Be Merry / One dish that rules them all
Hosting the holiday meal doesn't have to be a stressful affair, especially if you choose to use one impressive dish that can be prepared in advance.
It's Rosh Hashanah eve. The table is set for company. Candlelight, apples with honey. The intoxicating smell of cooking food hangs in the air.
Hosting family and friends for the holiday meal is no easy task. Generally speaking, preparing numerous courses and dishes turns preparation of the meal into a heavy burden. The many hours needed to cook, and the emotional and financial burdens involved, can be rough.
I believe that hosts who enjoy the preparation, spend only a few hours working and make it to the dinner feeling refreshed will inevitably be assured of their guests' enjoyment. I have learned from experience that it's best to serve only a main course at holiday meals - one laborious, festive, impressive-looking one. This main course is cooked in advance, and generally involves chicken or beef, or sometimes both, as well as a side dish.
The other dishes should be easy and refreshing. Foods that are carbohydrate-heavy or fried may be unnecessarily heavy. After beginning the meal with the traditional fish dish, I recommend serving a colorful assortment of salads prepared in advance that incorporate the symbols of the holiday - such as cooked mangold (chard ), roasted eggplant with pomegranate, beet salad and pumpkin salad. You can accompany them with two leafy green salads with baby greens, crisp lettuce, tomatoes and seasonal vegetables. Once you toss in some holiday symbols - pomegranate seeds, chopped dates, apple slivers and a sweet honey dressing - any combination will be a winner.
The following recipe produces a colorful and enticing dish whose aroma wafts through the house, awakening taste buds and appetites. Serving it is an impressive and festive moment. And most important of all, it is prepared in advance, which makes hosting significantly easier and also a pleasant, memorable experience.
The recipe was inspired by the holiday's symbols and contains honey, pomegranate concentrate and leeks. Adding a fine cognac lends it a festive air and superb taste, and the rich side dish - a pilaf of wild rice, spelt and lots of colorful, flavorful mushrooms - pulls the dish together perfectly.
A pullet, sometimes also called pargit, is a small, young chicken. Pullets are softer and more delicate tasting than mature chickens. They're also low in fat and reasonably priced (see box ). Carving them in front of guests is simple and easy.
Stuffing a pullet is not complicated: You pull open the cavity between the pullet's legs and fill it. You don't need to sew the cavity shut; tying together the legs with kitchen twine is enough. By cooking the pilaf in the same pot as the pullets, the grains absorb the juices expressed by them, along with the sweetness of the prunes. This is a nutritious, tasty side dish that doesn't overburden the main dish.
To make things more manageable, you can prepare the stuffing, stuff the prunes and mushrooms, prepare the pilaf (except for the juices from marinating the chicken, which you add before cooking ), and make the marinade a day in advance. Cooking the dish a day or two before the holiday will also guarantee an exquisite taste, as the flavors will blend and the meat will soften in the fridge.
Pullets stuffed with beef and bulgur, served over pilaf
The steps in this recipe are listed in the recommended (chronological ) order, so that you can prepare this efficiently and quickly. While some steps can be completed in advance, you will want to preheat your oven to a high temperature (230 degrees Celsius ) before you bake the dish. Serves eight.
4 pullets, 700-800 grams each, rinsed well and dried
For the marinade:
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup fine cognac
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pomegranate concentrate
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. white pepper
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
For the stuffing:
4 tbsp. canola oil
4 leeks, halved and sliced into thin crescents
1/2 cup medium bulgur
500 grams ground beef
1 medium potato, finely grated (including liquid )
2 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground coriander seeds
For the pilaf:
6 onions, sliced into thin rings
3 tbsp. canola oil
20 dried plums, pitted
3 tbsp. fine cognac
6 dried porcini mushrooms
2/3 cup wild rice
2/3 cup whole spelt grains
1 large tomato, grated (including liquid )
2 baskets shimeji mushrooms
2 baskets champignon mushrooms
10 portobello mushrooms
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Mix together the marinade ingredients, pour the marinade over the pullets and massage vigorously into all surfaces of the chicken, including the cavities. Put the chicken into the fridge to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the other parts of the dish:
Heat a medium frying pan with 3 tablespoons of canola oil, add the onions and fry on a low flame, until the onions caramelize. This generally takes between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. Once the onions are honey-colored, remove the pan from the fire.
In a second frying pan, fry the leeks in 4 tablespoons canola oil until they soften and brown slightly.
Put the spelt grains in a bowl of water to soak for 30-60 minutes.
Bring water to boil in a medium pot, add the wild rice and cook for 25 minutes. Drain. Keep the pot handy to cook the spelt later.
In a small bowl, soak the prunes in 3 tablespoons of cognac for 30 minutes, stirring periodically. Strain the prunes, reserving the liquid for later.
In another small bowl, pour boiling water over 6 porcini mushrooms and leave for 20 minutes. Drain and finely chop the mushrooms.
After the wild rice is cooked, boil water in the same pot and cook the spelt grains in it for 15 minutes. Drain.
In a medium bowl, rinse the bulgur in hot tap water, and drain. Repeat twice more.
Use a small knife to cut off the stems of the champignon, portobello and shimeji mushrooms. Slice the portobellos into thick strips.
Make the stuffing: In a large bowl, combine the bulgur, ground beef, grated potato, pine nuts, seasonings and half the fried leeks. Mix well and set aside.
Stuff the prunes: Use your thumb and index finger to open the plums in order to create a cavity. Stuff with the beef and bulgur mixture.
Stuff the chicken: Remove the pullets from the marinade and set aside the marinade juices. Stuff with some of the beef and bulgur mixture, and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. If there is any leftover stuffing, you can use it to stuff a few champignon mushrooms or add it to the pilaf.
Make the pilaf: In a large bowl, mix together the spelt, wild rice, caramelized onions, the rest of the fried leek, grated tomato, raw mushrooms, chopped porcini, reserved pullet marinade, reserved prune liquid and spices. Mix well.
Preheat the oven to a high temperature (230 degrees Celsius ).
To assemble the dish: Spread the pilaf across the bottom of a large, oven-safe dish, and arrange the stuffed pullets, stuffed prunes and mushrooms over it. Roast for 30 minutes, covered. Lower the oven temperature to 150 degrees Celsius. Baste the pullets with the liquid in the baking dish and continue roasting, tightly covered, for 2.5 hours, basting every half-hour.
If this dish is being prepared a day in advance, take it out of the fridge an hour before you reheat it.
Heat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius, and add a little water to the baking dish. Heat covered for 40 to 50 minutes; the extra water will be absorbed by the pilaf.
Where to buy organic pullet
• Organi Tari (Arik Melamed's label ) - fresh organic pullets, free-range and chemical-free. Pullets weighing 700-900 grams each are especially suitable for stuffing, because of both the cavity's size (one pullet for every two diners ) and the good chicken flavor. They cost NIS 20-28 per pullet. Available at Tiv Ta'am, Organic Market, Super-Sol, health food stores and speciality butchers.
• Teva-Off - raised without antibiotics. The pullets come in two sizes: trays of three pullets weighing an average of 500 grams each (one pullet per diner ), for NIS 66; or trays with two pullets, 700-800 grams each (one pullet for every two diners ), priced at NIS 26-28 per pullet. Available at supermarket chains, the Tel Aviv branch of Spices, and speciality butchers.