The Jewish festival of Sukkot started at sunset Wednesday.
During the weeklong holiday, many Jewish families build a temporary structure called a sukkah in the yard outside their home. The structure is both symbolic of the types of dwellings the Israelites may have built for shelter during their 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, and of those used by farmers during the harvest season.
Meals are often taken in the sukkah, and for that reason, most are simple, one-dish affairs.
I’ve always thought of Sukkot as a Jewish version of Thanksgiving, from the harvest-inspired menu to the focus on gathering loved ones for nothing more than to be together and break bread. It is one of my favorite holidays each year, full of special food, wine and friends.
Last week, I hosted a small group for a pre-Sukkot tasting. I was experimenting with a chicken, date and almond recipe I found in Ronnie Fein’s Hip Kosher cookbook, adding apple cider to the sauce and fresh chopped apple, figs and almonds to accompanying couscous.
The dish was sweet, savory and certainly celebratory when matched with two stellar white wines. Whether gracing the sukkah or just a seasonal dinner party, this dish is worthy of any celebratory meal. (Note: Nutritional analyses were unavailable.)
• François Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvee Renaissance 2011 ($21.99)
Made from a lesser-known varietal called romorantin in the Cour-Cheverny appellation of France’s Loire Valley, the late-harvest, old-vine Cuvee Renaissance is a unique and interesting wine to try.
Pale gold in the glass, the wine has aromas of peach, apricot, candied pineapple and candied lemon peel with notes of white flower and a touch of nuttiness. On the palate, the wine is a wonderful balance of ripe, candied fruit and crisp acidity with a clean, off-dry finish. It’s definitely worth seeking out and a nice match for the dish.
• The Four Graces Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2013 ($18.99)
This has apple, pear and tart peach aromas with strong floral notes. On the palate, the wine is medium/full-bodied with juicy fruit flavors and a creamy mouth feel. The apple and pear notes in the wine played nicely with the fruit in the dish, but I preferred the previous wine for its crisp acidity.
— J. Gwendolynne Berry, Cox Newspapers
Chicken with dates and toasted almonds
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped almonds, optional
• 4 bone-in chicken breast halves or whole legs or 1 broiler-fryer chicken, cut in 8 parts
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 large garlic cloves, minced
• 1 teaspoon quick ras el hanout (see recipe)
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
• 2/3 cup apple cider
• 12-16 dates, pitted and halved
• 2 tablespoons honey
1. Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees and roast the almonds 5-6 minutes or until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside.
2. Rinse and dry the chicken parts. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and cook the chicken, turning the pieces occasionally, about 8 minutes or until the skin is lightly browned. Transfer the chicken to a dish.
3. Discard all but a film of fat from the pan. Add the onion and cook about 2 minutes or until softened slightly. Add the garlic, ras el hanout, bay leaf, chicken stock and apple cider and cook over medium-high heat about 4 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to about 1 cup.
4. Return the chicken to the pan. Coat the chicken with the pan fluids by turning the pieces once or twice. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low-medium and cook about 25 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.
5. Add the dates and honey to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and appears syrupy. Spoon the sauce around and on top of the chicken. Sprinkle with the almonds, if using.
Note: Instead of making the chicken with fruit and nuts, I used the almonds in couscous with chopped fresh apple and dried fig. I added apple cider to the sauce and did not use dates or honey.
— Adapted from recipe in “Hip Kosher,” by Ronnie Fein (Da Capo Press, 2008).
Quick ras el hanout
Makes about 3 1/2 tablespoons
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
• 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix ingredients thoroughly.