Stuffed: Thanksgiving on Hope Street


Last Sunday, my job was to make stuffing for 400 people. I said I’d do it because there’s a part of me that prefers to forget that it’s been 25 years since I was a caterer, and I assumed it would be as easy now as it was then.

Every year for the past nine years, Nashuva, the spiritual community led by my wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy, hosts a Thanksgiving meal at Hope Street Family Center downtown. Hope Street provides childcare, counseling and other social services to thousands of at-risk families. About 100 Nashuva volunteers from the Westside, the Valley and Silver Lake provide a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, along with arts-and-crafts projects for the children and care packages to take home. 

So, on the prior Thursday evening, I went to Costco and bought 20 pounds of onions and 15 pounds each of carrots and celery. I filled my car with enough croutons to stuff a twin-sized mattress. At home, I reached far into our storage closet to find the industrial-sized pot I last used to photograph our infant son in, with his head poking over the rim. He’s 20 now.

Things started simply enough. I chopped the vegetables, sautéed them over two burners in two quarts of canola oil, added seasoning and broth. The kitchen smelled good, like Thanksgiving.

I tossed the croutons with some chopped chestnuts, then portioned it all out in large foil banquet pans. I ladled the hot broth over the croutons and began to mix. I used a big spatula, and the boiling-hot stuffing lifted up and — onto my hands. I screamed. The glutinous mass attached the heat to my skin like culinary napalm. I jumped away — and the whole tray tumbled onto the floor, splattered my ankles. I screamed again. I lurched for the sink, my feet slid in a mound of stuffing, and down I went.

I lay on the floor, burned, bruised. My dogs wandered in to lick the turkey dressing off my wrists, like jackals on the battlefield.

Eventually, I cleaned up, cut my losses and assembled the remaining pans. On Sunday morning, I cooked them, and by lunch they were beside the turkeys in the buffet line, just like I’d planned it.

Hundreds of moms, dads and kids came to the center at Hope Street, just south of Pico, that day. People sat down with their food and began to eat. Tania Benacerraf, director of the family preservation program at Hope Street, spoke about all the things the organization does, day in and day out, to help people raise their children in health and safety. 

Over the years, as Nashuva and Hope Street collaborated on many projects, I’ve listened to the stories — of women escaping abuse; of fathers overcoming addiction; of people working two, or even three jobs to make a life for their children. I’m a very lucky person to be able to complain about my mishaps making stuffing. 

We ate together at long tables in a large function room. On a patio outside, the children created spin-art and decorated picture frames. 

Around this time of year, countless Americans stand where I stood that day: helping to serve Thanksgiving dinners in a homeless shelter, a halfway house or a soup kitchen, doing something small, even symbolic, to share this country’s enormous bounty with those less fortunate.

Nashuva’s Thanksgiving meals with Hope Street have spawned deeper ties between the two organizations. But there can be no pretending that by serving turkey and gravy we are somehow righting deep systemic wrongs. The morning after we volunteered, Congress is still debating a Farm Bill that plans to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a program so many of the hard-working moms and dads at Hope Street depend upon to feed their kids and help lift their families out of poverty. The morning after, Washington, D.C., is still treating the right to decent health care as a political game, rather than a national priority. The morning after, these people are still struggling, and I have a funny anecdote about stuffing.

But while the debates in D.C. all seem to diminish us as a nation, shared moments can still lift us up. We reach out to help some others, and they are kind enough to accept our need to help. 

Perhaps we need to help because we know from experience that ours is a nation of enormous, almost unbelievable wealth. We have seen with our own eyes that we waste more food than those we serve can ever eat. We have been in private homes larger than all of Hope Street. We need to serve because something needs to change.

Just as the families of Hope Street were settling into the meal, my wife stood and offered a blessing in English, as Julie Drucker, a Nashuva member and organizer of the event together with Carol Taubman, translated Naomi’s prayer into Spanish.

“Sometimes life can be very difficult,” Naomi said. “And we struggle to make a living and take care of our families. Thanksgiving is a time to take hope in the future and to know that together we can help each other to make a better life. And we take a moment to give thanks to God for our lives, for our friends, for the gift of community and for being together here today.”

