Succot: The Harvest Festival

Zeidler is a cookbook author

The Jewish holiday Succot begins at sundown Sept. 22 and lasts eight days. In biblical times, it celebrated a fruitful harvest. It also commemorates the 40 years of wandering of the Hebrews in the desert, during which time they lived in temporary huts. (The Hebrew word for "hut" is succah , and Succot is the plural.)

A good dish to serve on Succot is one of my favorite early-fall vegetables--the beautiful, glossy purple eggplant, appreciated and used extensively in Italy, Greece, France and many other countries. The eggplant can be grilled, stewed, sauteed, baked, stir-fried or broiled. It can be served in casseroles, soups, salads, sandwiches, appetizers or main courses. I have even discovered a sweet eggplant marmalade, which you might try as an accompaniment for cold meats or poultry.

Eggplants come in many shapes and sizes. Most are purple, but some varieties have an ivory or even green skin. The small, slender Japanese eggplants have a more tender skin and are a good choice for recipes that call for unpeeled eggplant. When shopping, look for eggplants that are firm and shiny without any soft spots.

In preparing eggplant, one way to improve the flavor is to slice it, sprinkle it with salt and allow to stand for a half hour or more, so the bitter juices can be drained off.

Eggplant and Tomato Appetizer is delicious served hot or cold. For a change of color, try using yellow tomatoes, which are available in most markets.

Eggplant Soup can be prepared in advance and is a perfect addition to a Succot meal. Carry it steaming hot in a large tureen from your kitchen to the outdoor succah.

EGGPLANT AND TOMATO APPETIZER

2 (about 2 pounds) eggplants, unpeeled

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

1 pound red or yellow tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup white wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon salt

Dash black pepper

Cut eggplants into 1/2-inch-thick slices, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide sticks.

Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in large non-stick skillet. Add half of eggplant sticks and saute 5 minutes. Transfer eggplant with slotted spoon to paper towels. Repeat with remaining eggplant.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add garlic and saute few minutes. Add basil, oregano, tomatoes, wine and tomato paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add eggplants and simmer until sauce is thick, about 5 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or cold. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

EGGPLANT SOUP

1 (1-pound) eggplant, unpeeled

2 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

6 cloves garlic, whole

2 roasted sweet red peppers, diced

Dash dried ground chiles

4 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 quart vegetable stock

Salt, pepper

Sour cream or yogurt

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Brush cut sides with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Place eggplant, cut side down, on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until tender, about 20 minutes. Peel off skin and discard.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant, red peppers, ground chiles, tomatoes and vegetable stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to bowl of food processor or blender and puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with sour cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

EGGPLANT MARMALADE

2 large (about 2 pounds) eggplants

4 cups sugar

4 cups water

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lemon

Wash, peel and cut eggplants in 1-inch dice. Place eggplants in large pan and add enough water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine sugar, water, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon in saucepan. Bring to boil. Add eggplants. Remove from heat. Cover and allow to stand overnight in refrigerator.

Next day, remove eggplants with slotted spoon. Boil syrup 20 minutes until thickened. Return eggplants to syrup and add lemon zest. Boil 30 minutes until syrup coats back of spoon or until candy thermometer reaches 200 to 222 degrees. Stir in lemon juice.

Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal according to manufacturer's directions. Makes about 8 (1/2-pint) jars.

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