Feasts for the Festivals

Beginning with when we were young children we learned that the Yamim Nora’im are just tha t— days of awe and apprehension. We all feel a certain relief when we know we have done our best to daven for a sweet year. As Sukkos approaches, our thoughts turn to how we can enhance our seudos to fulfill the mitzvah of oneg Yom Tov. It is an opportunity to impress your family and guests with some exotic and unusual dishes that are sure to become family favorites. They have certainly won fans in our homes.

This week’s column will offer suggestions on entrees (main dishes) and side dishes. Next week we’ll concentrate on salads and desserts. You’ll want to clip these columns to use as reference throughout Yom Tov.

Sesame-Lemon Chicken in Phyllo

for the chicken:

  • 6 skinless chicken breasts

for the marinade:

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black
  • pepper

for the coating:

  • 4 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds


Rinse chicken breasts and pat them dry. Make 3-4 small slashes in each. Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours to marinate. You may also make the chicken immediately; however, marinating for a few hours gives you maximum flavor.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Spread one sheet of phyllo horizontally on your work surface. Brush vegetable oil lightly over the entire sheet, using a pastry brush. Cover it with the second sheet of phyllo. Lightly brush with oil once again. Repeat with the third layer and place the final layer on top.  Cut phyllo into 6 equal strips in the width. That means you should have short, wide strips rather than long narrow ones. Remove one chicken breast from marinade and center it at the bottom end of a phyllo strip. Roll the cutlet in the dough, leaving both ends exposed. Dip each end into sesame seeds and place on the baking sheet. Repeat for each chicken breast.

Roast chicken until crisp, 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately. If you prepare this dish before Yom Tov, it’s best to reheat it briefly in a hot oven. Keeping it warm in a low oven will make the phyllo dry and crumbly (Serves 6).

While it is a pricier than poultry, many balabustas will treat their families to lamb for a Yom Tov seudah. Here’s our favorite way to prepare it. The best part is that this dish is simple and delicious!

Roasted Lamb Chops


  • 6 lamb shoulder chops
  • 12 garlic cloves: 4 sliced, 8 whole
  • 3 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 2 cups chicken stock


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut approximately 10 small slits in each chop. Place a garlic slice in every slit.  Over high heat, heat oil in a very large ovenproof sauté pan. Add lamb chops in a single layer and cook until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. Place whole garlic cloves around lamb and pour chicken stock over lamb. Cover and bake 45 minutes. Turn lamb over and continue baking about 45 minutes longer until meat is very tender, basting occasionally and adding more broth if necessary (serves 6).

Wild rice is more time-consuming to prepare than regular white rice, so plan accordingly.

Wild Rice with Caramelized Onions


  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 1/2 cup wild rice
  • 3 tablespoons margarine
  • 3 onions, cut in wedges
  • 2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest


In a medium sized pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil and boil both brown and wild rice for 45 minutes.  While the rice cooks, melt margarine in a heavy saucepan and saute onions 5-6 minutes over medium-high heat, until translucent.  Lower flame, add brown sugar and allow onions to caramelize, approximately 25 minutes. Stir in craisins and orange zest and continue cooking 10 minutes longer. Add rice to caramelized onion mixture. Serve hot. This dish is best prepared fresh and does not have the same appeal when reheated.

Ratatouille is similar to the familiar Hungarian “letcho” in that it is prepared with sautéed vegetables. There are some differences, such as the inclusion of eggplant and garlic. These flavors lend it a Mediterranean flair.

Ratatouille Tart

For the filling:

  • 6 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste

For the crust:

  • 10 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 9 teaspoons breadcrumbs

for assembly:

  • 6 small plum tomatoes, sliced 1/4” thick
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 thick
  • 2 teaspoon bread crumbs

prepare the filling:

Heat 6 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Over medium high heat, sauté eggplant, peppers, onions, garlic and thyme until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Reduce flame to low and cover skillet. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, until eggplant is thoroughly softened. Remove cover and stir in the tomato paste. Cook 3 minutes longer until all the liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour mixture into a colander or strainer set over a bowl and allow it to drain completely. Discard liquid. Filling can be prepared a day or two in advance and refrigerated.

Preparing the crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stack the 10 phyllo sheets on your work surface. Cut the stack into an 11” circle using a sharp knife and a plate or pan as a guide.  Generously spread a 9”, removable bottom, tart pan with oil. Place one phyllo circle in the pan, fitting it in and allowing the edges to extend above the rim of the pan. Cover the other phyllo sheets with a damp towel until needed. Spread oil on dough using a pastry brush, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon bread crumbs. Place a second phyllo circle in the pan and repeat spreading oil and sprinkling crumbs. Continue until all the phyllo circles have been used.

Assembling the tart:

Spread the drained eggplant mixture into the phyllo dough. Lay out alternating slices of tomato and zucchini in concentric circles, overlapping the slices.  The slices should completely cover the eggplant mixture.

Sprinkle remaining 2 teaspoons bread crumbs over the top and bake 1 hour until crust is golden and zucchini is tender. (Serves 8)