Amen — and Happy Thanksgiving.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

For a Thanksgiving seder, it’s all about the ‘hodu’


Sitting down to the well-set table every November, even though it is filled with family and food, I always feel that something is missing — a Jewish connection to the Thanksgiving story.

A dinner without the drama of the Exodus, like the Passover seder, leaves me just with the turkey to send my spirits soaring.

It’s not that I need another haggadah — I already know why this night is different: the stuffing isn’t made of matzah meal. But what about borrowing the idea of the seder’s four cups of wine — the Tu b'Shvat seder does this, as well — to help organize the evening in a Jewish way?

Liking the idea of repeating an action four times but wanting a change from raising a glass, I played thematically with four feathers, four fall leaves, even sticking four olives — so American, yet a fruit of Israel, too — on my fingers.

For inspiration I turned to William Bradford, a passenger on the Mayflower and later the governor of Plymouth colony, who as it turned out was a figure who could bridge the gap between Puritan and Jewish narratives.

In “Of Plymouth Plantation,” his journal of the Pilgrims, Bradford made comparative references between the Pilgrims’ voyage and the Israelites' Exodus. Later in life, according to Stephen O’Neill, the curator of Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth Mass., Bradford “taught himself Hebrew,” even writing a book of Hebrew exercises.

According to Bradford’s journal, the Mayflower Pilgrims gave thanks upon their landing: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees & blessed ye God of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast & furious ocean,” reads the text.

“Let them therfore praise ye Lord, because he is good,” wrote Bradford, quoting from Psalm 107, which in Hebrew begins with the word “hodu,” “give thanks.” Here was my repeating element.

Saying hodu, or thanks, four times in my Thanksgiving seder would work, and in a fortuitous Hebrew play on words, hodu also happens to mean “turkey.”

First hodu: Begin your Thanksgiving seder with a blessing over a glass of wine or juice. Though historians think the Pilgrims probably drank water at the first Thanksgiving, they were not teetotalers — they later produced a hard cider, even a watered-down version for children.

Then say a Shehecheyanu. During their first year in the New World, slightly more than half of the Mayflower’s 102 passengers survived. Sitting together around the table and saying this blessing — especially in a year when nature has made it painfully clear how fragile life can be — reminds us that God grants us life, sustains us and enables us to reach this day.

Since the first Thanksgiving followed the corn harvest, the hamotzi blessing is in order. Break some bread — at this seder you don’t even need to dip it once. Say a hodu for a cornucopia of blessings.

Second hodu: In 1621, Edward Winslow wrote a letter to a friend in England describing the first Thanksgiving meal shared by the Pilgrims with the Indians: “Our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”

Adding to the menu, we find in Winslow’s account that to help feed the assemblage, including 90 from the Wampanoag tribe and “their greatest king Massasoit,” the Native Americans “went out and killed five deer.”

At your table, ever thankful that someone else has done the “fowling,” and that you haven’t hit a deer with your car, somebody should hold up the turkey (or Tofurky) platter and thank the “greatest” cook.

To add a sense of family tradition to the meal, also hold up the other dishes, acknowledging what the guest households — the tribes — have contributed to the meal. One should ask, from whom was the recipe passed down?

For tables with children in elementary school, it's also a good time for show and tell. One should ask, from what did you make that lovely centerpiece? Go ahead and kvell.

Say a hodu of recognition and dig in to your Thanksgiving meal.

Third hodu: Before dessert, talk about the perilous journey of the Pilgrims toward religious freedom from England to Holland and finally to Plymouth. Each person at the table can introduce the story of their own family about coming to America; one should tell of the going out.

Say a hodu of freedom and feel free to indulge in pie.

Fourth hodu: Last year, having a guitar-playing guest at our Thanksgiving dinner really gave us a chance to sing out our feelings. After dessert we sang old American favorites like “Turkey in the Straw” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

This year I want to add a passage from “Birkat hamazon,” the grace after Meals” that begins with the words “Kakatuv, V’achalta  v‘savata,” “And you shall eat and have enough, and then you shall thank the Lord your God for the good land He gave you.”

Say a final hodu: As a guest, for the hospitality of your hosts. As a host, for the opportunity to bring together your family and friends.

Then pray you can get up from the table.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.)

