Dairy works for Sukkot dinners, too

Dishes like Brazilian style snapper stew are easy to bring outdoors and likely to retain their heat in a sukkah. (Linda Morel)

Dishes like Brazilian style snapper stew are easy to bring outdoors and likely to retain their heat in a sukkah. (Linda Morel)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Dairy gets short shrift on the Sukkot dinner menu.

Jewish cookbooks typically feature plenty of recipes for hearty soups and stews, tzimmes and brisket.

"Sukkot is a time of celebration and rejoicing," says Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, director of the Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living for the Union for Reform Judaism. "In a purely customary way, meat is seen as a bigger deal than dairy foods."

Many Jews will consume milk and cheese for breakfast and lunch during the holiday’s eight days, but there’s no halacha, Jewish law, that says dairy is taboo for the main meal of the harvest festival.

Unlike latkes at Chanukah, charoset at Passover or hamantaschen at Purim, Sukkot never became associated with specific dishes, Wasserman says. This leaves options on what to prepare during Sukkot.

Soups, stews and casseroles have become popular at Sukkot, particularly among those living in colder climates. These dishes are relatively easy to bring outdoors, and they’re more likely to retain their heat inside a chilly sukkah far longer than food presented on platters.

"Our sukkah sits on a porch behind our house," Wasserman says. "We ferry everything to the back. We eat a lot of soup during Sukkot. My husband is our family cook, and he’s a great soup maker."

In many parts of the country it’s beginning to get chilly outside, so soup is a warming way to start a meal.

Stews make sense because they are portable and one can practically have an entire meal in one pot, she adds.

"You don’t have to transport as many dishes of food outside," Wasserman says. "All you need to do is add noodles or rice."

Drawing on the holiday’s culinary themes, Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup falls into the genre of thick soups, which symbolize the bounty of the harvest. Spinach and cheese casseroles, hailing from many Sephardic cultures, including Italy and Greece, are perennially popular at dairy meals throughout the year.

Confections calling for the season’s sweetest apples have been a staple of Sukkot desserts.

Over the centuries, Sephardim and Ashkenazim immigrated to Brazil and adapted local fish stews to the laws of kashrut, finding them filling yet lighter than meat stews. The Brazilian-style snapper recipe below makes a colorful and piquant entree during Sukkot.

Wasserman says her family doesn’t change its dining ways during Sukkot.

"On some nights we eat meat for dinner, while on others we have noodle pudding and fish," she says. "But I would guess we indulge in more desserts."

As Sukkot is a simcha, a joyous celebration, it is customary to eat meat, explains Menachem Genack, the rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union.

"Meat must have been rare during biblical times, that’s why it was saved for special occasions," Genack says. "There is joy in eating meat. The sacrifices were made with meat."

Genack says that because of the festive nature of simchas, the evening meal should be significant, meaning it should consist of several courses.

"However, if eating fish is your joy, then it’s appropriate to do so during Sukkos, even at night," Genack says.

Wasserman says that because Sukkot is a harvest festival, some may think it a vegetarian holiday.

"Although many Jews eat the same fruits and vegetables hanging inside of their sukkahs, the holiday didn’t evolve in a vegetarian direction," she says.

During Sukkot, the ancient Israelites traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem carrying offerings of animals, grains, fruit, oil and wine. As the holiday marked the end of the growing season, thousands of people were able to journey to Jerusalem to offer thanks for the year’s plentiful crops.

In biblical times, Sukkot was celebrated with great revelry, and people dwelled in temporary huts – a precursor to today’s home-built sukkahs that are so creatively decorated with seasonal produce and artwork.

Genack strongly urges drinking wine with dairy dinners during Sukkot, like one would with a celebratory meal featuring meat.

"Wine represents joy and gladdens the heart," he says.

Since the early ’80s, kosher wines have become increasingly more pleasing to sophisticated palates. Complementing most fish entrees, including the menu below, several wine varietals would enhance the dairy dinner experience.

In the red wine category, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are excellent choices for mildly spiced stews. Among white wines, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio pair nicely with fish.

Has Genack ever eaten fish for dinner at Sukkot?

"Yes, of course," he says.

"Why not? If you’ve had enough meat during the days of Sukkos, then by all means partake in a dairy meal."

CREAMY CARROT GINGER SOUP Equipment: Blender and (optional) soup terrine

Ingredients: 2 medium onions, chopped 4 tablespoons olive oil 5 cups canned or fresh vegetable broth, or more, if needed 16 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into carrot sticks 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks 4-inch knob of ginger, peeled and diced finely 3 cups homogenized milk Salt and white pepper to taste

Preparation: 1. In a medium-sized pot, saute and stir onions in olive oil until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add broth, carrots, potatoes and ginger. Cover pot and bring to a boil on a low flame. Simmer until solids are mushy, about 15 minutes. (Add more broth if mixture becomes dry.) 2. Uncover pot and cool contents for handling. Ladle contents in 4 batches, one batch at a time, into a blender and puree. Pour pureed batches from blender into a large pot. 3. Add milk to puree. Combine milk and puree with a spoon. Add salt and white pepper. Recipe can be prepared to this point 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to proceed. 4. Warm soup on a low flame until simmering. Check seasonings and adjust. In the meantime, fill a soup terrine with hot water and cover. When ready to serve soup, discard water and dry terrine with a towel. Carefully ladle hot soup into terrine and carry to the sukkah. Yield: 8-10 servings.

