For Jews all the world over, it’s the trifecta of delicious feasting: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with its apples and honey and all things sweet; followed eight days later by Yom Kippur, a solemn fasting day, but—no worries—it culminates in the dairy extravaganza we call Break-the-Fast; followed by the harvest festival of Sukkot, celebrated this year from sundown October 13 to sundown October 20.
One aspect of the holiday is a celebration of G-d’s bountifulness, fruits and vegetables figure prominently on the menu. Convenience is the order of the day, as dishes should be easily transported from the house to the Sukkah, such as soups or casseroles. In addition, as Phyllis Glazer and Miriyam Glazer write in “Jewish Festival Cooking” (Harper/Collins, $29.95):“Stuffed foods made with a chopped or ‘beaten’ filling are traditional fare on Sukkot (when we ‘beat’ willow branches in our prayer for rain).”
Last year at a sumptuous pre-Rosh Hashanah celebration held at the home of Fullerton residents Anne and Jim Kalen I tasted a marvelous eggplant appetizer and, of course, with Sukkot in mind, had to get the recipe. The dish has now become a staple for our Sukkot celebration. Zina Tsukerman was happy to share it as well as the harrowing story of her immigration to America from Belarus in 1989 with husband, Ilya, and children, Yelena and Dmitry, then 12 and 5.
“We had applied to leave for 10 years,” she told me. “They wouldn’t let us go. We had moved into a new apartment and were remodeling, but when we finally got permission, we just jumped. It happened so fast.”
Anti-Semitism in Belarus was rampant, she said. “There was one horrible night when people were saying, ‘Tonight they’re going to kill the Jews.’ My maid of honor, who is not Jewish, said, ‘Zina, grab your family, and I will hide you,’ but I couldn’t put her family at risk. So my husband and I moved the washer and dryer to the door. My husband took out an ax and said, ‘At least they will have to get through me to get to you guys.’
“At 6:00 am we hear these drunken voices singing this song that they used to sing years ago when they were doing the pogroms and killing the Jews. They were probably just being funny, but we were scared. My husband said, ‘It’s happening,’ but nothing happened, thank G-d.”
When Zina applied for a job, she thought she had it, “but line five asked for nationality and it says ‘Jew.’ Then they said, ‘Sorry the position is filled.’ Your neighbor might be nice, but when they were drunk they would chant, ‘Kill the Jews and save Russia.’ It was a way of life.”
Known today by her family and friends as a creative and talented chef, Tsukerman credits her mother and grandmother with teaching her to cook. “They were real good cooks but not bakers,” she noted. “I learned to bake from my friend Olga, who had a Hungarian mother. Sometimes her recipe came out better in my kitchen than hers, and she would joke that it probably was my oven.
“Olga had applied to go to Australia and left two months before we did. In Rome we had to look for an apartment, and the first person I see is my Olga. We were like sisters. My husband found his elementary school teacher there too. You wouldn’t believe who you might meet that you never thought you’d see them again. I thought it was an adventure. When you’re young it doesn’t matter.”
With the tradition of serving stuffed foods for Sukkot in mind, I looked for a dessert for this year’s celebration. I found just the thing in Rivky Kleinman’s “Simply Gourmet” (Artscroll, $31.49). Her S’mores Rugelach stuffed with a chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker filling, invoke the outdoors, perfect for Sukkot when we dine al fresco in the Sukkah under the stars. “S’mores aren’t just to be enjoyed around a campfire,” she writes.
Already well-known for her wildly popular “Bais Yakov Cookbook,” with “Simply Gourmet” Kleiman has put together a stunning collection of over 135 recipes that live up to its title. These are tasty gourmet recipes that are beautiful to serve, yet easy to prepare, including Duck Confit Crostini with l’Orange Glaze, Chili-Lime Rubbed Delmonico, Creamy Pesto Chicken, Brown Butter Barimundi, Exotic Wild Mushroom Soup, Vanilla Rum Crepes with Nut Drizzle and Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie – all adding a touch of class to the kosher kitchen.
Zina Tsukerman’s Doobie (Eggplant Appetizer)
“This eggplant dish we call ‘Doobie,’ which means ‘teeth’ in Russian, because it’s a spicy bite.”
2 medium or 3 small eggplants, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds
Juice of 2 large lemons
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
6-7 cloves garlic, squeezed
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
Sriracha, to taste (optional)
3/4 cup olive oil
Garnish: Pomegranate seeds, chopped parsley
- Salt eggplant slices generously to remove bitterness: let stand about 30 minutes.
- Mix remaining ingredients for marinade.
- Wipe salt off eggplant slices with paper towels. Line baking sheet with nonstick foil or spray with vegetable spray. Place eggplant rounds on baking sheet in a single layer; broil about 2 minutes on each side until soft and brown. While hot, poke rounds with fork. Dip each hot round in marinade and place in deep glass or enamel nonreactive dish. Cover with a plate; let stand a couple of hours. (It is not necessary to refrigerate when serving the same day. Or refrigerate up to a month.)
- To serve, arrange eggplant rounds on a plate, and sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley or any green herb you like.
For the prettiest rugelach, make sure to roll them tightly.
2½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon fine kosher salt
1 cup (two sticks) cold butter or non-dairy margarine, cubed, plus about ½ stick, melted, for brushing
2 to 8 tablespoons (depending on how you measure flour) milk or non-dairy milk
About 1 cup chocolate spread
About 1 cup marshmallow cream
1 sleeve (about 10) graham crackers, crushed
¼ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (see note), 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 ounces quality chocolate, melted
- In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in cold butter cubes until mixture is crumbly (can also be mixed by hand.) Mix in milk a tablespoon at a time until you get a smooth dough that does not stick to your hands. Divide dough into 3 equal portions; shape each into a ball.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll one ball of dough into an approximately 12-inch circle. Spread a thin layer of chocolate spread (about 1/3 cup) up to about 1/2 inch from the edge of the circle, then a thin layer of marshmallow cream (about 1/3 of a cup). (You can warm marshmallow cream in microwave-safe bowl in microwave for a few seconds to soften, easing the spreading process.) Sprinkle 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs over marshmallow cream. Cut into 12 wedges. (I use a pizza wheel.) Roll up wedges tightly from outer edge to the point. Repeat with remaining 2 balls of dough.
- Place rugelach, point side down, onto prepared baking sheet; form into crescent shapes. Brush rugelach with melted butter.
- Optional garnish: In small bowl, combine sugar, vanilla sugar, and cocoa. Sprinkle generously over rugelach.
- Bake 16-18 minutes or until lightly browned. Do not overbake. (Check bottoms.) If any filling oozes out, remove it while cookies are still warm. Allow to cool. If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate.
Note: Vanilla sugar, a popular ingredient in Europe but not as common here, is granulated sugar infused with vanilla so it retains its granular texture. You can find it in specialty stores or online, or make your own: Scrape a vanilla bean and add the seeds and the open pod to your container of sugar, shake it up and allow it to infuse for a week to a month.
Adapted from: “Simply Gourmet” by Ricky Kleiman
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at