Right on the heels of Yom Kippur, the search is on. Children go about fishing for corn stalks, leaves and fallen tree branches - all essential items for the sukkah - to be built in backyards, patios or even on condominium balconies.
Sukkot is a joyous festival, and building the sukkah can be a family project. In ancient times, the sukkah was a flimsy shelter built by farmers bringing in the harvest. Not so today. Modern structures are sturdier and elaborately decorated.
Cranberries are threaded on string; lanterns and chains are made from colored paper; and even the youngest can help by handing Indian corn and shapely gourds to grown-ups perched high on ladders. Corn stalks and branches are arranged loosely over a roof trellis so stars can be seen at night.
Instead of hanging apples and fresh fruits inside the sukkah, you might want to substitute plastic fruit and vegetables. Fresh produce does attract bees and other insects, especially when food is laid out, and plastic items have the benefit of being recyclable. In Israel, decorations are more exotic with fruits like pomegranates, grapes, oranges and star fruit (carambolas), which are indigenous to the area. Bright carpets are often used for the walls.
A fresh etrog and lulav are essential symbols. These make up the four species that are blessed during Sukkot. The lulav is made up of a palm branch, myrtle and willow branches, but the most important is the etrog. This citrus fruit looks like a large lemon, but is more rind than flesh. Many homemakers collect etrogs after the holiday to make a marmalade.
But feasting is the keynote during the seven days of Sukkot. We're instructed to read, relax and eat as many meals as possible in the sukkah, so a table and comfy chairs are arranged inside.
In keeping with this thanksgiving harvest festival, the sumptuous Sukkot supper that follows is based on the freshest produce of the season.
1 small shallot
2 Tbsps. margarine, divided
8 oz. white mushrooms, cleaned
2 Tbsps. parsley sprigs, divided
white pepper to taste
8 thin slices French bread, lightly toasted
Cut shallot in small pieces. Mince in the food processor.
Heat 1 tablespoon margarine in a medium, nonstick skillet over a medium heat.
Add the shallot. Sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.
Place the mushrooms, including stalks and 1 tablespoon of parsley, in a food processor (no need to wash after mincing the shallot). Process to mince. Place in a clean towel; twist tightly to extract any liquids.
Add to shallots in skillet. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, or until mixture resembles a thick paste. Do not brown. Season to taste with pepper. Chill.
Soften the remaining butter and brush over one side of the bread.
Spread thickly with chilled mixture and serve. Garnish each piece with a parsley sprig.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 66; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 109 mg.
Caramelized Parsnips and Carrot
Parsnips and carrots with their firm texture and high sugar content caramelize easily. Buy baby carrots in a bag, peeled and ready to use.
4 parsnips (about 1 lb.), peeled
12 peeled baby carrots
11/2 tsps. dried thyme
3 Tbsps. olive oil
3 Tbsps. honey, warmed
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Cut parsnips into strips, about three-quarter-inches thick and 3 inches long.
Arrange the parsnips and carrots in a single layer.
Sprinkle with thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and honey. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss to coat vegetables.
Pour a teaspoon of water into baking sheet.
Bake until bottom of vegetables are golden-brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and turn vegetables over to brown all sides.
Bake about 25 minutes more, until tender and nicely browned.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 241; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 38 g; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 22 mg.
4 tilapia fillets (about 6 oz. each)
2 Tbsps. matzah meal
11/2 tsps. paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano
tiny pinch cayenne pepper
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
In a shallow dish, combine the matzah meal, paprika, oregano and cayenne.
Dip each fillet in the mixture, tapping off any excess.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fillets.
Cook quickly, 2 to 3 minutes each side, until crisp and cooked through (flakes should be opaque when separated with point of a knife).
Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 363; protein, 33 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 24 g; cholesterol, 102 mg; sodium, 87 mg.
2 red bell peppers
1 green bell pepper
1 cup cherry tomatoes (about 16), quartered
2 Tbsps. chopped black olives
11/2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsps. olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Quarter peppers lengthwise through stem. Remove the seeds and ribs. Place, cut-sides up, in a baking dish.
In a bowl, toss tomatoes, olives, cheese and basil. Season with salt and pepper.
Fill pepper quarters with the mixture, dividing evenly.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
Bake until peppers are beginning to soften, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until cheese turns pale golden, about 10 minutes longer.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 117; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 4 g; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 8 mg; sodium, 79 mg.
Lemon Rice Pilaf
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced leeks
1 package (6 oz.) rice-pilaf mix, such as Near East
2 thin slices lemon, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks. Sauté until leeks are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add 13/4 cups water and bring to boil.
Stir in the rice and contents of spice sack (included in pilaf mix). Return to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat to low.
Simmer 20 to 25 minutes, until liquid is almost absorbed.
Stir in the lemon and parsley. Remove from heat. Fluff up with a fork. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 174; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 33 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 599 mg.
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup mini-chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate
Combine all ingredients.
Makes 11/4 cups.
Approximate nutrients per tablespoon: calories, 29; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 2 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 4 mg; sodium, 16 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Reach her at: www.kosherfoodconsultants.com .