What better way to get introduced to Shabbat dinner for the first time than with the author of a cookbook on Jewish cooking? I recently had this pleasure, and also joined Leah Koenig, author of Modern Jewish Cooking, as she shopped for the dinner at her local grocery store in Brooklyn, where she also gave me a crash course in what to expect as a Shabbat dinner first-timer.
This week Leah has shared her guide for the first-time Shabbat guest, along with her summery dinner plan and menu, and recipes for her Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Garlic Marinated Zucchini, and Peach and Raspberry Tart. Now, take a look and see how it all came together and what made this Shabbat dinner so perfect for summertime.
The Shabbat Dinner Plan
The plan for this dinner was simply to embrace summer and all it offers. This meant keeping things simple, casual, and relaxed — and adding some color, in the form of the tablecloth, linens, and flowers. Shabbat is a special dinner, meant to stand out from the other meals of the week, which this one certainly did.
→ Read more about the party plan here: A Modern Summer Shabbat Dinner: The Party Plan and Menu
And of course, there was the food, which along with the company was the highlight of the evening. Leah composed a meal using recipes from her cookbook, Modern Jewish Cooking. She carefully selected dishes highlighting seasonal produce at its peak. Everything from fresh zucchini and scallions to herbs and sweet peaches.
The Menu for a Modern Summer Shabbat Dinner
This menu serves six people. The zucchini is best made right before serving, although all of the other dishes can be made ahead of time.
Shopping for Summer Shabbat
A few days before the dinner, I joined Leah at her food co-op in Brooklyn, and we picked up just about everything she'd need for the summery Shabbat, saving the challah to be purchased just before the meal.
Leah's menu took a step away from some of the traditional, heavier dishes served for Shabbat, instead focusing on lighter fare and taking full advantage of summer produce. We loaded the cart with fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs, as well as plenty of things from the bulk bins.
Preparing for a Summer Shabbat
The nice thing about Leah's menu, and something I always love when it comes to dinner parties, was that most of the dishes could all be made ahead of time — either the day before or morning of the dinner. And since the dinner was hosted in a friend's home, this gave her the flexibility to work mostly in her own, very familiar kitchen.
The wonderful thing about Leah's friend's home (in addition to the fact that it was newly renovated) is that it has a very open floor plan. The kitchen opens directly into the dining room, which moves into the living room and foyer on the other end — it's so ideal for entertaining.
The Day of the Dinner
On the day of the dinner, I arrived early to help Leah with the final prep for the meal. Since most of the food had already been cooked, there weren't too many last-minute things to do. But as I know from hosting my own dinner parties, it's always nice to have another set of hands to help out with any last-minute things that pop up.
Before the Guests Arrived
The biggest task at hand before the guests arrived was preparing the zucchini, which is best when made right before serving, so I got to work with Leah, slicing zucchini and chopping herbs. The zucchini is a very hands-on dish to prepare, but it came together pretty quickly.
From there, it was on to setting and arranging the dining room table. Since Shabbat is a regular weekly meal, Leah opted for using tabletop decor she already owned, rather than purchasing something just for the occasion. To keep the bright and casual summery theme, Leah used a blue tablecloth and pale yellow napkins, and added pops of color with a blue water pitcher, eye-catching serving dishes, and pretty purple flowers.
Lastly, just before the guests started to arrive, Leah lit a set of candles and said a prayer.
After the Guests Arrived
Leah greeted the guests, her family and friends who gather together regularly for Shabbat. None of us could help but coo over Leah's nearly one-year-old son, who is simply adorable. While everyone mingled, Leah headed back to the kitchen to transfer the meal to serving dishes and set them around the table.
We all gathered around together, and Leah's husband, Yoshie, poured some wine and said the kiddush, a Jewish blessing said over the wine. From there, he filled everyone's glass as we gathered around the table. Before moving into the meal, we all placed a hand on the challah loaves for the motzi, the blessing said over the challah.
Like just about all other dinner parties, Shabbat dinner embraces family, friends, good food, lively talk, and plenty of laughter. All of the food was served family-style, which is usually my preference for dinner parties. We passed the platter and bowls around the table, filling our plates with Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives, garlicky zucchini, pine nut and scallion couscous, and chunks of sweet challah. All of these dishes were warm and comforting, yet light enough and perfect for summertime.
After we finished off nearly every last bite of dinner, Leah slipped back to the kitchen to cut the tart she prepared. Dessert was light and refreshing — the perfect way to curb my sweet tooth on a hot summer evening. Right now the peaches couldn't be sweeter or the raspberries more plump and ripe; lightly baked into a puff pastry tart, Leah knew exactly how to put them to work.