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Nov. 22 – 28: Toots Shor, turkey and theater


SAT | NOVEMBER 22

(FILM)
Toots Shor counted Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason among his closest friends. His eponymous saloon on New York’s West 51st Street attracted legendary sports heroes, movie stars, gangsters and working stiffs. Now ” target=”_self”>http://www.tootsthemovie.com; ” target=”_self”>http://www.circlesocal.org.

(FAMILY)
Children’s Day predates Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the United States, but it just never caught on as a national holiday. Folks in the San Fernando Valley are hoping to change that with an inaugural Children’s Day event. The day will begin in Woodley Park, where more than 20,000 people are expected to gather for festivities that will include L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Aaron Carter, Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), L.A. Dodger legends and Laker A.C. Green, along with an X-Games skating clinic, the David Beckham Soccer Academy, rock climbing, a space museum, a petting zoo and an F-16 flyover, among other events. Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Free. Woodley Park, Van Nuys. ” target=”_self”>http://www.yicc.org.

(THEATER)
When four cousins travel to New York to visit their ailing grandmother during Thanksgiving weekend, it soon becomes clear that the family’s anxieties are misplaced. Instead of mourning the potential loss of a loved one, the cousins compete for their portion of their rich grandmother’s will. Watch as this dysfunctional German Jewish family falls apart and then comes back together in an evening of connected one-act plays, “The Children’s Table.” But don’t wait. This weekend marks the final performances of Jeffrey Davis’ semiautobiographical play. Sat. 8 p.m. Also, Sun. 3 p.m. $15-$20. Hollywood Court Theatre, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 664-9752. ” target=”_self”>http://www.ajula.edu.

MON | NOVEMBER 24

(PHOTOGRAPHY)
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara are teaming up to present a Community-Wide Commemoration of Kristallnacht, revolving around two haunting photography exhibitions. “The Holocaust Archive Revealed: Photographs of Richard Ehrlich,” presents “the staggering bureaucracy of the Nazi regime.” Visitors will see photographs of the catalog drawers, stacks of paperwork, and other archival materials that helped members of the regime carry out previously unimaginable crimes. Among the items on display is the original Schindler’s list. In “Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky,” two artists capture Poland’s Jewish communities through photographs taken before and after the war. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Mon.-Thu.), 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (Fri.) Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tue.-Sun.) SBMA. Through Dec. 28. Bronfman Center, 524 Chapala St.; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St., Santa Barbara. (805) 957-1115. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Levy Family Judaica Collection” displays 135 objects they accumulated over the course of five decades. The collection features items from diverse communities across the globe, ceremonial objects used in synagogues and homes, traditional pieces and contemporary works of art, pieces made by artisans and fine artists and objects created in Israel, a special focus of the Levy collection. Tue. Through Feb. 8. Free (members), $5-$10 (museum admission). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Service, a longstanding tradition, is a joyous affair open to all members of the Jewish community. The UMC choir and TEC band will each perform its brand of liturgical melodies, and after the sing-along, an oneg with refreshments will give attendees an opportunity to converse and share thanksgivings with members of another faith — something everyone should be doing more often. Wed. 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.

Tasty Middle Eastern flavors tweak Thanksgiving table


Hilit Gilat knows her way around the kitchen. For the past two years, the Israel-born chef has built a steady reputation for preparing sumptuous, slow-cooked meats, savory stews and Mediterranean delicacies for families and private events, corporate affairs and even visiting dignitaries.

But when a client hired B-Shool (Hebrew for “cooking”), the Irvine-based boutique catering and private chef service she runs with her husband, to prepare his family’s Thanksgiving dinner last November, the sprightly aficionado of fine dining was put to her biggest culinary test.

“Thanksgiving doesn’t exist in Israel, and most Israelis have no idea what it’s about,” said Gilat, 36. “For many Israelis living here, it’s just another four-day weekend.”

Like scores of their compatriots, Hilit and her husband, Saar, spent their first Thanksgiving four years ago on a family trip with ne’er a turkey in sight.

Subsequent years were spent with friends, but without the holiday trimmings.

“All I was interested in is Black Friday,” she said, referring to the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.

