Sukkot is the Festival of Booths, Huts, and/or Ingathering, depending on where you get your information. The third agricultural festival of the secular calendar, and the one that corresponds to the end of our growing season, it is a celebration of the bounty of the season and thanks to God for making it happen.
Sukkot is a particularly fun holiday in my book — you eat outside under your sukkah, use food as art, and revel in the freshest stuff the farmers market has to offer — because it doesn’t matter where you’re celebrating, the point is to celebrate what grew in your neck of the woods.
It’s like Thanksgiving, but during a season when stuff is still being harvested, instead of late November when it’s frosty. Many of your Thanksgiving favorites make sense for Sukkot, too — mashed potatoes, baked squash, apple pie — but don’t feel limited!
Make this year’s Sukkot an excuse to eat locally.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate into your cooking more traditional Sukkot foods from the holy land; things like dates (or figs, grapes, or pomegranates — all in season over there right now), lemon (the closest thing we have to citron, etrog), and wheat. And because this year, strangely enough, we’re still harvesting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant (which are normally mid-summer standbys), I vote we include these highly untraditional players.
So what does a meal incorporating whatever we want — as long as it’s fresh — look like?
I propose sauteed chicken breasts with honey-date sauce, lemon couscous, and late-summer vegetable ragout.
Not a meat eater? Not a problem. In fact, I may go so far as to say that serving the honey-date sauce stir-fried with diced tofu is better than having it with the chicken. Your call!
And, like all good meals that use fresh, locally grown goods ought to be, this meal is terribly simple, yet impressive both in taste and presentation, with tons of color, layers of flavor that come together easily, and light preparation that makes it perfect for this in-between season when you’re ready to give up the chips and salsa, but not quite itching to roast parsnips (we’ll save that for a later post).
- Start the couscous right away.
- Chop the vegetables once the couscous is underway, and get them going in a pot.
- Start cooking the chicken breasts.
- Remove the couscous from heat and stir in lemon juice and zest.
- Make the honey-date sauce.
- Keep stirring the veggies and turning the chicken. Deglaze the chicken a couple times while it’s cooking to get some nice, sweet flavor going on them.
Recipe: Lemon Couscous
One 10 oz box couscous (I like whole-wheat for its nutritional values, but it will also be great with roasted garlic-olive oil, toasted pine nut, or even Israeli couscous.)
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/4 C olive oil
Prescribed amount of liquid according to box (I would suggest using salted water or broth/stock)
- Prepare couscous according to directions on box.
- When you remove the couscous from heat, before you cover it, stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and olive oil.
- Cover until the rest of the meal is prepared. Fluff with a fork.
Recipe: Late-Summer Vegetable Ragout
Roughly equal parts bell pepper, onion, eggplant, and zucchini, or any other semi-firm, colorful vegetables (I used one pepper, half a large onion, one small eggplant, and two small zucchini, and it easily fed four people)
Twice as many tomatoes than any other vegetable (I used one large and three small tomatoes)
Salt & pepper
A couple leaves of basil, or about 1 tsp minced herb (anything in season will work)
- Roughly chop tomatoes and add them to a large pot over medium-high heat.
- Cut all your remaining vegetables into thin strips, about 3-inches in length (almost a julienne). They will cook nicely and evenly this way.
- Add the onions to the pot, letting them sizzle a little before adding the rest of the veggies.
- Season well. Seriously. Add a little more black pepper.
- Stir frequently, coating everything in the softened tomatoes. When they are cooked to your liking, turn the heat to low and put a lid on the pot (I like mine a little softer).
Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Honey-Date Sauce
1 lb-1.25 lbs chicken breasts, cut in half if they’re extra large
Salt & pepper
1 C dates (about 17), chopped
1 oz honey (I like orange blossom, but use whatever you find)
8 oz apple or pear juice + ~6-8 oz to deglaze the chicken
1/4 tsp ground clove
- Put a little oil in the bottom of a skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add them to the pan.
- Meanwhile, in a blender, food processor, or a bowl with an immersion blender, combine the remaining four ingredients and process until mostly smooth. (Because the dates are dried, you probably won’t get it 100% smooth, and that’s totally A-OK.)
- Flip the chicken breasts and pour a little apple/pear juice into the pan. In a couple of minutes, the juice with begin to thicken. Move the chicken around to coat.
- Cook breasts for about 15 minutes total, deglazing 2-4 times, making sure to get as much delicious syrup on the chicken as possible.
- Top breasts with honey-date sauce (either in the pan, or on the serving plate). If you add it in the pan, let the sauce get a little warm.