Sukkot is one of the rare Jewish holidays that lacks traditional dishes, which is ironic since as a harvest holiday, it’s really all about the food. There’s plenty of instruction as to what belongs on the sukkah — figs, grapes, dates, and pomegranates are often sited. But when it comes to the meals that fill this week long celebration, each family is left to their own devices.
While there are no specific dishes for Sukkot, vegetables and fruit fit well with the harvest theme. And with everyone from Mark Bittman to Bill Clinton reconsidering their meat-eating habits, it seems natural timing to create a hearty vegetarian menu for the occasion. What better way to celebrate a harvest holiday?
The main dish in my meatless Sukkot feast is a Vegetable Tagine with Couscous, a nod to the Moroccan tradition of enjoying such a dish on the first day of the holiday. Butternut squash, sweet potato, carrots, chickpeas, and just a hint of dried apricots simmer with heady spices to create a comforting, effortless meal that can be prepared in advance (it reheats beautifully) and is easily transported to the sukkah. It is also sure to satisfy even the most stalwart carnivore.
Since stuffed foods (which signify a bountiful harvest), including kreplach and stuffed cabbage, are some of the few items associated with the holiday a stuffed vegetable seemed appropriate. Instead of using a grain like rice or meat, I opted for an Italian-inspired tomato stuffed with breadcrumbs, Parmesan, pine nuts, and sautéed mushrooms and zucchini, and topped with bubbling mozzarella. Did I mention that another plus to having a meat-free Sukkot is that you can pour on the dairy?
For a salad I was able to incorporate many of the iconic Sukkot fruits for a sweet and savory mix. Mixed greens are combined with pear, dates, pomegranates, walnuts, dried cranberries, and goat cheese and topped with a pleasantly tart and not-too-sweet pomegranate vinaigrette. Figs would also make a beautiful and meaningful addition.
Finally, for dessert, fruits and nuts seemed fitting, and so my mind instantly turned to a comforting fruit crisp. Almost any in-season fruit will work here, but I chose apples, plums, and pears for a fall flavor. Mixed with prunes and raisins and topped with a buttery walnut-oat crumble, this is the quintessential autumn dessert, and a perfect way to honor Sukkot.
Vegetable Tagine with Couscous
2 tablespoons oil
2 small onions, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1 sweet potato, cut into chunks
2 carrots, cut into chunks
½ cup chopped dried apricots
4 cups vegetable stock or broth, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 20-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
3 cups couscous
2 cups boiling water
1½ cups hot vegetable broth
Pomegranate seeds (optional)
1) Heat the oil in a large skillet with lid over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
2) Add the cumin, coriander, crushed red pepper, cinnamon, garlic, and tomato paste; cook for a minute or two until fragrant.
3) Add the squash, sweet potato, carrots, and dried apricots and toss well to coat. Pour 2½ cups of the stock and the lemon juice over the vegetables and bring to a gentle simmer.
4) Cook partially covered over a low heat for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chickpeas, parsley, and cilantro and simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
5) Meanwhile, put the couscous in a large baking dish and spread it into a thin, even layer. Pour over the boiling water and remaining 1½ cups broth and cover with a lid or tin foil. bring Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed into the couscous. Fluff gently with a fork.
6) To serve, put the couscous on a large serving platter. Spoon the vegetable tagine on top. Garnish with additional chopped parsley and cilantro, plus pomegranate seeds if you like.
For the Salad:
9 ounces mixed greens
1 pear, sliced
½ cup pitted and sliced Medjool dates
¼ cups pomegranate seeds
½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts
½ cups dried cranberries
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
For the Vinaigrette:
½ cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon date honey (sub regular honey)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1) Make the Salad: Put all the ingredients in a salad bowl. Toss with pomegranate vinaigrette (recipe below) or serve on the side.
2) For the Vinaigrette: Combine all the ingredients in a food processor, or vigorously whisk together by hand. Taste and adjust as necessary.
Note: To make pareve simple omit the goat cheese.
Stuffed Tomatoes with Zucchini, Mushrooms, Parmesan, and Pine Nuts Yield: 6 servings
½ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cups pine nuts
6 large, ripe tomatoes
1 zucchini, chopped (about 1½ cups)
1½ cups chopped mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Freshly ground pepper
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1) Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
2) Prepare the tomatoes: Slice the top off each tomato and, using a knife and spoon carefully scoop out the seeds from the inside so the tomatoes form little cups. Lightly grease a baking dish with olive oil. Put the tomatoes in the dish so the open end is up. Set aside.
3) Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini, mushrooms, onion, and garlic and sauté until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl to cool slightly.
4) Meanwhile, heat a small nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and pine nuts and toast until golden brown, about 5 minutes (be careful not to burn them).
5) Gently stir in the Parmesan, toasted breadcrumbs and pine nuts, and parsley to the zucchini and mushroom mixture. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon the filling into each tomato.
6) Bake 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and top evenly with the mozzarella. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, another 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender but not blistering and the cheese has melted.
Note: To make pareve omit the Parmesan and mozzarella. It will still be very tasty.
Apple-Plum-Pear Crisp with Prunes and Walnuts
2 pears, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
2 green apples, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
4 small black plums, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
½ cup prunes (from about 6 prunes)
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ cup corn starch
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
5 tablespoons butter
1) Preheat the oven to 350F.
2) Toss together the pears, apples, plums, prunes, raisins, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and corn starch in a large bowl. Transfer to an 11- by 9-inch baking pan and set aside.
3) Make the topping: mix together the flour, oatmeal, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts. Stir in the butter until it is fully incorporated and so that coarse crumbs form (I find using my hands works best).
4) Spread the topping evenly over the filling.
5) Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, 45 minutes to 1 hour, until top is golden brown and filling starts to bubble up. Remove from the oven and allow to rest before serving.