They were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snakebites. Native American’s cut them into strips, dried them and wove them into mats. Seeds of related plants have been discovered in Mexico dating back to 5500 to 7000 B.C.E..
We’re talking, of course, about pumpkins, which the colonists coming to North America enthusiastically adopted from Native Americans. Harvested in the fall, this large, unwieldy orange fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) has become an icon of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“For pie filling, look for orange pumpkins identified as ‘sweet’ or ‘pie’ pumpkins,” advises Cathy Thomas, author of “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce” (Wiley, $29.95). “They have thicker, sweeter flesh and are intended for cooking rather than carving.”
Thomas suggests baking whole pumpkins as a container for soups or stews. Mini-pumpkins are ideal for single servings and would make attractive and delicious vessels for – what else? – pumpkin soup, an aromatic starter for the Thanksgiving feast.
To bake the pumpkins, explains Thomas, slice off the top and place them in a roasting pan. Add one inch of water and bake at 325 degrees until the flesh is tender, about 30 minutes. Before filling, leave them inverted to dry.
Now to fill these unique bowls. We like the Cream of Sweet Potato Soup with Pumpkin and Maple Roasted Pecans from Susie Fishbein’s “Kosher by Design Entertains,” (Artscroll, $34.99). It can be prepared pareve for Thanksgiving by using soy milk instead of cream.
In a Jewish home even secular holiday menus bear the stamp of Jewish tradition. In fact, some scholars believe that when the Pilgrims sat down for that first Thanksgiving, they were thinking of Sukkot. We’ll never really know, but no doubt those religious settlers were familiar with the ancient texts and commandments, and perhaps it is no coincidence that a joyful celebratory meal of thanks would take place at the time of the fall harvest.
Bread lies at the heart of every Jewish celebration, from the twisted egg challah of the Sabbath to the round spiral centerpiece for Rosh Hashanah, so why shouldn’t the traditional Thanksgiving dinner rolls be challah rolls?
Maggie Glezer’s recipe for Sephardic Pumpkin Bread from “A Blessing of Bread” (Artisan, $35) is perfumed with cardamom and ginger. It was adapted from “Sephardic Home Cooking,” by Gilda Angel, who explains that pumpkin expresses “the hope that as this vegetable has been protected by a thick covering, God will protect us and gird us with strength.”
Our braided challah was actually adopted by Jews from their German neighbors, Glezer says. “Jews admired their Sunday loaf. It looks beautiful, they thought. Obviously we want our Sabbath loaf to look as beautiful. We mix our traditions with the local traditions and create new ones.”
Glezer’s tips for the perfect loaf will ease the most hesitant bread baker. The number one mistake that beginners make is measuring incorrectly, she said. The solution? Get a good scale. “People should weigh their ingredients. Their breads would be almost perfect if they did.”
To prove it, she has her students feel each other’s doughs. “The textures are all over the map. But if they weighed the flour, the results would be consistent. Experienced bakers know if the dough is too sticky to add more flour or if it’s too dry, to add more water.”
My favorite tip—a revelation, really—concerns rolling out the dough before shaping, which eliminates air pockets and produces even strands. “At the American Institute of Baking they have a machine that takes the blobs of dough and sheets them out to a couple millimeters thick for an incredibly fine texture. I thought, why couldn’t you do that at home? But whatever you do it will be beautiful,” Glezer assures us.
Source: “Kosher by Design Entertains”
by Susie Fishbein
Cream of Sweet Potato Soup
with Pumpkin and Maple Roasted Pecans
YIELD 8 to 10 Servings
2 tablespoons margarine
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, not pancake syrup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, about 3 medium or 2 large, peeled and cut into small chunks
6 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock, divided
½ cup canned pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup soy milk or light cream
13 ounces filo pastry
1 small bunch parsley,
(separated into sprigs)
9 ounces haloumi,
(sliced into thin strips)
7 ounces feta, crumbled
Oil for frying
- Pecans: In small frying pan over medium-low heat melt margarine. Add pecans and maple syrup. Cook, stirring, 4-5 minutes, until roasted. Transfer to paper towel.
- Soup: in large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté celery, leek, shallot, and onion until soft and shiny, about 4-6 minutes. Add sweet potatoes; sauté 2 minutes longer.
- Add 4 cups of the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20-25 minutes, until sweet potatoes are soft. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
- Using a blender, food processor or immersion blender, process until smooth, 3 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups stock and soy milk. Purée 1 minute and heat through.
- Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with pecans.
Sephardic Pumpkin Bread
(Pan de Calabaza)
YIELD Two, 1-pound challahs or 16 rolls
1 envelope (0.25 ounce) or 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
About 3¾ cups bread flour, divided
2/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons table salt, plus 1 pinch for glaze
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, plus 1 for glaze
½ cup canned pumpkin puree
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
- In large bowl, whisk together yeast, cardamom, ginger and 2/3 cup of the flour. Whisk in warm water until smooth. Let stand uncovered 10-20 minutes, until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.
- Whisk sugar, salt, oil, 1 egg and puree into puffed yeast slurry until well combined. With your hands or wooden spoon, stir in remaining flour all at once. When mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it onto your work surface. Knead until well mixed, fairly smooth and firm. If dough is too firm, add a tablespoon or two of water. If dough is too wet, add flour by the tablespoon until dough is firm, easy to knead and not at all sticky.
- When dough is fully kneaded, set it in a warmed, clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. (Dough can be refrigerated at this point for up to 24 hours.) Let dough ferment until tripled in bulk, about 2-3 hours (an additional hour if refrigerated).
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide dough into 2 equal 1-pound portions for loaves or sixteen 2-ounce portions for rolls. Braid or shape as desired and place on baking sheets. Tent shapes well with plastic wrap. Let proof until tripled in size, 60-90 minutes.
- Meanwhile, 30 minutes before baking, arrange oven racks in upper and lower third positions and remove any racks above them. Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat remaining egg with pinch of salt for glaze.
- When loaves have tripled and don’t push back when gently pressed with a finger but remain indented, brush with egg glaze. Sprinkle with seeds, if using. Bake until very well browned, 20-25 minutes for rolls or 35-40 minutes for loaves (after first 20 minutes, rotate pans from top to bottom and front to back). Cool on rack.
Source: “A Blessing of Bread” by Maggie Glezer
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 www.cookingjewish.com