Monday, February 7, 2011

Salad and Shabbos

"Don't Cook Naked": Now with arty photos
To my earliest understanding, the Jewish Sabbath was a litany of things I didn't do. For Orthodox Jews, Shabbos is a day with no cars, no crayons, no microwaves, among many other "no"s. But Shabbos is just as much about the things you do as the things you don't. Many years ago, it was the day I put aside my brother’s old Nikes for a pair of shiny patent leather “clicky shoes” from Bradlees. Up until a few years ago, it was the day I’d sit in the women’s section of synagogue and turn the pages of a leather-bound siddur while chatting with my mom or with my college friend R.  My observance of Shabbos has changed over time as I reckon with my views towards Judaism. But even when my reckoning strips the day to its barest, I am always left with two solid beams on which my Sabbath stands: friends, and food.

This Saturday was like the Shabboses of yore. I wore clicky shoes (with heels way higher than those patent Mary-Janes). I sat in the women’s section, held a siddur, and chatted with both my mom and R. And as for friends and food? Let’s say they were more than solid. This weekend, nine of my friends from high school, college, and life schlepped out to my parents’ house in the suburbs for what’s becoming an annual tradition. We piled into beds and air mattresses and couches, read stacks of newspapers in our pajamas, received some wise and hilarious advice from my mom, and toasted in Chinese over sake and scotch with my dad.

Oooh a mason jar. Pictures from my
apartment won't be as well-lit or -propped
Oh, and we ate. At my parents’ table, it’s impossible to be abstemious. Even when you’re the type who tastes just a bit of everything, by the time half the platters have been passed your way, your plate is so full that you’ve got a bit of brisket gravy dribbling off the edge.  You try to rearrange and a mesquite sweet potato pops off the other side. Your neighbor hands you another tray, and you spy something that you missed across the table, and you taste that famous brisket and know that you cannot have just one piece. So you give up and sneakily unzip your skirt. There, at least, you can still make a bit of room, and as for the plate, well, there’s always seconds. 

I’ll be sharing a bunch of my parents’ cooking from this weekend. The first is my mom's recipe, made by me: a crisp salad that’s not at all skirt-busting, unless you’re nibbling on it after that third serving of brisket. It’s salty and sweet, which is always a great flavor combination. And if you’ve never cooked with fennel before, don’t be afraid of it here—you can afford to try one new ingredient when the recipe technique is this simple. Just chop, stir, and serve, preferably accompanied by 5 main dishes, 8 sides, and 2 other salads.

Fennel, Pear and Cashew Salad
     1 medium bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
     1 bag mixed greens
     Two pears, any kind, thinly sliced (ripe is best, but a little harder or softer is fine)
     1 tbsp orange or lemon juice
     ½ cup salted cashew pieces
     1 green onion, thinly sliced (optional)
     1 tbsp olive oil
     2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
     1 tsp honey
     Salt and pepper to taste

  • Drizzle the sliced pears in orange or lemon juice (or both) to keep them from turning brown
  • Toss the fennel, greens, onion, and pears together in a big bowl
  • Mix the oil, vinegar, and honey together. Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Toss salad with dressing
  • Top with cashews
Notes for the Naked:
  • Sabbath comes in all sorts of forms for all sorts of people. Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World offers some fascinating and beautiful thoughts on Sabbath, both religious and not. It’s not quite a history, not quite a manifesto, but a lovely perspective.
  • If you're making this ahead, keep the juice-coated pears in a container separate from the other salad ingredients and from the dressing. Mix together right before serving, and toss with cashews.
  • I hate letting a bunch of green onions molder in my fridge, so if you don’t have other uses for them, you can go with ¼ red onion or ½ shallot sliced very thin and small, or just go without.
  • Honey binds together the oil and vinegar in a vinaigrette (the more you know!). You can also add a small squirt of mustard or some lemon juice.
  • I regularly substitute other types of vinegar for balsamic. Just add a dab more honey if you're using cider or wine vinegar, and two dabs if you're using white. Taste it to check for sweetness, and adjust. It should taste a little tart, not sugary.
  • "Salt and pepper to taste" is an annoying guideline in a recipe. How much is "to taste" when we're talking multiple servings? Here, I'd add a few grinds of pepper and a small pinch of salt. Taste the dressing--is it peppery enough? Does it seem flavorful? It should not be salty, because the cashews will give you a lot of that, but if it seems a bit bland (and you're sure you tasted the dressing fully mixed, not just a fingerful of oil), add another pinch of salt. Dress the greens, taste a leaf, and adjust further if necessary, directly onto the salad.

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