The general rule of a break-the-fast meal seems to be simple, relatively light and requiring minimal day-of preparation.
Many families enjoy a traditional bagels/whitefish lox repast, while others go for kugel and egg-based dishes.
As I mulled this over, it seemed that a selection of cold dishes offering an array of different tastes would hit the mark. I envision a bit of advance work a day or two before the holiday. That would be followed by an impressive abracadabra moment, when beautifully prepared dishes emerge from the refrigerator at sunset on Sept. 30 ready to be enjoyed by all assembled.
The key is to choose dishes and combinations that hold up well in the fridge for a day or two. No pre-dressed green salads, which wilt, or chopped avocados, apples or pears, which turn brown.
The suggestions below offer a solid basis for the buffet — and you can be as creative as you like with additional dishes or substitutions (or not). A beet salad, melon/fruit salad, focaccia, tuna salad — even a cold poached salmon would be lovely with this arrangement. The main goal is to create do-ahead options that enable you to pull the food out and serve it all in more or less one fell swoop.
German Jews observe a tradition of eating a Zimtsterne cookie to break the fast. These star-shaped treats tinged with cinnamon symbolized the first star in the sky to mark the end of the fast.
I am not a roller of dough, but I’ve rarely met a cookie I didn’t like. I’d skip the Zimtsterne, and instead make slice-and-bake butter cookies sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar — a nod to the tradition, but with a modern (and efficient) update. If you want to roll the dough and use a cookie cutter to make stars, or drizzle icing atop the baked, cooled cookies in a star shape, that is certainly a baker’s choice.
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2½ cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Cream the sugar and butter until thoroughly blended, then slowly add the flour. Mix it until a smooth, thick dough forms.
Spray 2 sheets of wax paper with cooking oil, and place half of the dough on each sheet.
Form the dough into logs and wrap up the wax paper. Refrigerate for about 60 minutes until the dough is firm and can be sliced. (Note: The dough can stay in the fridge for about a week or frozen for months.)
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment.
Remove the dough logs from the refrigerator and unwrap them. Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into 1/8-inch discs and place them, evenly spaced, on the cookie sheets.
Sprinkle each cookie with the cinnamon sugar mixture and bake about 10 minutes until the cookies are beginning to brown.
Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
The trick to assembling a great cheese plate is to offer a variety of textures and flavors.
I usually aim for several types of cheese on the board: creamy, soft, stinky, firm, hard, salty. Incorporate cow, goat and sheep milk selections.
The accompaniments are often as important as the cheeses but keep it simple; you don’t want a lot of work as you are trying to arrange the break fast buffet.
Choose an assortment of crackers — sure, bread is delicious, but it may go stale if you cut it ahead of time and you don’t want a lot of last-minute prep for this spread. Avoid crackers flavored with garlic, pepper, herbs and other strong flavors; you want the cheese and other items to take center stage.
Finally, cheese is best served at room temperature; if you are able to do so, pull it out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve it.
As for the cheeses:
Soft, stinky and creamy: Brie, Saint André, Camembert, taleggio, chevre
Firm: Prima Donna, manchego, Gouda, Morbier
Hard: cheddar, Parmesan, Double Gloucester, Grana Padano.
Crumbly: blue, Stilton, ricotta salata
Jams: fig, quince, berry or marmalade.
Honey or molasses
Apple or pumpkin butter
Dried apricots or figs
Spiced and/or candied nuts
2 pounds cheese tortellini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups frozen peas
2 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 zucchini, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cups olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Generous sprinkle fresh ground pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the tortellini for 1 minute less than the package directs. Drain and place it in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then toss.
Cook the peas according to package directions and place them in the bowl with the tortellini.
When the peas and pasta are cooled to room temperature, add the scallions, bell peppers and zucchini, then mix well.
Mix the dressing ingredients, blend well and toss it over the tortellini salad. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 3 to 24 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.
4 cups cooked chickpeas (Canned or cooked at home both work fine. If using canned, be sure to drain and rinse well.)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons tahini
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Optional additions: olives, roasted peppers, chopped fresh or pickled vegetables, crumbled feta, or use your imagination
Place the chickpeas in a bowl and toss them with the parsley.
Mix the dressing well and toss it with the chickpeas. Add any “extras” desired. Refrigerate several hours to several days; serve cold or at room temperature.
Serves 6 to 8.
Keri White is a food columnist for the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Jewish News.