Her first exposure to the holiday as a historical landmark came two years later, when her daughter, Romi, now 7, recounted tales of the Pilgrims she was learning in kindergarten. And though Hilit learned more each year through Romi and younger daughter, Yarden, 5, she failed to grasp Thanksgiving’s significance as a cherished family celebration.

It struck the couple as odd, then, when a client gingerly asked if they would consider catering his family’s Thanksgiving dinner for 12, if they didn’t already have holiday plans.

“He looked at it like he didn’t want to take us away from our family on Thanksgiving,” Saar said. “We just looked at each other and thought, ‘What the heck.'”

The pair soon realized the knotty task they had taken on.

“I knew about the turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but I had never tasted pumpkin pie and had no idea what else to prepare,” Hilit said.

That night, they sent an S.O.S. via e-mail blast to their American friends that simply read, “What do Americans eat on Thanksgiving?”

They looked up traditional ways of cooking yams, brussels sprouts, stuffing and green beans, as their friends had advised. But the couple, accustomed to the piquant taste of their French, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine, were unimpressed with the traditional meal’s relatively bland flavor. They decided to develop a Thanksgiving menu that would reflect their signature style, infusing holiday staples with exotic ingredients like date syrup, wine and dried fruits.

The side dishes proved easy to tackle. The turkey, on the other hand, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, was a far greater source of stress.

“I had never cooked a turkey before, and here I was, faced with so many different kinds to choose from,” Hilit said. “Organic, self-basted, naturally fed, I didn’t know where to start.”

There was also the timing issue. The couple usually precooks food in their kitchen and then completes the process at the event site. They feared that roasting the turkey this way might dry it out, ruining an otherwise elegant meal. They decided to bring the raw turkey to the host’s home early in the day to roast it and then return later to finish their preparations.
“It was like leaving a baby with a sitter for the first time,” Hilit said. “I was so nervous.”

The final obstacle was carving the massive bird. Practice runs with a carving knife and scissors came out “less than aesthetic,” according to Saar, so they invited the host to do the honors.

It was only the next day, while enjoying leftovers at a friend’s house, that they discovered what they affectionately call “the electric saw.”

“It will definitely be different next time,” he said.

Different, perhaps, but it would be difficult to make it better.

“It is strange to cook food that you’re not used to, but it’s fun to try new things,” Hilit said. “My clients realized it wasn’t my usual menu, and I think that made them appreciate it even more.”

With a successful Thanksgiving event under their belt, the Gilats no longer feel like outsiders looking in to a Rockwell scene, and they look forward to sharing their new repertoire with clients and friends alike. The experience has also given them a deeper appreciation for the quintessential holiday of their adopted home.

“It gives you a rare chance to reflect on, and be grateful for, the good things in life,” Hilit said. “That is a wonderful message you can give to your children.”

CRUNCHY YAM CASSEROLE
7 medium-sized yams
1/2 stick salted margarine, cut into cubes
1 egg white, whipped
1/4 cup nondairy heavy cream (optional)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chopped sweetened pecans

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Wrap yams individually in aluminum foil and place on baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until completely soft.

Peel yams and mash into lumpy texture (do not over mash). Add margarine and stir until completely melted and dissolved. Fold in the whipped egg white, nondairy heavy cream, juice, white sugar and vanilla.

Pour mixture into heat-resistant dish. Mix pecans with brown sugar and sprinkle on top of yam mixture.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sugar caramelizes and pecans are brown and crispy.

Makes six servings.

FESTIVE RICE-STUFFED TURKEY WITH SAGE, DATE SYRUP AND WINE
Cooking time: 4 hours

1 organic turkey (12-14 pounds), cleaned, washed and dried
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
handful finely chopped sage
1/2 cup margarine or olive oil
1/2 cup date syrup (found in Mediterranean food stores) or honey
1/2 cup sweet red wine
3/4 tablespoon unsalted margarine (if desired)
Oranges, lemons and limes cut to eighths; 1 cup pitted dried fruit (apricots, prunes, etc.) for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In mixing bowl, work spice mix into softened margarine or olive oil. Liberally season inside of turkey with kosher salt and pepper. Massage turkey with spiced mixture inside and out, and between skin and flesh.

