A Feast for the Eyes

Like clockwork, it’s practically Sukkot and I have a butternut squash recipe from Aunt Sydney and my Cousin Mark for you. I know some of you served her butternut squash, leeks and grapes dish from last Sukkot every week until the marketplace ran out of squash. I hope you’ll like this butternut squash hummus recipe just as much.

brunch

I first had this hummus at a brunch Aunt Sydney hosted when we were all in town for my cousin Caleb’s bar mitzvah. (You know, the weekend when I had that salted chocolate rye cookie.) Cousin Mark snapped a photo of the brunch which might be the most beautiful photo of the most beautiful brunch that ever was: Roasted salmon, tomato tart, homemade grape leaves, rice salad, carrot salad, red pepper and eggplant caviar, this hummus. Just a magnificent spread.

In addition to being an excellent photographer (and a general technology wiz), Cousin Mark is also the source of this recipe. You see, he serves as vice president of the Macular Degeneration Foundation. Macular degeneration affects the central vision and is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 55 years old in the Western World. In the United States alone it affects ten million people. This year the foundation put together a cookbook of recipes for healthy vision. Its contributors include Lidia Bastianich, Ina Garten, Jacques Pepin and Alice Waters. So, yeah, if you were on the fence about the cookbook, it’s time to hop on over.

When I checked in with Mark earlier today to make sure it was OK to talk about the cookbook, he said it was fine and recommended the butternut squash hummus. “How did you know that was the recipe I wanted to talk about?” I asked him. “Because if I were Molly that would be the one I’d want to share. Also, that’s the one I would make if someone handed me the book.”

The book is on presale now but won’t be shipped until February. I’ll be back to share more recipes from it.

This recipe was a breeze to put together. I actually kicked up the oven from 350F to 450F because that’s just how I roll when I roast things. I’m using the rest of the squash tomorrow night in the butternut squash Thai curry. Because Thai food.

Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus from Eat Right for Your Sight

Ingredients

1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)

1 Tablespoon plus 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained

¼ cup tahini

3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 Tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon hot sauce

½ teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne, more for serving

Directions

Preheat over to 450 degrees. Toss the squash with 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, place on a baking sheet and roast until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas until coarsely chopped, then add the cooked squash, tahini, lemon juice, coriander, cumin, cilantro, garlic, hot sauce, salt and pepper; process until smooth. To serve, ladle mixture into bowls and drizzle with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and dust with cayenne.

Makes 3 cups

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The Luckiest

My cousin Mark, who is best described as tall, dark, handsome and phenomenally successful, is also the world’s luckiest vegan. I say this based solely on the fact that his mother, Aunt Sydney, is the best cook I know, and she makes sure that his belly is always happy and full when he’s home for a visit. Whether it’s a bowl of fluffy quinoa tabouli for Pesach, or a jar of pickled beets, he is always well-sated.

Aunt Sydney lives only a few blocks from my parents, so when we are all home for the holidays, like we were a few weeks back for Rosh Hashana, the cousins, nieces, nephews, spouses and grandchildren all gather at Sydney’s for an afternoon visit. We try to catch up as best we can. Sometimes there’s plum cake; this year there was stellar mandelbroit. The visit always begins with Sydney asking what Mom served, and us clamoring for her menu.

I actually didn’t hear the full details of her menu on this last visit (I was distracted by the mandelbroit – it was that good), but Miriam, Syl’s wife, reported back to me about one of the vegan dishes she’d served. I honest-to-goodness gasped when I heard about the pan of butternut squash, leeks, sage and grapes, and may have even started to moan when I began to imagine what it must have tasted like. It sounded like pure autumn to me, a perfect harvest dish, which meant that it would be on my Sukkot table.

Sukkot is one of the three Jewish pilgrimage holidays, Pesach and Shavuot being the other two. Like Pesach, it starts with festive holy days (praying, eating, no work), has interim days (more praying, but back to work), and ends with some more holy days. (At some point I’ll write about my favorite holiday of all, Simchat Torah, but one thing at a time.)

Sukkot means, roughly, Feast of Booths, because the Children of Israel were commanded to spend the days of the holiday eating all their meals in a temporary structure, called a sukkah, to remind us of the 40 years in the desert. (Some people also sleep in their sukkahs, although I’ve never done it.) We also have some rituals involving a lulav (a palm branch) and an etrog (a citron), with a few pieces of myrtle and willow leaves tucked in between.

Sorry to bore you with the details, but it’s a really wonderful holiday for the whole family. A definite highlight of being a little kid is making colorful paper chain rings to string throughout the sukkah. We always had a sukkah growing up, and my parents have kindly offered their sukkah to me and Rich. We borrowed someone’s station wagon over Rosh Hashana to bring it back to Boston, but it turns out we’ll need to rent a truck to do it. Someday…

But yes, Sukkot is a harvest holiday, and nearly everything in this dish came in last week’s CSA. When Rich saw me take the dish out of the oven, he made two observations: that it looked like fruit salad at first glance, and that it looked like a Thanksgiving dish to him. Yup, I said, that’s exactly right. It is a Thanksgiving dish.

Aunt Sydney didn’t actually give me a recipe for this dish, but I guessed it in the same way that I guessed how to make her sweet potato and cilantro soup. I’ve taken to waking up earlier than Rich on the weekends, so I had actually cleaned the butternut squash earlier in the day making this a pretty quick dish to put together. Using a sturdy peeler, I simply peeled the squash, cut it in a half at its waistline, sliced those pieces in thirds, scraped out the seeds from its bulb, then cut those into thirds, or approximately two inch cubes.

For the leek, I chopped off the top, peeled away its stiff, dark green outer layers until I got to very pale green part, sliced the leek in half vertically, and ran the stalks under running water and wiped out any dirt stuck in its crevices. To make certain that the leeks wouldn’t burn in a hot oven, I kept those pieces and their layers altogether in rather large pieces, about 2 inches. I intentionally photographed the pieces of leeks so you could see for yourself.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Leeks, Grapes and Sage

Ingredients

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed into 2-inch pieces

1 leek, halved, cleaned and sliced into 2-inch pieces

2 sage leaves, sliced into a thin chiffonade

1 cup red grapes, rinsed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 450. If you didn’t wake up earlier in the day to clean a butternut squash, my advice is to preheat the oven before you prep any of the vegetables.

In a large bowl, toss together the squash, leek, sage, olive oil and salt. Place all ingredients into a roasting pan with sides or medium-sized casserole dish, and cover tightly with foil. Place into the hot oven for approximately 30 minute. At the end of 30 minutes, remove the foil, and give everything a stir. Things should have softened very nicely by now. Remove the pan from the oven and add the washed grapes and give everything a stir. Place the casserole dish, uncovered, back into the oven for approximately 15 minutes more. Your goal at this point is to soften the grapes. In 15 minutes time, check on the pan. If everything is softened, and perhaps a little bit browned, remove from the oven, and serve.