I have always thought that there could be no better farm-to-table experience than a dinner hosted by Outstanding in the Field, an organization that brings chefs and farmers around the country together to experience the connection to the land via local and sustainable produce and artisan food-makers. The image of the long rectangular table stretched out across an open field has always represented to me the most fitting way to celebrate the fruit of the earth.
That is, until I attended Chef Michael Solomonov’s Sukkot Harvest Supper: A Celebration of Nature’s Bounty in support of Hazon, the largest Jewish environmental organization in the world, this past Sunday. In the middle of a field at Judy and Mark Dornstreich’s Branch Creek Farm in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, under a giant herb- and flower-filled sukkah, approximately 150 folks gathered to bless wine and challah. They were of course also there to enjoy the bounty of the farm’s harvest in a five-course meal designed to highlight the best local produce, Hazon’s local CSAs, and organic sustainable gourmet products from the Negev desert.
The delectable dinner, which focused around the Shivat Ha’Minim, the seven species of fruits and grains detailed in the Torah as native to Israel — barley, wheat, olives (and olive oil), grapes, figs, and dates – was prepared by Philadelphia Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav. Born in Israel and raised in Pittsburgh he is renowned for his modern interpretations of Israeli flavors.
Within the very intriguing parameters of local, seasonal, sustainable, traceable, organic, and a non-meat menu, combined with the seven Israeli ingredients, he created a feast that reflected the spirit of Sukkot and Hazon on myriad levels with surprising flavors and textures.
While the volunteer staff passed crostini topped with sesame-scented babaganoush or a smooth sheep’s milk cheese sprinkled with sumac, Judy and Mark Dornstreich offered tours of the organic farm they started 32 years ago, “before it was cool,” they said.
Long tables were set with translucent green chargers and a sprig of basil tucked into each cloth napkin, with the open side of the sukkah facing the field with an view of the exquisite array of green organic lettuces, purple basil, red and yellow tomatoes, lavender eggplant, and yellow squash and sunflowers, just some of the types of produce Branch Creek Farm provides to Zahav and other top notch restaurants in Bucks County and Philadelphia.
The menu included grape leaves stuffed with spiced barley steamed in pomegranate juice and garnished with pomegranate molasses, yellow zucchini and grapes; fresh sweet figs garnished ka’taifi, a shredded wheat phyllo dough, wrapped around washed-rind sheep and goat’s milk cheese from Israel, sous-vide poached striped bass in olive oil; and a date torte flavored with sesame-date paste from Negev Nectars, which imports sustainable organic foods from Israel.
Executive Director and Hazon founder Nigel Savage said, “There’s something very lovely about being connected to the land of Israel and being connected to the land here at the same time with this one meal. Reconnecting to food through a Jewish lens is really enlightening.”
Stuffed Grape Leaves with Pomegranate
Chef Solomonov shared his unique take on this traditional dish, which can also be served as a finger food. Using savory, spiced barley instead of rice also makes it richer in protein — and very satisfying.
1 cup of barley, soaked in cold water, overnight
16 brined grape leaves, rinsed with cold water
1 tbsp of ground fenugreek
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp of ground black pepper
1 tsp of ground turmeric
2 tbsp of kosher salt
2 tbsp of chopped cilantro
1 cup of pomegranate juice, fresh
1) Drain and mix barley with spices, cilantro and salt.
2) Place 1 heaping tbsp of filling in the center of each grape leaf, and roll up, making sure to tuck in the ends to seal.
3) Place completed leaves in a tight fitting sauté pan and pour pomegranate juice on top.
4) Cover with a tight fitting lid or aluminum foil, then cook in a preheated oven (350 degrees) for around three hours or until the grape leaves have absorbed all of the liquid.
5) Chill to room temperature and serve.