Fill turkey with prepared rice and close cavity with toothpicks or needle and thread.

In a bowl, mix date syrup and wine. Place turkey in baking pan. Baste with some of the date/wine sauce. Cover well with aluminum foil and place in hot oven.

Cook turkey for 3 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Remove foil and let brown for 30 minutes or until juices run clear.

Remove turkey from oven and let stand 20 minutes. Transfer juices from bottom of pan to small pot and reduce over medium flame. Add knob of margarine, if desired, to thicken.

Transfer turkey to serving dish. Pour gravy over turkey and garnish with citrus and dried fruits.

Makes 12 servings.

Festive Rice
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup canola oil
3 carrots, grated
1 handful each: white raisins; pine nuts; toasted, peeled pistachio nuts
Pinch salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups long grain rice, well rinsed
2 1/2 cups boiling water

Sauté onions in pan over medium-high heat until lightly golden brown. Add carrots and continue cooking for five minutes. Add remaining ingredients except rice and water; stir well. Fix seasoning to taste.

Add rice and continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add boiling water; bring to a strong boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until all liquids are absorbed (rice will not be fully cooked). Cool.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH PIE

(To simplify your Thanksgiving preparations, I replaced my homemade pie shell with a store-bought one.)

1 large butternut squash, cut into cubes
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, melted
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white/brown sugar
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
1 store-bought pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place squash cubes in pan. Cover with foil. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until softened. Mash butternut squash to smooth texture. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.

Pour into pie shell and bake for one hour.

Makes eight servings.

For more information about B-Shool, call (949) 705-6425.

Give Thanksgiving a Jewish Flavor


 

“My sister-in-law stuffs Thanksgiving turkeys with a matzah ball mixture,” says Faye Levy, food columnist and author of 14 cookbooks. “Instead of making patties and poaching them, she cooks this tasty mixture inside the turkey.”

This never struck Levy as odd, because her mother used to make noodle pudding on Thanksgiving.

“Her Thanksgiving dinners were almost like Shabbat meals,” she says.

One of Levy’s all-time favorite dishes is Thanksgiving potato kugel with asparagus. “I first tried it at the home of a friend from Colorado,” she says, explaining that it was his grandmother’s recipe.

“In his family, that dish was the essence of Thanksgiving.”

Just as Jewish cooking experienced a revolution in America when brisket discovered ketchup, and noodle kugel met Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Jews have reinvented their recipes, giving Thanksgiving fare a Jewish accent.

Levy, author of “1,000 Jewish Recipes” (Wiley, 2000) has sprinkled Thanksgiving dishes throughout this enormous international compendium. Why did she feel the necessity to include American harvest fare in a Jewish cookbook?

“Because most Jews I know, whether they’re Orthodox or not, celebrate Thanksgiving,” Levy says. “If you think about it, Thanksgiving food is basically kosher. It’s turkey, plus a lot of vegetables and bread.”

Honoring the feast shared by Native Americans and English settlers in the Massachusetts colony so long ago, Jews are naturally drawn to a holiday that revolves around a meal.

While Levy grew up in home that was Ashkenazi and kosher, like other Americans her family always ate turkey and cranberries on Thanksgiving.

“We just skipped the creamed onions,” she says, referring to the Jewish dietary restriction that prohibits serving dairy with meat.

A child of the ’50s, Levy has memories of her mother’s candied sweet potatoes, dripping with brown sugar syrup and topped with melted marshmallows. Popular back then, this dish is still on the Thanksgiving menu in many American homes.

“I hated the marshmallows,” says Levy with a laugh. “They’re too cloyingly sweet, even as dessert.”

Recalling Thanksgivings past, Levy describes an aunt who used to mash sweet potatoes, form them into patties and fry them. Just before serving, she’d melt a marshmallow on top of each patty. Proud of this recipe, her aunt also bestowed it with a name: “Thanksgiving Latkes.”

Today, Levy — a graduate of the famed La Varenne Cooking School in Paris — prefers mixing sweet potatoes with savory spices.

“You can really taste the flavor of sweet potatoes through ginger and hot peppers, as opposed to mixing them with sugary foods.”

