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Just in Time for the Holiday: Foods That Look Like Little Torahs

October 8, 2009 By:
Louise Fiszer
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BEYOND CHICKEN SOUP

Small lit candles inserted into red apples that perched on top of handheld Israeli flags constitute fond memories for me of Simchat Torah. Along with other members the junior congregation, I danced joyously in synagogue, waving those flags to commemorate the gift of the Torah to the Jews. But whatever did happen to all those apples?

I'm almost certain that some resourceful Jewish cook collected them and made a wonderful apple dessert for the post-holiday meal.

In researching this holiday's foods, I came across several instances where stuffed cabbage (holishkes) was traditionally served in Eastern European homes, while dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) were found on Sephardic tables.

Celebrating the symbolic agricultural bounty these stuffed vegetables represented is reason enough for eating such tantalizing, tasty dishes. But I have discovered a more whimsical, captivating one: The cylindrical shapes of these vegetable bundles symbolize the scrolls of the Torah. A stretch it may be, but I can't think of a more charming excuse for making this seasonal treat.

'Dolmas' (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
(Pareve or Dairy)

2 Tbsps. vegetable oil 
11/2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium) 
8 oz. coarsely chopped mushrooms 
1/3 cup raisins 
2 tsps. dried oregano 
11/2 tsps. freshly ground black pepper 
11/2 tsps. ground cumin 
1 cup long-grain white rice 
salt to taste 
2 cups water 
18 grape leaves from jar, rinsed, drained, tough stems trimmed (available at Greek, Middle Eastern and most Italian markets) 
plain yogurt 
lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 375°.

Lightly oil 11x7-inch glass baking dish.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the onions and mushrooms, and sauté, about 8 minutes.

Mix in the raisins, oregano, pepper and cumin.

Add rice and 1 cup water; stir to blend.

Reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is partially cooked and no liquid remains, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Season with salt. Cool to lukewarm.

Place 1 grape leaf, vein side up, on work surface. Spoon 2 tablespoons rice mixture in center of leaf at widest part.

Fold bottom of leaf over. Fold sides in. Roll up. Place seam-side down in prepared dish. Repeat with remaining leaves and rice mixture, arranging in a single layer in the dish.

Pour 1 cup water over rolled grape leaves. Cover with foil; bake until rice is tender, about 40 minutes. (Can be made one day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover; refrigerate.) Serve warm or cold, with yogurt and lemon wedges.

Makes about 18 rolls.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
(Meat)

Sauce Ingredients:

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced crosswise 
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil 
1 can (28 oz. to 32 oz.) whole tomatoes, including juice 
3 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice 
3 Tbsps. packed dark brown sugar 
1/2 cup dried pitted cherries (optional) 
2 tsps. salt 
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Stuffed Cabbage Ingredients:

2 lb. cabbage 
1 lb. ground beef 
3 Tbsps. long-grain rice 
3 Tbsps. water 
1/2 cup chopped onion 
2 tsps. salt 
1/4 tsp. black pepper

To Make the Sauce: Cook the onion in oil in a 12-inch deep heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring a bit, until golden, about 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with juice, lemon juice, brown sugar, cherries, salt and pepper, and simmer, uncovered, breaking up tomatoes into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

To prepare the cabbage: Immerse the entire head of the cabbage in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook until the leaves are tender, but they still hold their shape, about 5 minutes.

Transfer cabbage with a large slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking, then drain in a colander. Separate leaves, then cut off and reserve tough stem ends. Discard core. Pat leaves dry with paper towels.

To Stuff the Cabbage Leaves: Stir together beef, rice, water, onion, salt and pepper. Spread out 1 large cabbage leaf on a work surface and put 2 tablespoons filling in center. Fold both sides of leaf toward center over filling, then fold stem over filling, and roll tightly into a cylinder.

Stuff the remaining cabbage leaves in the same manner, using less filling for smaller leaves. Chop any unused leaves, and reserved stem ends and stir into simmering sauce.

Arrange the stuffed cabbage rolls, seam-sides down, in one layer over the sauce and simmer, covered, 11/2 hours.

Stuffed cabbage rolls can be cooked two days ahead of time, then cooled. Reheat before serving.

Makes about 16 rolls.

Vegetable Blintzes
(Dairy or Pareve)

3 eggs 
1 cup water 
1/2 tsp. salt 
2 Tbsps. oil 
3/4 cup flour, sifted 
butter or oil, for frying

Filling Ingredients:

1 cup shredded cabbage 
1 cup grated carrots 
1/2 cup finely sliced green pepper 
3/4 cup diced onions 
3 Tbsps. butter or oil 
1 tsp. salt 
pinch of cayenne pepper

To Make the Blintzes: Beat the eggs, water, salt and oil. Stir in the flour.

Heat a little butter or oil in a 6-inch skillet. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the batter into it, tilting the pan to coat the bottom. Use just enough batter to make a very thin pancake.

Transfer onto a napkin, browned-side up. Make the rest of the pancakes.

To Make the Filling: Cook cabbage, carrots, green pepper and onions in the butter or oil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with the salt and cayenne.

To Fill the Pancakes: Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of the filling along one side of the pancake, then roll up like a jelly roll. Bake at 425° until browned, 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes about 18.

Caramel Apples
(Dairy)

6 apples 
1 package (14 oz.) package individually wrapped caramels 
2 Tbsps. milk

Remove the stem from each apple and press a craft stick into the top. Grease a baking sheet, preferably with butter.

Place the unwrapped caramels and the milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes, stirring once. Allow to cool briefly.

Roll each apple quickly in the caramel sauce until well-coated. Place on the prepared sheet to set and cool.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail her at: [email protected].

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