Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sukkot 2011

Sam helping to build a Cambridge Sukkah last year

Last night was supposed to be the night that Sam and I went to buy our set of four species (lulav/palm frond, etrog/citron, hadasim/myrtle and aravot/willow) for Sukkot, the week long holiday which starts this Wednesday evening commemorating when God settled the nation in sukkot (booths/huts) after the Exodus, marking the beginning of the harvest and judgement time for rain. Shopping two nights before the start of the holiday would have been the most advanced planning in my history of buying lulav and etrog - but alas, a meeting ran long and a Judaica shop closed early, and we again found ourselves buying the night before the holiday.

A harvest bouquet

But I used to cut it even closer. Since I was about eight-years-old, my dad would take me and my brother down to the lower East side on the morning eve of the holiday to look for the best sets at the best prices. Vendors were wrapped along Essex and Grand Streets, hawking their agricultural cum religious goods from rickety folding tables. Long-rectangular card board boxes in front of the tables held dozens of jostled, thin, palm fronds from Israel, and leafy willow and myrtle stalks sprayed in a myriad of directions from white buckets flanking the tables. The table tops were reserved for the crown jewels - individually boxed yellow and green citrons, fragrant and padded by Styrofoam. It's the beauty and the value of those etrogs, sourced from Israel, Spain, Itlay, that drive the price of the sets - and if you've ever seen the movie Ushpizin you know some people are willing to pay A LOT for one. But vendors still burdened with merchandise at the 11th hour were willing to part with their etrogs and accompanying species for rock bottom prices - $30, $20 even $15.

Past him and hers etrog selections

In our hunt for our sets, my father taught us what to look for in each of the four species that makes them kosher - a lulav must have a straight spine and a green tip that isn't split or dried out, an etrog ought to be blemish free and have it's special stem, called a pitom, intact (or grow without one), aravot and hadassim should be healthy and leafy and not have significant gaps between the leaves. Aside from the legal markings, we each had aesthetic preferences that we sought - I like pitom-less green etrogs and a manageable sized lulav - my dad loves large yellow etrogs with an indentation around its middle to grip on to and for his lulav to be covered in brown. Being with someone you love when they find their perfect set gives you the same satisfaction as when a good friend finds their soul mate - though the feeling is shorter lived as the whole process will be repeated this time next year. I have schooled Sam in picking out a set according to Jewish law and according to what is beautiful in the eye of the beholder. He loves yellow etrogs - but it's smell that is more important to him than looks.  Unfortunately, in Beantown we lack the Lower East side fair market for the four species - so we end up shelling out more than double the NY prices to each get a set that we love.

Sam and set circa 2004

Now you may have read all of this and thought - is she nuts? That much money on non-local produce, that much time examining leafy greens? But to me it isn't tedious and it isn't a waste of money - it's a true joy (though slightly obsessive behavior - especially after we get the sets home and debate the best way to store them for the week - Fridge? Vase? Wet paper towel? Tin foil? We want them to look their best during holiday services when we will parade around with them). It is a process that involves appreciating natural beauty and is part of the Biblical commandment for this particular holiday to "rejoice in the holiday and be only happy."

Our High Holiday Vichinsky honey pot - you can get your own at judaicapottery.com

The other way that we ensure that we are "only happy" is by bundling up to eat warm food at night in the sukkah with friends and continuing to pour honey over round challahs in the face of buzzing bees during the day. I have experienced the holiday of Sukkot in warmer climates - Israel, California - but what those of us stuck in colder climates need is warm soups on cold nights. I have one to share that was a hit over Rosh Hashana - as well as six more so that you can have soup at every meal. I'm hoping that the roasted red pepper soup wards off the threatening rain here. The bright red color perks you up, while and the smooth texture lulls you into relaxation and enjoyment.

Cardulo's Rosh Hashana Specials in Harvard Square

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

8 red peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, husk removed
5 cups Vegetable or Chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)
Chile or Curry powder (optional, for heat)

Clean and halve the red peppers, remove the seeds and broil them until they are partially blackened and limp. Pop them into a brown bag to cool - you'll then have an easier time removing the peel.

In a large pot saute the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the broth, potatoes, garlic cloves. Peel the skin off of the red peppers, add them to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may also want to add a bit of heat with a spice such as curry or chile.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Sukkot Soup Round Up:
Here are soups from Double Portion that are sure to continue warming you up in the sukkah
  1. Lentil Soup With a Kick 
  2. Oxtail Soup (buy Osso Bucco at Grow and Behold with the Double Portion discount!)
  3. Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup
  4. Tomato Bisque
  5. Chicken Soup with Ginger
  6. Lamb Chulent

This post is linked to Real Food Digest Sukkot 2011 Blog Carnival.

Farmer's Market harvest


  1. We are sure going to need warm soup in MI when Sukkout falls out this late in the season. Hummm - which one to try? Have an amazing Yom Tov.

  2. Thanks Jenn. Hope you guys are keeping warm - did you try any soups? I may make a french onion soup tonight that a friend made for Shabbat dinner. Yum. Chag Sameach.