Her culinary training has taught Levy to avoid roasting really large turkeys — those over 18 pounds. She’s discovered that while you’re waiting for the inside to cook through, the outside often burns or dries out. You’re also more likely to have problems with bacteria. For large crowds, she recommends roasting two smaller turkeys weighing about 12 pounds each.

Levy says her spiced roasted turkey recipe was inspired by her husband’s Sephardi background.

“This aromatic turkey is seasoned with his Yemenite family’s favorite spice mixture — cumin, turmeric and black pepper,” she says.

This seasoning yields sensational aroma and flavor.

For extra kick, Levy serves this turkey with hot cumin sauce, which is tomato based and accented with spices. She feels that her exposure to her husband’s Sephardi palate has given her an appreciation of piquant flavor.

As a chef, Levy is drawn to the fruits of the season’s final harvest. She seeks Thanksgiving fare wherever she goes. In compiling her book “Feast from the Middle East: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible” (HarperCollins, 2003) she included recipes such as Iranian sweet and savory rice stuffing with cranberry toasted almonds.

When it comes to Thanksgiving food, there’s no end to the possibilities one can cull from the canons of Jewish cuisine. Surprisingly, many Jewish foods are easily adapted to complement the holiday’s traditional fare.

If you have leftover challah in the freezer, try making challah stuffing, a light but savory surprise. Levy follows her mother’s custom of creating contrast by introducing peppers, mushrooms and zucchini to slices of sweet challah.

Thanksgiving tzimmes augments the taste of turkey, no matter how it’s prepared. Instead of the usual prunes, dried cranberries lend a colorful note to this saucy combination of carrots and pineapple.

With a crunchy crumb topping, pecan streusel pears are an easy-to-make dessert that is both sensational and pareve.

These days, Levy and her husband usually celebrate Thanksgiving with friends. Even when she’s invited as a guest, she roasts a turkey to have at home. Turkeys are economical to buy in late November, and it’s fun to have one to nibble on and use as an ingredient in other recipes, such as a robust vegetable soup.

“We’re kind of casual about holidays,” Levy says. “Whenever we get together with family and friends — even on Thanksgiving — we do a lot of pot luck. This way, one person isn’t stuck cooking for a lot of people.”

Sometimes this group coordinates who will prepare which dishes; sometimes they don’t. Of course one person is always designated as the turkey roaster.

“After that, you can’t serve too many side dishes, salads, and desserts,” Levy says.

While abundance is a Thanksgiving theme, Jews were already entertaining lavishly centuries before the Pilgrims discovered Plymouth Rock.

Thanksgiving Tzimmes

4 cups canned pineapple chunks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 pounds carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick

3-4 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain pineapple and reserve 1/4 cup juice. Mix reserved juice with the

cornstarch in a cup.

Combine carrots with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 12 minutes, or until just tender. Remove carrots with slotted spoon.

Add honey to carrot cooking liquid and bring to a simmer, stirring.

Mix juice-cornstarch mixture to blend. Add to simmering liquid, stirring.

Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until sauce comes to a simmer and thickens.

Stir in carrots, cranberries, pineapple, ginger and cloves. Heat until bubbling.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Serves four.

Spiced Roasted Turkey

5 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Salt to taste, optional

One 10-12 pound fresh or thawed turkey

About 2-4 tablespoons olive oil

About 3/4 cup chicken or turkey stock or dry white wine

Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove top rack.

Mix cumin, turmeric, pepper and salt in a small bowl. Rub turkey with olive oil. Rub it inside and out with spice mixture. Truss turkey, if desired, or close it with skewers.

Put turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Pour 1/2 cup stock into pan.

Roast turkey 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Roast turkey 1 1/2 hours, basting with additional olive oil or with pan juices every 30 minutes. If pan becomes dry, add 1/4 cup stock.

Cover turkey loosely with foil and continue roasting 20 to 30 minutes, or until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 180 F, or until juices run clear when thickest part of thigh is pricked.

Transfer turkey carefully to a large board. Discard trussing strings or skewers.

Baste turkey once with pan juices and cover it. Reserve juices to add to Hot Cumin-Tomato Sauce (below).

Let turkey sit for approx. 20 minutes

Carve turkey and arrange on a platter. Serve hot, with hot cumin-tomato sauce.

