I can tell when the High Holidays are approaching, because I start getting those phone calls – from my family, my friends, my mother’s friends…even strangers!
“Can I make the brisket ahead and freeze it?”
“How about the kugel?”
“What can I do with my burnt honey cake?”
(Yes and yes to the first two and “Um, do you have a dog?” to the third.)
Jewish cooks the world over are shopping and chopping, searing and sauteing – so many dishes, so little time.
In bygone days our foremothers, stay-at-home moms before that term ever became popular, had few distractions from the task at hand: putting a holiday feast on the table for their large extended families.
Today’s cooks squeeze the job in between work, carpools, meetings, etc. – all while trying to recreate those labor-intensive recipes their grandmothers slaved over. For what is a holiday if not the gathering of families connecting to their roots and traditions?
No sooner is Rosh Hashanah over – dishes put away, leftovers stored – than we’re already thinking about the next big feast occurring the following week, the Break-the-Fast celebration that ends Yom Kippur.
All good fasts must come to an end, and every year our friends, Barbara and Sylvan Swartz, host their annual mega potluck feast. Everyone brings his or her specialty and we all dig in. You’d think we’d been starving for a week!
While in our family we crave traditional dishes for Rosh Hashanah – brisket, kugel, my mother’s chicken soup – Break-the-Fast at the Swartzes brings a serendipitous mix of old and new as we all try to outdo each other with our signature dishes.
Last year I brought my Layered Hummus and Eggplant appetizer, and I’ve already had requests to bring it again. The idea for the dish came to me in a dream! I’ve often heard chefs claim they created a recipe that way, but I never believed it until it happened to me.
Several years ago I had prepared hummus as well as an eggplant salad for a party, and that night, as I slept, the two merged into one. When I awoke I thought, what a great combination! After making a few adjustments to the two recipes, I tried it out on a cooking class, and students have told me that it has become a staple in their entertaining repertoire.
The secret of my homemade hummus is the roasted garlic, which really packs a wallop of flavor. But if you are one of those heretofore-mentioned frazzled, overextended cooks, you can even use store-bought hummus for this presentation.
The eggplant is sliced and fried, well drained and chopped into bite-size pieces, then mixed with a balsamic vinaigrette and spread over the hummus. Top with toasted pine nuts and chopped cilantro and serve with pita.
For Break-the-Fast, prepare the hummus and the eggplant ahead, toast the pine nuts and chop the cilantro. Wrap the chopped cilantro in a paper towel, and store it in the refrigerator in a resealable plastic bag. Then right before serving it takes only a few moments to assemble the dish.
Susie Fishbein’s latest book “Kosher by Design Short on Time” (Artscroll) is filled with ideas every time-pressed cook will appreciate. “As a working woman and mother of four, I ‘get’ the need for recipes for everyday life,” she says. While you’ll find lots of ideas for family meals, the book is packed with party recipes too.
Pesto-Glazed Orzo, Salmon, and Artichokes is an easy dish you can make ahead that would be a great addition to your Break-the-Fast buffet. And Susie wouldn’t be Susie without those innovative and creative ideas for dressing your table. In this book even the table décor is quick and easy!
“Use what you have,” she advises. She groups her antique teapot collection down the center of her table for a show-stopping conversation starter. “Each teapot comes with a story of how and when I came to acquire it,” she writes. “Whether you collect salt and pepper shakers, colored glass, postcards, or model cars, anything that is part of you will create immediate interest, and, when grouped together, can have great visual appeal.”
But what I love most about Susie’s books is her attention to the real meaning of the holidays and celebrations and the creative way she reinterprets them.
For Simchas Torah, for example, we traditionally eat things that are rolled, a culinary reminder of the Torah scrolls. “Stuffed cabbage can be kind of overdone,” says Fishbein, “but I’ve got this awesome Chicken Negemaki. The chicken is rolled around scallion and red pepper strips and tied like a scroll with another blanched scallion. Now, true, God never told us to eat Chicken Negemaki, but he didn’t tell us to eat stuffed cabbage either!”
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” by Judy Bart Kancigor (Workman) and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.