Two weeks left to High Holidays, and counting! Even though only two holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, are commonly called High Holidays, there is a third one, no less important. According to some authorities, it is even the most important – the holiday of Sukkos, one of the three mandatory annual pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. Rosh Hashana, thought of as the Jewish New Year, is actually translated as The Head of the Year. There are many traditional dishes specific to it, and I will discuss them in several later posts (listen, Beautiful People, I have to make them and photograph them in order to post!). Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, is a fast, so there no food to speak of, other than the “before and after” meals.
Sukkos starts four days after Yom Kippur and lasts for eight days. During those eight days we eat all, or at least most, of our meals in tents, or huts, constructed outside for this purpose and open to elements. In this way, we commemorate our ancestors’ forty years of wondering in the dessert, relying only on the A-mighty’s protection and beneficence. One of the most important laws pertaining to this holiday is the law of hospitality. Although there are no traditional foods served on Sukkos, we literally cook up a storm and invite guests every day, if at all possible. This is not my Sukkah (hut), but mine looks pretty much the same – different chairs, tablecloth, and flowers, that’s all.
There is an interesting story that connects all three holidays. I have told a part of it in my post Pashtida (please click here). The main protagonists are the valiant King David, the beautiful Avigail, and her boorish husband Naval. It is said that during the month of Elul (that’s right now), King David and his followers camped out close to Naval’s land. By virtue of being there, they protected Naval’s shepherds and flocks form marauders, even though they had not been hired or even asked to do so. As a result, Naval’s flocks fared a lot better than before, and when the appropriate time came, his storerooms were stuffed to the rafters with freshly butchered meat.
Having heard about Naval’s prosperity, King David sent ten of his people to ask for some food. As it was customary, Naval bid them to come to the table and served them refreshments – some bread and a little water. Then they delivered the message from the king, “It’s almost the Eve of Rosh Hashana. We have protected your flocks, as your shepherds will confirm, and it is due to our services that your storerooms are fuller than they have ever been before. Please share some of your meat with us so that we can celebrate the holiday properly.” Naval, the fool, got incensed,”What? I should feed the whole army? The entire gang of you homeless bums? Is your gang leader crazy?” And he had them bodily ejected from his house.
You can imagine King David’s reaction! Besides the insult, Naval had no right to refuse the royal request! The King really didn’t even have to ask; he could’ve just sent his people to take what he wanted, but he tried to make nice, and this is what he got in response?! “I’ll show him who is boss!” – and he started marching. Avigail, the beautiful and wise woman, interceded, bringing him not only enough provisions to feed his small army, but also Pashtidot for all made by her own hands, and wine in abundance for a joyful holiday celebration. She managed to convince the King that her husband did not know that David had been anointed, and therefore cannot be blamed for refusing the King.
Well, David bought into it, but G-d didn’t! When Naval found out that his wife took all this stuff, meat, and flour, and wine, and delivered it to David’s camp, he became so enraged that he had a stroke. That, if you follow the timeline, was on the Eve of Rosh Hashana. However, in His eyes, every good deed counts, even the smallest one, so in the merit of Naval’s hospitality, however meager, to the ten messengers, he was granted ten days of reprieve. During those ten days, called The Days of Awe, of The Days of Atonement, Naval had a chance to repent, as we all do, every year. He didn’t, and on Yom Kippur, he died unrepentant. This story, among several traditionally re-told on Sukkos, with guests around the table, enforces the value of hospitality.
As we are having guests every day, the idea is to cook fast and with the least effort. Yet, it’s a holiday, so we try to make every meal festive. So how about onion, lemon, salt and pepper for simplicity?
Added to chicken, naturally. Since I never know who likes which parts of the bird, I just use a whole chicken, cut up and skin removed.
Mix chicken pieces with sliced onion, salt and pepper them, and pour lemon juice into this mess. Don’t forget the most important ingredient…
…dry white wine. The rule of thumb is to use the same wine you are planning to serve with this dish. This was Victor Chardonnay Lazio 2013, a light, typical Veneto wine, very similar to famous Georgian Tzinandali and Rkatziteli wines, more nutty then fruity, and not buttery at all. Marinating meats in wine is a traditional Georgian technique (a country, not a state), achieving unmatched tenderness and preserving the juices.
Cover your chicken pieces and let them get drunk on their own. Give them at least an hour. If you want to marinate overnight, refrigerate them. Have a glass of wine, too! For the next step, you’ll need bread crumbs (I use gluten free panko), sumac and paprika. If you can’t get sumac, add a few more drops of lemon juice and a little extra paprika for color.
Shake excess marinade from your chicken pieces and dredge them through panko. As no eggs are used in this recipe, you’ll have to press and pat, and generally make sure the crumbs stick to chicken. Arrange chicken pieces in a lightly misted with oil baking pan. Cover and bake at 350 F for one hour. Meanwhile, you can share my tribute to a great actor we have so recently lost, Gene Wilder.
This is a clip from Frisco Kid that shows quiet assurance of a timid Polish Rabbi who is determined to observe Shabbos properly, come what may. There is another episode that I treasure, more fitting to this post, where he is trying to catch his dinner. He runs after a wild bird, trying to convince it, “Chicken – chicken – chicken, I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to make you kosher!” Unfortunately, it wasn’t available as a clip, so you’ll have to watch the entire movie, and if you haven’t, do it, by all means – it’s brilliant!
When your oven beeps at you, take the cover off, sprinkle your chicken with paprika and sumac, and place a lemon slice on each piece. Give it ten more minutes in the oven without a cover, and you are all done.
It looks fancy, it tastes delicious, it takes very little time and effort, and you will have fulfilled the commandment of hospitality and earned the merits for a happy and healthy year!
Shana Tova v’Chatima Tova! A Zis Yor!
- 1 whole chicken, cut up, skin removed
- 1/2 large onion, sliced
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (1/2 lemon, squeezed)
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs (preferably gluten free)
- 1/2 lemon, sliced for garnish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A sprinkle of paprika
- A sprinkle of sumac
- Place chicken pieces in bowl with sliced onion, season with salt and pepper, pour lemon juice and wine, mix well. Cover, marinate for at least an hour. Could be refrigerated in marinade overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly mist baking pan with oil.
- Shake excess marinade from chicken pieces, dredge in bread crumbs, pressing firmly and patting each piece to make sure crumbs adhere. Place chicken pieces into baking pan, cover, bake for 1 hour.
- Remove cover, sprinkle with paprika and sumac, cover each piece with lemon slice. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes.