Of all the family-oriented holidays on the Jewish calendar, Sukkot, which entails setting up a temporary house, is probably the most homey of all. There’s nothing more inviting than a sukkah, the one-room harvest hut whose interior walls are draped with apples and eggplants, peppers and squash, plus handicrafts and children’s artwork. With the scent of autumn leaves in the air, these backyard dwellings are perfect settings for chatting and dining during Sukkot’s eight days. “We invite people into our sukkah who don’t have one,” says Sandra Blank, the editor of “The Kosher Palette II: Coming Home” (2006). Published by the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, N.J., this community cookbook of more than 300 recipes follows the wildly successful “Kosher Palette,” which sold more than 70,000 copies worldwide.
“My husband in particular feels strongly about sharing the joy of our sukkah,” Blank says. “It’s a busy week with a lot of cooking and entertaining. The more people who come to our sukkah, the happier I am.”
She explains that in today’s fast-paced world, people treasure time at home. “In creating a sequel cookbook, we wanted to honor the home, to reflect peoples’ lifestyles, to be welcoming and warm.”
When she conducted research to discover trends for the new cookbook, she spoke to people around the country. Many of them felt the tragedy of 9/11 instilled an appreciation for family and the value of sharing meals with loved ones. She knew that a cookbook celebrating home would strike the right chord.
Like its predecessor, “The Kosher Palette II” evolved into a community project, bringing together Kushner Academy parents as they contributed their most enticing recipes, the ones that remind their families of home. The new cookbook, which is available at Jewish bookstores nationwide and can be ordered online at www.thekosherpalette.org , features sophisticated international recipes, typical of both Ashenazi and Sephardi cuisine.
“The recipes are well tested — it’s a book you can rely on,” says Blank, adding that these dishes appeal to both children and adults.
Blank, who teaches studio art to 11th and 12th graders at Kushner Academy, sends her four children to the Orthodox school.
Because school is closed in observance of Sukkot, she has the opportunity to cook a cornucopia of food. She gushes about autumn recipes from her latest cookbook.
Sweet Potato Puree with Almond Streusel is a tempting alternative to noodle kugel. Sweetened with orange juice and dark brown sugar, its soft center plays counterpoint to its crunchy topping.
Fall Starburst is a deeply satisfying casserole filled with butternut squash, Granny Smith apples, and cranberries, artistically arranged to bring the brilliance of autumn hues to the table.
Herbed Standing Rib Roast is a crowd pleaser that requires minimal preparation for the impact of its presentation. Its intense aroma and taste emerge from a sensational spice rub.
“The Kosher Palette II” is not just about recipes but creating an ambience to enjoy the flavor of food and the glow of family. The book offers tips on decorating tables so festively they could grace magazine covers. Here’s how to turn an ordinary table into an enticing harvest scene. Buy a tablecloth splashed with fall colors. Make a centerpiece by arranging gourds, squash and eggplants, accenting them with burgundy dahlias. Spread unshelled nuts around the table, along with pillar candles in harvest colors.
“Our sukkah has a door,” says Blank, explaining that she leaves it open all day and during the evening meal, as a sign that friends and neighbors are welcome inside at any time. “People in our neighborhood take walks after dinner. They go sukkah hopping. Our friends pop in when they hear our conversation and laughter.”
“People know I have a plentiful array of desserts. They like their little sugar fix.” For eight nights, she bakes Apple Crisp, Pear Tatin, and a myriad of chocolate confections. After all, isn’t abundance what Sukkot is all about?
The highlight of her dessert table are Warm Chocolate Souffles, decadent confections that are a surprising departure from the usual fruit desserts on Sukkot. Served in individual ramekins, they are as warming as coffee on chilly nights. People go wild when they stick their spoons into molten chocolate, as the scent of cocoa fills sukkah walls.
Blank describes how her children’s artwork from school enhances their sukkah walls. “Over the years, my kids have made miniature sukkahs from popsicle sticks. We display tiny handprints and painted autumn leaves. It’s wonderful to see the children’s faces as they point out their creations, recalling how old they were when they made them. Now with digital cameras, we hang pictures of them too.”
“My husband and children eat all meals in the sukkah including breakfast,” Blank says. “Unless it rains.” In case of rain, this family recites blessings inside the sukkah at dinner over the wine and challah, as well as the after meal blessing. But they dine indoors. “Rain is so disappointing,” says Blank, who loves being surrounded by fresh air and lovely sukkah decorations.
“Some years, if the holiday falls early in the season, it can be warm and muggy, even at night,” she says. “But in cold weather, we bundle up and stick it out.”
Her family waits until sundown to eat dinner, following the same rules as the Shabbat. “The actual time we sit down is dependent on when Sukkot falls and whether we’ve changed the clocks yet or not.”
Sharing the holiday with the children’s grandparents, this large loving family squeezes around the table, and the night goes on and on with hot casseroles and delightful stories.
“My association with Sukkot is that it’s a cozy holiday, filled with family, friends and fun,” Blank says. It’s the ultimate in “Coming Home”–just like the cookbook she created.
Recipes from “The Kosher Palette II”
SWEET POTATO PUREE WITH ALMOND STREUSEL (Parve)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole almonds
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup margarine, chilled and cut into pieces
Sweet Potato Puree:
4 pounds red-skin sweet potatoes
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons margarine, softened
11/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Streusel:
1. Combine all ingredients in order listed in a food processor.
2. Pulse to blend, until mixture forms small clumps. Spoon into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
For the Sweet Potato Puree:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease a 9X13-inch oval baking dish.
3. Pierce potatoes in several places with a fork.
4. Bake directly on the oven rack for 1 hour, or until very tender.
5. Cool and peel.
6. Mash flesh in a bowl with orange juice, brown sugar, softened margarine, and orange zest.
7. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Spoon into prepared baking dish.
9. Raise oven temperature to 400 degrees.
10. Scatter streusel over potatoes.
11. Bake for 40 minutes, until puree is hot and streusel is crisp.
12. Cool 5 minutes, then serve.
Yield: 8-10 servings
FALL STARBURST (Parve)
11/2 to 2 pounds butternut squash, cut into halves and seeds removed
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar (sold commercially or made at home with 1 part cinnamon to 4 parts sugar)
1. Boil squash in water to cover in a saucepan until tender. Cool until it can be handled.
2. Scoop out flesh, discarding peel.
3. Puree squash with margarine and brown sugar in a food processor.
4. Cook apples and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a saucepan for 8 to 10 minutes, or until juices begin to be released and the sugar melts and coats the apples. Set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
6. Heat cranberries with 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a saucepan until berries soften and burst, stirring often.
7. Arrange apples around the edge of a 9-inch French white oven-safe dish.
8. Pour the squash puree in the center.
9. Top with the cranberries, leaving a small border of squash. (The cranberries may bleed into the apples slightly.)
10. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for 20 minutes.
Yield: 6-8 servings
HERBED STANDING RIB ROAST (Meat)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (7-8 pound) standing rib roast
1. Grind peppercorns, bay leaves, and salt in an electric coffee or spice grinder, until they reach a powdery consistency.
2. Combine peppercorn mixture with thyme, rosemary, and garlic in a bowl.
3. Mash the mixture with the back of a spoon, until a smooth paste forms. Stir in olive oil.
4. Rub paste mixture over the surface of roast.
5. Place roast in a roasting pan and refrigerate, covered for 8 to 24 hours.
6. Let roast stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
7. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
8. Insert meat thermometer into center of meat.
9. Arrange roasting pan on middle oven rack, and roast meat for 20 minutes.
10. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast for 11/2 to 13/4 hours longer, or until a meat thermometer registers 110 degrees.
11. Remove roast to a large serving platter and let stand for 25 minutes. The roast will continue cooking, reaching about 130 degrees for medium rare.
Yield: 8-10 servings
WARM CHOCOLATE SOUFFLES (Parve)
8 ounces, good-quality semisweet chocolate
1 (8-ounce) container nondairy topping
1 cup margarine
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour, sifted
8 ramekins (3 inches in diameter and 1 3/4 inches high, holding 2/3 cup liquid)
For the truffles:
1. Chop chocolate into small nuggets.
2. Heat nondairy topping until very hot, but do not boil.
3. Pour over chocolate and stir until completely melted and combined.
4. Refrigerate covered for 8 to 12 hours, until firm.
5. With a melon-baller, scoop the mixture into small balls.
For the cakes:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Melt margarine with semisweet chocolate in a saucepan.
3. Beat eggs, egg yolks, and sugar with electric mixer, until light-colored.
4. Mix in melted chocolate.
5. Fold in flour by hand.
5. Grease 8 ramekins.
6. Pour batter into each ramekin, until 3/4 full.
7. Place a truffle in the center of each ramekin.
8. Bake for 12 minutes.
9. Cool slightly and dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Yield: 8 souffl#236;s