It’s a fun life being a foodie and a Jew. Granted, aside from Yom Kippur, when we fast and pray for atonement, every other holiday requires a ridiculous amount of food as an accompaniment. Sukkot, the holiday currently being celebrated, is no exception. During Sukkot (which falls five days after the oh so somber Yom Kippur and lasts for 8 days) it is traditional to eat foods that reflect the autumn harvest. For us Floridians autumn means the humidity is down to an 80% instead of 100% and temperatures dip into the high eighties, if we are lucky. But still, autumn.
Sukkot is downright a festival of the outdoors. Sukkah’s, or temporary huts, are built and decorated with all sorts of fruits and foliage. Not only do we celebrate the harvest, but we also commemorate the 40 years of exile that Jews spent after leaving Egypt: two for the price of one.
Pay close attention to my words here: festival, celebrate, commemorate. This is all Jew-speak for EAT, EAT, and EAT.
Seriously, folks, the idea behind this holiday is to gather yourselves together, preferably with a whole bunch of other hungry people, ideally under one big Sukkah overlooking the stars and stuff your faces with lots of amazing food. One big happy Jewish outdoor potluck.
There is a tendency for stuffed foods (peppers, cabbage), possibly reflecting the cornucopia being celebrated, possibly for convenience sake (easy to travel from Sukkah to Sukkah), regardless, it is quite traditional to serve vegetables this way. Tsimmes, which is Yiddish for ‘to make a big fuss over’ is a popular Ashkenazi Jewish casserole served. Ashkenazi Jews find their roots in Eastern Europe. The tsimmes is always sweet and usually a combination of fruit, vegetables, and/or meat cooked together for a long time over a low flame. Honey or brown sugar play a crucial role as sweeteners and carrots and raisins tend to be a favorite addition.
Although I am a Sephardic Jew (whose origins trace themselves to Spain and the Middle East), I enjoy hopping over to the Ashkenazi palate and dabbling in these holiday favorites. Since I don’t have memories of grandmother’s Tsimmes and my wonderful aunts (both stellar chefs) filled our holiday tables with such Sephardic specialties as Braised Chicken with Honey and Tomatoes, Rice with Curry and Raisins, and Moroccan Carrot Salad, I resorted to Joan Nathan, America’s most reliable culinary expert on Jewish Cooking, for my Sukkot tsimmes this year. Instead of the popular carrot taking center stage, this dish is made with mashed sweet potatoes, heightened with pineapple, and, as an ode to Thanksgiving (which is soon approaching) the whole dish is topped with marshmallows and baked.
When I made it for my synagogue, I figured, what dish can go wrong with marshmallows? And I was right. Kids were drawn to it because of its gooey delight, and adults where dazzled by its sweet yet slightly tart taste. Either way, I came out a winner, adding one more satisfying dish under a Sukkah bursting with culinary celebration.
Sweet Potato Tsimmes with Pineapple
(adapted from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook)
6 sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter or pareve margarine
16 ounces crushed pineapple, undrained
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 package marshmallows
Peel and quarter the sweet potatoes. Place in cold water, bring to a boil, and boil for ten minutes or until tender. Mash potatoes in a bowl.
Stir in butter until fully incorporated. Add pineapple, salt, and brown sugar.
Spoon mixture into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Heat for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and add marshmallows on top, slightly pressing them into the dish.
Bake another 10 minutes, or until marshmallows turn golden brown.