Its time to chill &mdash in the kitchen, in our lives

Although many Americans look to Labor Day as the end of summer, and many American Jews think that the High Holy Days signal the beginning of fall, those of us in Northern California know that Sukkot really marks the change of seasons. Our food, clothing and lifestyles transition for autumn and winter.

I’ll be spending the beginning of the holiday — which starts at sundown Wednesday, Sept. 29 — at Camp Tawonga for the Adult Weekend, in our gorgeous sukkah under the bright, bright stars. The organic garden will be bursting with tomatoes, both summer and hard squashes, peppers, and fragrant, beautiful flowers.

This is a period when we can take a signal from the earth to gather together our resources, slow down production and carefully evaluate the future. Perhaps nature is pointing us in the right direction — it’s time to chill.

Traditionally, Sukkot has included stuffed dishes, possibly to represent fecundity. I opt for using our area’s abundance of vegetables, as well as citrus dishes to celebrate the etrog. Ratatouille is a wonderfully simple dish that transports well, mixes nicely with pasta or couscous, and can be served warm or room temperature. Children generally don’t even want to try ratatouille, but they do seem to show some enthusiasm over Orange Chicken.

Orange Chicken | Serves 8

4 Tbs. flour
1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbs. sea salt
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half horizontally
4 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup honey
1 cup chicken stock
2 oranges, peeled and segmented
zest from 1 orange

Mix together the flour, cinnamon, paprika, allspice, cloves and salt. Dredge each chicken fillet in the flour mixture, spanking off the excess.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Brown the chicken pieces on each side, no more than 1 minute per side. Remove chicken to a platter. Add the orange juice, honey and chicken stock to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring to loosen up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer the sauce until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Just before serving, reheat the sauce. Return the chicken to the pan, coating well with the sauce. Add the orange segments to the pan until just heated through. Serve the chicken on a bed of rice, garnishing with the almonds and orange zest.

Ratatouille | Serves 8

1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes, salted and drained
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
3 zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 Tbs. sugar
4 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 8 pieces
1 Tbs. coarse sea salt
1 tsp. pepper
3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic and the drained eggplant, and sauté for 5 minutes. Set aside.

Place the peppers, squash, sugar, tomatoes, salt and pepper in a 3- or 4-quart clay casserole. Spoon the sautéed onions, garlic and eggplant over the vegetables in the casserole, and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 1 hour, or until all the vegetables are cooked. Remove the cover and allow the vegetables to cook for 30 minutes more. When cool enough, stir in the chopped basil. Serve warm or cold.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a Bay Area cooking teacher and food professional. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j.

or to [email protected].