Sukkot is a Jewish holiday that offers thanks for the fall harvest of fruits, vegetables and grains. It is the custom to build an outdoor sukkah, which resembles the small huts that farmers lived in during the harvest season in biblical times. To strengthen the harvest image, apples, grapes and other fresh and dried fruits are hung overhead.
Nowadays, Sukkot (which begins Friday evening) is also a time when families invite friends to share their meals outdoors in the sukkah during the eight days of the holiday. This year, my menu will follow the custom of including hearty soups, which are a perfect choice because they can be made in advance and easily served.
I just returned from Italy with a great recipe for a kale and bean soup that is combined with grilled halibut, which transforms the dish into a main course.
It was inspired by Francesco Berardinelli, chef/owner of two restaurants in Tuscany: Osteria di Rendola near Montevarchi, and Becco Fino, a new restaurant along the Arno River in Florence.
Francesco is extremely creative and has been featured in several food magazines this year as one of the hot young chefs of Italy. He explains this unusual combination by saying that texture is very important to his cooking and that the creamy soup complements the crisp grilled surface of the halibut.
Another good main course would be mushroom and barley soup. Based on an old family recipe, my version includes lots of fresh shiitake mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery and garlic. But it contains no meat, making it a good choice if some of your guests are vegetarians.
The technique of sauteing all of the ingredients first and then adding the stock brings out the intense mushroom flavor of this robust soup.
These two soups are good on the first day but even better when reheated and served on the second day. Give your family a choice--serve both during the holiday and let them choose their favorite.
For dessert, serve lemon ice or a lemon poundcake as a modern-day counterpart of the etrog, a type of citron that is an important symbol used in the ceremony observing the holiday.