Très elegant, n’est ce pas? Somehow using French appellations was thought to add a touch of class, but “hors d’oevres” doesn’t begin to describe the smorgasbord at a gala New York affair, which, then and now, is more like an orgy than a course, in which more is more and less is never a consideration. Guests unfamiliar with this tradition tend to overdo, failing to realize that a full meal is to follow.
Supreme of Fresh Fruits, Hearts of Celery, Ripe and Green Olives
Just what we need after the smorgasbord.
Sweetbreads with Mushrooms en Noodle Ring
Popular in the fifties, sweetbreads, served today in the finest restaurants, was probably a leftover from the shtetl and depression days when no part of the animal was wasted, a trend promoted today by socially conscious chefs priding themselves in “nose to tail” cooking. As Fergus Henderson says in “The Whole Beast”: “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing.”
I loved sweetbreads, especially Aunt Irene’s, which were as much a part of my childhood as piano lessons and metal roller skates. Neither sweet nor bread, they are actually the thymus gland. If you can get past thoughts of anatomy, they are delicious and delicate, a bit of a potchke to prepare at home and not likely to be found at your local Ralph’s. And you may gussy it up by serving the dish “en noodle ring,” but we’re talking about kugel, another shtetl delicacy.
Fresh Garden Vegetable Soup
How many people do you think actually consumed this after all that preceded it?
Roast Prime Ribs of Blue Ribbon Beef
Meat, meat, meat—a sign of plenty. Note no fish choice, no vegetarian option. Who wouldn’t eat meat?
Baked potato, Peas, Whole Carrots
Vegetables are offered more for color than nutrition. Nothing special there, but, oh, the derma (kishke). While you’ll find it on the menu in Jewish delis, no one makes the authentic version, dripping with schmaltz (chicken fat). Another leftover from the shtetl, where whole meals could be conjured from scraps. The family is crossing over, but not yet ready to leave the Old World behind.
Salade Caprice, French Dressing
This “filler” course is not to be confused with Caprese salad. Mozzarella cheese would never have been found on this kosher table. I have no idea what “caprice” referred to, but my guess is this salad was nothing more than iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, what women (and it was always women) of the fifties served their families with all that meat. French dressing was de rigeur. Today’s endless availability and variety of produce, the emphasis on farm-to-table cooking and the fertile imaginings of creative chefs have transformed the salad course. Roasted Vegetable and Arugula Salad from “Real Life Kosher Cooking” (Artscroll, $31.49) by Miriam Pascal (founder of OvertimeCook.com, a popular online destination for kosher cooks) boasts crispy chickpeas and a creamy hummus dressing.
Baked Alaska, Petit Fours, Dinner Mints
The height of elegance for dessert. Even the mints made the list.
Apertifs: Scotch and Rye, Liqueurs
Creative mixed drinks hadn’t yet been imagined by this group. Wine was Manischewitz and would have no place on this elegant menu. And—puleez —for our simchas it was always an open bar.
Conspicuous by its absence on the printed menu is any mention of bread. The ubiquitous challah went without saying and was always presented on a large buffet table, before dinner service began, to be blessed in his inimitable style by our patriarch, Papa Harry. Happily, the serving of challah at simchas, holidays and on Shabbat continues to this day. Onion Garlic Stuffed Challah, also from “Real Life Kosher Cooking” by Miriam Pascal, is a dressed-up, simcha-worthy version, yielding three large challahs for your crowd.
Roasted Vegetable and Arugula Salad with Creamy Hummus Dressing
Yield: 6 servings
2 medium zucchini, cut into small chunks
1 medium eggplant, cut into small chunks
10 to 14 ounces white mushrooms, cut in small chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup hummus
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces baby arugula leaves
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Roasted chickpeas (see note)
- Vegetables: Preheat oven to 425°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- On 1 prepared baking sheet, toss zucchini, eggplant, and mushrooms with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Divide vegetables between prepared sheets.
- Roast 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway through, until starting to brown. Cool.
- Dressing: Whisk dressing ingredients until combined and creamy.
Combine arugula, cherry tomatoes, roasted vegetables, dressing, and chickpeas in large bowl. Toss to combine.
Note: You can buy packaged crispy chickpeas or make your own: Toss rinsed and drained canned chickpeas with olive oil and spices. (I use salt, pepper, garlic, cumin and paprika.) Roast at 425°F until crispy, about 25 minutes.
Source: “Real Life Kosher Cooking” by Miriam Pascal (Artscroll, $31.49)
Onion Garlic Stuffed Challah
Yield: 3 large challahs
2 heaping tablespoons (3 packets) active dry yeast
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 cups lukewarm water, divided
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
9 cups flour
Onion Garlic Filling:
1 large onion, very finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons pesto
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds, optional
- Prepare dough: Place yeast, a pinch sugar, and ½ cup water into bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook. Let mixture sit about 5 minutes until it starts to bubble. Add remaining sugar and water, eggs, oil, and salt. Mix until combined. Gradually add flour, mixing until a dough forms. Continue to mix on low, kneading about 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to lightly greased bowl. Cover with towel; set in warm place to rise 1½ to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
- Prepare filling: Combine filling ingredients in small bowl.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Once dough has risen, separate 1/3. Divide into 3 parts; roll each portion into rectangle about 4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Spread about 1/9 of filling over center of each rectangle. Fold one edge up to enclose filling, then fold up other edge to cover, forming logs and braid. Place on prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Let challahs rise on baking sheet an additional 10 minutes, then brush with egg and sprinkle with seeds, if using. Bake until bottoms sound hollow when tapped, about 30-40 minutes.
JLIFE FOOD EDITOR JUDY BART KANCIGOR is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.