they are part of the holiday tradition of Sukkot – the ancient harvest festival.
If you’re lucky enough to have your own sukkah, there’s a good chance you already know that a major factor to take into account when planning the menu is convenience – dishes that can be transported from home to hut (or kitchen to porch) without much ado, such as a meal-in-a-bowl soup or casserole made with vegetables that reflect the autumn harvest.
Even those more familiar with Sukkot traditions may not be familiar with the ancient custom of serving foods stuffed with a chopped or ‘beaten’ filling — echoing the custom of ‘beating’ willow branches during the holiday prayer for rain, which echoes the custom of thumping or beating our chest to acknowledge our sins on Yom Kippur, and stamping our feet at the mention of Haman’s name on Purim.
There are many stuffed options to choose from. Here’s one easy, healthy and absolutely delicious possibility:
Quinoa-stuffed round zucchini (Serves 8)
Check with your greengrocer or supermarket for round zucchini, perfect for stuffing, or use multicolored bell peppers (yellow, red, orange, green) instead.
- 8 medium bell peppers or 8 round zucchini
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water
- ¼ cup each: finely chopped packed fresh mint, cilantro, parsley, basil
- 4 scallions, chopped
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- 1/3 cup chopped figs
- 1/3 cup chopped pitted dates
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup pan-toasted shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped, or pine nuts *
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Two large 800 gram (14.5 ounce) cans whole tomatoes, pulverized
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1¾ cups water
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ tablespoon paprika
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Rinse round zucchini, dry and cut a ‘lid’ off the tops. Set the lids aside. Remove seeds and fibers with a spoon, making a little extra space for the filling. Turn over on a wire rack to drain while preparing the filling.
- Pour quinoa into a pot with the water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes (or follow directions on package). Remove from heat and let stand, covered, until just barely warm. Fluff with a fork.
- Add the fresh herbs, scallions, seasonings, dried fruit and pistachios or pine nuts to the quinoa and mix well with a fork. Stuff the zucchini with the mixture and replace the lids.
- Prepare the sauce: Pour olive oil into a medium pot and sauté the onion 3 to 5 minutes until golden, stirring often. Add garlic and sauté a few seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and cook over low heat 20 minutes. Remove cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes until just thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Pour 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of a large wide oven-proof pan and place the zucchini standing up inside. It can be a snug fit, and other vegetables, like carrots, may be used around the sides of the pot to keep the zucchini in place. Pour the remaining sauce around the zucchini. Cover and bake in a preheated 180C (350F) degree oven for 45 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, thin out with a little boiling water.
*To toast pistachios or pine nuts, place in a dry frying pan with no added oil. Cook over low heat until fragrant (or just golden, for the pine nuts), stirring frequently .
**Recipe adapted from Pashut Bari by Phyllis Glazer, Modan Publishers