Health & Fitness
Cooking the comfort foods of yesterday for Sukkot today.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
hough I don't like to admit it,
lately I've been eating the foods
of my youth: chicken fricasee and
stuffed peppers, sweet and sour meatballs
and braised short ribs. I liked them as a
child, but that was before I was exposed to
moussaka, polenta and pad Thai noodles.
By the 1970s, I became so enamored
with other people's cuisine that I rejected
my grandmother's cooking. Now that she's
been gone for some 30 years, I realize how
much I miss her chicken pot pie brimming
with peas and huge chunks of white meat,
the biscuits floating atop her beef stew,
and the way she folded softened cabbage
leaves around a heaping Tbs .p. of onions,
rice and chopped beef.
Right now I'd do anything for a taste
of her stuffed peppers or meatloaf — the
first things I rejected after declaring
With Sukkot approaching, I see the
wisdom of such simple fare. What could
be more satisfying on cool autumn nights
than the comfort foods of the last century?
Sukkot is a homey holiday rooted in our
agricultural past. During ancient times,
the Israelites traveled to Jerusalem to give
thanks for the year's fruits and grains.
They lived in makeshift huts, a precursor
to today's sukkahs whose walls are deco-
rated with the bounty of the season. Like
lattice work, sukkah roofs welcome fresh
air and a peek at the sky-.
Piping hot stews and casseroles full of
vegetables and meat simmered in sauces
became popular at Sukkot over the cen-
turies, especially among those who follow
tradition by eating their meals inside suk-
Jewish homemakers gravitated to basic
casseroles and stews because they were
easy to transport, they were tasty and they
called for small portions of inexpensive
cuts of meat.
With the shaky economy, everything old
is new again. People are clipping coupons,
albeit more often from online sources than
from newspapers. Home cooking is up;
restaurant dining is down.
Yesterday's foods are a practical way to
feed the family and friends likely to gather
October 9 • 2008
inside the sukkah for eight nights. What
else has a chance of staying warm in an
outdoor but in mid-October, when the
holiday falls this year?
Decades ago, as the temperature started
dropping, my mother used to make her
version of chicken fricasee. She would
collect the bags of parts that came inside
poultry and store them in the freezer.
When she had amassed enough to fill a
pot, she'd declare it fricasee season.
In my Betty Crocker world, kitchen
counters were not supposed to be spat-
tered with the blood of chicken necks,
livers and gizzards, which as a teenager
I called lizards and gizzards. Even worse,
my mother's fricasee bubbled in a watery
liquid that was missing one important
ingredient — chicken.
One Sukkot years later, a friend raved
about her mother's chicken fricasee.
Curious about its origins, I discovered
that this stew once called for cream sauces
tinged with Vermouth. In the old country,
kosher cooks omitted the cream in favor
of brown gravy.
In Jewish Cooking in America, Joan
Nathan explained that food writer Mimi
Sheraton, who adored her mother's
chicken fricasee, claimed that meatballs,
an American addition to the dish, were
probably a sign of abundance. Sadly, my
mother's fricasee omitted the meatballs,
At some point in everywoman's life,
she must come to terms with her mother's
strengths and imperfections. A decade
after my mother died, I began recalling
her cooking with both humor and nostal-
gia. I started freezing the bags of innards
found in chicken and turkey cavities.
"What are you doing with this stuff?"
my husband asked one day, waving a plas-
tic bag full of stiff parts.
"Re-inventing chicken fricasee," I said.
David is from an Italian Jewish back-
ground, so I created a yummy tomato
My quest went through several stages.
While I added meatballs and chicken
breasts and wings to my mother's recipe,
ironically those who have tried my rendi-
tion fight over the lizards and gizzards.
For centuries, the stew pot has been a
staple in Jewish households, often used
on Shabbat. However, in America, stew
recipes changed accents when introduced
to ketchup, canned pineapple, cranber-
ries, oatmeal and the sauces: tomato,
Worcestershire, chili and barbecue.
The Campbell's Soup company was
right there to spruce up hot dishes with
canned soups that could double for sauces.
To make sure the public was aware of this
modern convenience, in 1916 the company
issued a recipe booklet that changed the
course of gravy history.
Like other American women, Jewish
housewives flavored their cooking with
these tasty new ingredients.
In my grandmother's day, all of these
filling recipes contained beef. As I tweaked
them, however, I added a couple of poultry
options because people don't eat that way
anymore night after night.
Yet, I suspect stick-to-your-ribs foods,
prepared with tight budgets in mind, will
be a big hit this Sukkot. These dishes are
irresistibly delicious, which is why we
adored them in the first place.
CHICKEN FRICASSEE WITH
1 1/2 pounds chopped turkey
1 egg, beaten
1 /4 cup breadcrumbs (commercially
6 Tbsp. or more olive oil
3 pounds necks, gizzards and livers, or
any combination, from chicken or other
2 large skinless, boneless chicken
breasts (4 pieces) cut in half (8 halves)
8 chicken wings
2 onions, chopped
12 carrots, sliced
12 oz. package mushrooms, sliced
3 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste, mixed with
12 oz.s of water
1 /2 cup Vermouth
1 bay leaf
1 /4 tsp. thyme
Mix together meatball ingredients,
incorporating well. Form into balls
slightly smaller than golf balls by rolling a
tablespoon of the turkey mixture in your
palms, until you form perfectly round
balls with no visible seams. Place on plate,
cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Yield: 25 to 30 meatballs.
If necks are more than 3 inches long, cut
in half with a sharp knife. If gizzards are
larger than a walnut, cut in half.
Using one or two frying pans, in batches
fry chicken breasts and wings, livers, giz-
zards and necks until golden brown.
In a large Dutch oven, saute onions in
olive oil. When onions are transparent, add
meatballs and brown.
Add all remaining ingredients, except
livers, and gently stir. Simmer on a medi-
um flame for 30-40 minutes, until the giz-
zards are softened. Add livers and simmer
5 more minutes. Remove bay leaf.
Tastes best when made a day ahead.
Serve with noodles or rice. Yield: 8 serv-
SWEET AND SOUR
2 Tbsps. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
1 /2 cup dark brown sugar
Juice from 3/4 of a lemon
1 12 tsp. salt
In a large saucepan, heat oil briefly on a
low flame. Saute garlic in oil.
Add remaining sauce ingredients to
pan and stir to blend, making sure tomato
paste is fully incorporated. Cover pan and
simmer on a low flame while preparing
meatballs, about 30 minutes.
1 small onion, chopped
2 pounds chopped beef
1 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed
Place onion, beef, salt and egg in a large
bowl. Mix ingredients thoroughly.
Make 1112-inch meatballs (golf-ball
size), by rolling a rounded tablespoon of
the beef mixture in your palms, until you
form perfectly round balls with no visible
Heat oil on a medium-low flame in a
large skillet, preferably no-stick. In batch-
es, brown meatballs in oil on all sides.
With a slotted spoon, carefully place
meatballs in sauce. Simmer in sauce for