Serves six-eight.

Hot Cumin-Tomato Sauce

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

l large onion, minced

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 or 3 jalapeno peppers, ribs and seeds removed and minced (See note at bottom)

Three 28-oz. cans tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2-1 cup pan juices from turkey (optional)

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and saute over medium heat about 7 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Add garlic and jalapeno peppers and sauté 30 seconds.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste and turkey pan juices. Bring to a boil, stirring.

Add cumin, turmeric, black pepper, pepper flakes, and salt. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat 20 minutes, or until thickened to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. If not using gloves, wash hands well after touching hot peppers.

Challah Stuffing

12 slices stale challah

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 red or green bell peppers, chopped

8 ounces mushrooms, chopped

4 medium carrots, coarsely grated

4 medium zucchini, coarsely grated

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 large eggs, beaten

Soak challah in water. Squeeze out water. Mash challah in a bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add onion, pepper and mushrooms and sauté. Stir occasionally for about 7 minutes, or until onion begins to turn golden.

Add vegetable mixture to bowl of challah and mix well. Add carrots, zucchini, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings. Add egg and mix well. Cool completely before spooning into turkey.

Note: For safety reasons, if cooking stuffing in turkey it’s important to make sure stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 F by testing the center of the stuffing with thermometer.

To bake stuffing separately, preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish. Spoon stuffing into dish. Drizzle with remaining oil. Bake about 30 minutes, or until firm.

Serves about eight, 8-10 cups.

Pecan Struesel Pears

2 pounds pears

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup light brown sugar, divided

1 tablespoon strained fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons margarine, chilled and cut into bits

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup rolled or quick-cooking oatmeal (not instant) — uncooked

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Peel and slice pears. Put them in a bowl. Mix cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar in a small bowl. Add to pears. Add lemon juice and toss to combine.

Grease a shallow, square 9-inch baking dish. Spoon mixture inside.

Mix remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar with flour in a small bowl. With two knives, cut margarine into mixture until coarse crumbs form. Add pecans and oats. Stir lightly with a fork. Sprinkle mixture evenly over fruit.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until topping is golden and pears are tender. Serve warm or cool in bowls.

Serves six.

Recipes from “1,000 Jewish Recipes,” by Faye Levy.

 

Thanksgiving’s Sukkot Roots


Did you know that Thanksgiving is really a Jewish holiday? Although Thanksgiving is not on the Jewish calendar, historians believe that Sukkot may have inspired America’s favorite farewell to fall, often nicknamed "Turkey Day."

"The pilgrims based their customs on the Bible," said Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of the "New Jewish Holiday Cookbook" (Times Books, 1999). "They knew that Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival, and there is evidence that they fashioned the first Thanksgiving after the Jewish custom of celebrating the success of the year’s crops."

Linda Burghardt, author of "Jewish Holiday Traditions" (Citadel Press, 2001), said, "Sukkot is considered a model for Thanksgiving. Both holidays revolve around showing gratitude for a bountiful harvest."

Today Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, but President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t propose this timing until 1939.

It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Roosevelt actually changed Lincoln’s decree that Thanksgiving be observed on the last Thursday in November, which may fall on the fifth Thursday of the month.

The pilgrims’ invited local Indians to the first Thanksgiving during the fall of 1621. Historians speculate that this celebration occurred somewhere between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, but most likely in early October, around the time of Sukkot.

"Originally, Sukkot entailed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem," said Greene, who believes the two holidays share much in common.

The Puritan Christians who landed on American shores seeking religious freedom were called pilgrims, in deference to their journey from England. Their dream of finding a place where they’d be free to worship as they pleased is a recurrent theme in Jewish history.

After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Indians helped them build.

While Sukkot remains a seven-day observance, the first Thanksgiving celebration continued for three days, a time frame more similar to the Jewish harvest festival than today’s Thanksgiving dinner, which often begins in late afternoon and ends several hours later.

With its pumpkin pies and cranberry garlands, Thanksgiving mirrors many of Sukkot’s customs and culinary themes.

Burghardt said she is amazed at how many of the same foods are connected to both holidays.