FOUR CHEESE SPINACH SOUFFLE Equipment: 7-cup souffle dish or equivalent size round, deep casserole

Ingredients: 3 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach 1 tablespoon butter 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese 1 egg 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded, or an 8-ounce package pre-shredded 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 2 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups Asiago cheese grated, or a 5-ounce container pre-shredded

Preparation: 1. Prepare spinach according to instructions on package; cool spinach enough to handle. Place spinach in a colander, press on it with your hand and drain as much excess water as possible. Reserve in colander. 2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat souffle dish with butter. 3. In a large mixing bowl, beat ricotta and egg. Mix in mozzarella, Parmesan, flour, red pepper and salt. Add spinach and mix with a spoon until well combined. Spoon spinach mixture into souffle dish. Recipe can be made to this point a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate until continuing. 4. Evenly sprinkle Asiago cheese on top of spinach mixture. Place souffle in oven and bake 20-30 minutes, or until it bubbles and the cheese forms a golden brown crust. Serve immediately. Yield: 8-10 servings.

BRAZILIAN STYLE SNAPPER STEW Equipment: Enamel cast-iron pot in an attractive color is recommended, so stew can be prepared and served in the same pot that retains its heat outdoors.

Ingredients: 5 red snapper fillets, skinned Juice of 1 lime 7 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed Kosher salt to taste 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 1 large onion, diced 6 cloves garlic, minced 1 green bell pepper, diced 12 Italian plum tomatoes, chopped coarsely 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk 1 cup cilantro, chopped 6 scallions, finely chopped White rice, prepared according to package instructions

Preparation: 1. Rinse fillets under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Place in a non-metallic bowl. Drizzle with lime juice and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator while assembling remaining ingredients. (Fillets may whiten from acid in lime.) 2. In a large pot, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil on a medium flame and saute onion, garlic and green pepper for 5 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning. 3. Add tomatoes, crushed red pepper and salt to taste. Cover pot and simmer for 15 minutes, until tomatoes start releasing sauce. Stir often and reduce flame, if necessary. 4. Place a strainer over a bowl. Pour coconut milk through the strainer and discard gloppy solids. Turn off flame. To the pot, add coconut milk, 1/2 cup cilantro, 3 scallions and fillets, including marinade. Submerge fillets in cooking liquid. Cover pot and simmer on a medium flame for 10 minutes or until fillets turn opaque and are cooked through. Recipe can be made to this point a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat on a low flame before proceeding. 5. Sprinkle remaining cilantro and scallions on top of stew. Serve with white rice. Yield: 10 servings.

APPLE CUSTARD PIE Pastry dough: Equipment: Food processor; rolling pin; 9-inch, deep-dish pie pan

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting 1 tablespoon sugar 1/4 pound sweet butter, plus more for coating pan 1/4 cup ice water

Preparation: 1. Use food processor’s metal cutting blade. Place dry ingredients inside of its bowl. With a knife, cut butter into 4 chunks and add. Cover machine. 2. With machine running, slowly pour water through its feed tube. Within a couple of minutes, dough will form a distinct ball. 3. Dust counter and rolling pin with flour. Place dough ball on counter and with rolling pin, gently roll ball into a 10-inch circle. Cover circle with aluminum foil and fold circle in half. 4. Coat pie pan with butter. Drape folded dough to cover half the pan. Unfold dough and gently push into shape of pan. Discard foil. Cover pie pan with plastic wrap and reserve.

Pie filling: Ingredients: 3 large egg yolks 3/4 cup homogenized milk 4 tablespoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 4 Cortland or Gala apples

Preparation: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 2. Cut apples into quarters. Remove peel and core. Cut each quarter into paper-thin slices. Discard plastic wrap from pie crust and place apple slices inside of crust in concentric circles, starting from the outside and moving toward the center. Overlap apples slightly. 3. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks until foamy. Add milk, sugar and cinnamon; blend well. 4. Pour custard mixture from mixing bowl over apples. Gently rotate pie pan slightly to make sure custard seeps evenly between apple slices. 5. Bake until custard sets and apples brown well, about 1 hour. (Edges of apple slices may blacken.) Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be prepared a day ahead. Refrigerate until serving. Yield: 8-10 slices.

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