Raised in hippie Berkeley in the 1970s by a non-observant Jewish mom and a devoutly agnostic father, my religious upbringing was scant to say the least. When asked directly, my parents always insisted we were Jewish, and we did enjoy appropriately festive Hanukkah, Passover, and Rosh Hashanah dinners with family and friends, but that’s pretty much where religion ended for us. When I once asked my mother why we couldn’t have an Easter egg hunt like my friends’ families, she answered flatly, “Because we’re Jewish,” yet peculiarly we always had a Christmas tree and opened presents on December 25 (incidentally, I got the same J-word answer when I asked why Santa didn’t bring us stockings like he did other kids). We were fair weather Jews—happy to enjoy a few extra parties throughout the year, but God forbid we should miss out on the commercial spectacle of more mainstream holidays. For the most part, I’ve always felt like a clueless interloper, a fly on the wall of other people’s holiday traditions.
Since my son was born three years ago, I’ve had this urge to create for him a better sense of his Jewish heritage than I had growing up. To that end, I’ve done two things, neither one requiring me to muster an insincere belief in God. First I’ve cooked a lot more Jewish food than my mother ever did—all the usual suspects like matzoh ball soup, chopped liver, latkes, and matzoh toffee. Second, I signed my son up for a membership in the PJ Library—a great program that sends free books about Jewish holidays and other aspects of Jewish life to kids every month from birth to age seven. The best thing about the PJ Library is that each month we get a book in the mail that explains whatever Jewish holiday is coming up next—not just for my son, but for me, too.
This month’s PJ Library selection was Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast for Sukkot (which lasts 8 days, beginning tonight at sundown), and my son is perfectly obsessed with it. It is a sweet, nicely illustrated story about a brother and sister who wake up early on the first day of Sukkot and can’t wait to have breakfast in their backyard sukkah—a temporary dwelling meant to commemorate the huts our ancestors lived in as they wandered in the desert after being freed from slavery in Egypt. Like so many Jewish holidays, Sukkot is largely about food—a celebration of the harvest—yet surprisingly, there are no iconic Sukkot foods. The holiday doesn’t boast the likes of Hanukkah’s soufganyot (jelly donuts) or Rosh Hashanah’s honey cake, but dishes that incorporate fall produce (dates, figs, pomegranates, olives, squash) and stuffed vegetables of all sorts are popular choices.
This rich and flavorful acorn squash is stuffed with a tasty and nutritious mixture of quinoa, white beans, olives, red chard, and feta cheese. It makes a lovely and satisfying vegetarian (and gluten-free) entrée. And it’s versatile, too. Leave out the cheese for a vegan version. Leave out the beans and serve it as a lighter side dish.
With this beautiful weather we’re having, I’m even tempted to get outside and build us a sukkah. Fair weather Jews, indeed!
- 2 medium acorn squash
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing the cut squash
- 1 medium shallot, diced
- 2 clove garlic, minced
- 1 14-ounce can white beans, such as cannellini, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 bunch (about 18 leaves) chard, preferably red, stems removed and leaves julienned
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ cup diced Kalamata olives
- 4 ounces feta cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons (packed) minced fresh mint leaves
- ½ cup water
- Microwave the squash on high for about 5 minutes, until soft enough to cut easily.
- Cut each in half lengthwise, cut a sliver off of the skin side of each half so that it will stand up easily, and scoop out and discard the seeds.
- Brush the cut sides of the squash with a little olive oil.
- In a large, heavy skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chard and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes more.
- Add the salt and paprika and cook one minute more.
- Add broth and quinoa and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes until quinoa is cooked through.
- Stir in beans, half of the feta, and the mint.
- Preheat oven to 350º F.
- Stand the squash halves in a baking dish and pour water into the dish around the squash.
- Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until squash is tender.
- Top squash halves with remaining feta and cook under broiler until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
- Serve immediately.