Piping hot casseroles brimming with vegetables and fruit grace the American and Jewish harvest tables, as do pastries that are filled with apples, nuts, pumpkins and squash. Stuffing one food inside another as a metaphor for abundance is the hallmark of Sukkot cuisine.

Yet there’s nothing more opulent than the elaborate bread stuffings found inside Thanksgiving turkeys.

Greene enjoys transforming traditional Thanksgiving recipes into kosher cuisine.

"I like mixing new and old world themes," she said.

One of her favorite recipes is glazed turkey with fruit-nut stuffing. Bursting with so much produce, it’s a one-dish harvest festival. Because the pilgrims and Indians shared roasted corn during the first Thanksgiving, Greene’s double-corn bread is a fitting choice. It is soft and moist, almost like a kugel.

Harvest-time cranberry relish is always a big hit at Greene’s house.

"Several years ago, I invited a family of Russian Jewish immigrants to celebrate their first Thanksgiving. While they adored traditional American foods, they were especially fascinated with the taste and bright color of cranberries."

But since the two holidays are so close in time, is there any reason for American Jews who celebrate Sukkot to pay homage to a second harvest festival six weeks later?

"Participating in Thanksgiving is how we feel American," said Greene, a former food columnist for the Baltimore Jewish Times, who used to submit a Thanksgiving story every year.

She agrees with Burghardt that Thanksgiving is a lovely experience. It’s an easy holiday to include friends and neighbors of other faiths.

"While Thanksgiving is not technically a Jewish holiday, it’s not a Christian one either," Burghardt said. "It’s a great equalizer with a multicultural theme."

Although Burghardt believes that Thanksgiving, with its chocolate turkeys and pilgrims, lacks Sukkot’s depth, Greene feels there’s something spiritual about the whole country partaking in a communal meal, even though menus and customs vary from home to home. At her table, she asks guest to share one thing for which they’re grateful.

"Like Sukkot, at Thanksgiving you’re supposed to invite people to share abundance with your family," Burghardt said. "You can’t serve too much food. Could there be anything more Jewish than that?"

Glazed Turkey With Fruit-Nut Stuffing

Fruit-Nut Stuffing:

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, diced

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups cranberries

12 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

6 dried apricots, coarsely chopped

1 cup raisins

3 medium apples, cored and diced

1 1/2 cups chopped nuts

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. In a medium-sized saucepan sauté the onion and celery in oil over medium-high heat, stirring until tender but not browned. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

2. In the same (unwashed) pan, combine orange juice and sugar, bringing mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in cranberries and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer cranberries, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until berry skins pop.

3. Mix in prunes, apricots and raisins. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to bowl containing onion and celery. Cool to room temperature. Add remaining stuffing ingredients and mix well.

Turkey:

1 12-14 pound turkey, completely defrosted in refrigerator

Canola oil

1. Clean turkey well and discard giblets. Rub skin with canola oil.

2. Fill the body and neck cavities of the turkey with stuffing, allowing room for expansion. Tuck the legs under the band of skin or tie legs together with heavy cord. Skewer or sew neck skin closed against the body. Place turkey, breast up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 325 F oven for about three hours.

Yield: 10 servings

Double Corn Bread

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup canola oil

1 (about 15-ounce) can cream-style corn, including liquid.

(Note: Because cream-style corn does not contain dairy products, it is pareve.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with no-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center, and add eggs, oil and canned corn. Beat wet ingredients with a fork to combine them, then incorporate dry ingredients. Stir only until all ingredients are completely moistened and combined.

3. Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cut into 16 squares and serve directly from the pan.

Harvest-Time Cranberry Relish

1 medium-sized navel orange

1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries, sorted, rinsed and drained

1 medium-sized apple, cored and cut into eighths

1 medium-sized pear, cored and cut into eighths

1/4 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup dark raisins

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Use a sharp knife to remove the colored part of the orange rind. Set aside. Remove and discard the white pith. Cut orange pulp into chunks.

2. Put orange rind and pulp into food processor fitted with the steel blade with the remaining relish ingredients. Pulse the mixture until ingredients are finely chopped but not smoothly pureed.

3. Chill relish covered for several hours, stirring occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and flavors blend.

Yield: about 3 1/2 cups

From "The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook," by Gloria Kaufer Greene.