Menu Planning for Safe Holiday Gatherings

Aug. 21, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Kitchen Talk, the CJR’s weekly food blog. It’s hard to believe that Rosh Hashanah is less than one month away. Erev Rosh Hashanah falls on September 18.

It may be time to try out some new dishes for the High Holidays, but the pandemic may determine how we serve the meal and the type of dishes we prepare. We still have to be extra mindful of health and safety for any family get-togethers.

COVID certainly affected our Passover seders back in April. There were no dinner guests. In fact, the first seder was my introduction to Zoom.

At the time, social distancing was a relatively new experience. Now it’s a way of life, but at our home, we have eased up. My kids usually visit on Sunday and we eat dinner on the backyard deck.

We have had a few larger family get-togethers – all outdoors – for special occasions. I actually hosted a small wedding in my backyard.

We were very COVID-conscious for the simchah. The bride wore a beautiful white dress with a matching mask. We all wore masks and the intermingling of families was kept to a minimum.

We also served the food very carefully. Everyone got an individually boxed meal. It was beautifully presented, but simple.

I also recently attended a backyard birthday party. People arrived in shifts and every person received a box of party tidbits. It worked out well.

Now my siblings and I are hoping to celebrate Rosh Hashanah together with our children and grandchildren. We’ll all be outdoors and wearing masks. We’ll probably group in nuclear family units. For past celebrations, we set out the various mains and side-dishes on a table, and people served themselves. There will be no buffet this year. My sister and I will be plating or boxing the meal, which has yet to be planned.

I’m starting to experiment with dishes that might work for a holiday boxed meal. I’m thinking that a grain dish can easily be served in individual reusable containers. It can also look festive.

This weekend, I’m going to make Amy Rosen’s Kasha Pilaf, a modern take on the traditional dish. The recipe comes from her book, Kosher Style: Over 100 Jewish Recipes for the Modern Cook.

I’m also going to prepare Balsamic Mushroom Salad, a recipe from another Amy. It’s from Kosher Taste: Plan Prepare Plate, by Amy Stopnicki @amyskoshertaste. The mushrooms can be served warm or at room temperature.

Of course I’ll have to try a dessert. The recipe for Chocolate Tahini Cookies looks really yummy. The recipe can be found in Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman’s book, The Living Kitchen: Healing Recipes to Support Your Body During Cancer Treatment and Recovery.

Cookies can easily be packaged and included in a boxed holiday meal. I can’t say the same for brisket.

KASHA PILAF – Amy Rosen

4 cups (1 L) vegetable stock
2 cups (500 ml) kasha
1 small bunch of kale, fibrous veins removed
1 cup (250 ml) walnut pieces
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 cups (1 L) button mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped dill
Juice of one lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp honey

In a medium pot, bring the vegetable stock to a boil, then add the kasha. Bring the kasha back to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for 10 minutes or until it is cooked. Fluff the kasha with a fork, then tip it into a large bowl to cool.

Rinse the pot and add about 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and add the kale. Cover the pot with a lid and steam for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the kale is tender. Drain and chop the kale and add it to the big kasha bowl.

Wipe out the pot and toast the walnut pieces over medium heat for 3– 4 minutes, or until slightly browned. Add the nuts to the kasha. Drizzle the olive oil into the pot and sauté the red onions over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the quartered mushrooms and cook for about 15 minutes more. Add the onion and mushrooms to the kasha, along with the chopped dill, lemon juice, salt, pepper and honey. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

BALSAMIC MUSHROOM SALAD – Amy Stopnicki

5 large Portobello mushroom caps, cleaned, checked and finely diced
½ pound (250 g) white mushrooms, cleaned, checked and finely diced
5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 shallots, finely diced
¼ cup (60) ml olive oil
½ cup (125 ml) balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)

Combine the mushrooms, garlic, shallots, oil, and vinegar in a roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25–30 minutes or until the mushrooms have shrunk to half their size. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. The mushrooms can be served warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CHOCOLATE TAHINI COOKIES – Tamara Green & Sarah Grossman

1 large egg
1½ cup (125 ml) tahini
½ cup (125 ml) blanched almond flour
½ cup (125 ml) coconut sugar
½ tsp (2½ ml) baking powder
One 3.5 oz (100 g) dark chocolate bar – 70% or higher – coarsely chopped
¼ tsp (1 ml) coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the egg, tahini, almond flour, coconut sugar, and baking powder. It will make a thick, sticky mixture. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of batter and place it on the baking sheet. Continue to do this, spacing each cookie about 2½ inches (10 cm) apart, until you have used all of the dough. If you prefer a larger cookie, scoop 2 tbsp 30 ml) per cookie.

Sprinkle cookies with the coarse salt. Bake in the oven for 8–9 minutes, watching carefully because they can burn easily. They should be just lightly browned on top. Let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a plate or container for storage. Makes 14 cookies

The cookies can be stored in a cool place in the pantry for two days or in the fridge for one week.


Barbara Silverstein
Barbara Silverstein

Barbara Silverstein is a Toronto-area journalist and an award-winning food writer. She was a long-time contributor to The Canadian Jewish News. Her articles have also appeared in Homemaker’s Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Tablet Magazine.