I began with the best of intentions. For years, I made rich meals for Shabbat dinners all year-round, but in the summer, even with air conditioning, I became overheated preparing hearty food, which my family and friends didn’t feel like eating on sweltering days.
I actually think all that steaming chicken broth and brisket raised their body temperature above 98.6 degrees.
Eventually, I realized that warm weather cooking for Shabbat meant lightening the menu.
During June, a whole summer of Shabbat dinners lies ahead. I now turn to recipes that are refreshing, yet satisfying no matter how high the thermometer rises. I’ve created a preset Shabbat menu, calling for seasonal foods, which I serve many times over the summer. After all, on various Friday nights, different people may be at our table. I vary the repertoire, switching out a dish here and there and replace it with something equally bright and breezy.
For Shabbat during the summer, I prepare mostly make-ahead foods, which can be presented warm, at room temperature or cold. The preparation of these dishes can be staggered, so my kitchen never gets uncomfortably hot — and neither do I.
I like to present attractive produce purchased from farmers markets, which looks colorful on the table. These recipes are relatively easy to finesse, but festive and elegant enough for Shabbat.
Red Snapper with Plum Sauce | Pareve
Adapted from Greek Jewish cuisine, this dish can be an appetizer or, served with rice, it can become a main course.
3 Italian plum tomatoes
3 red plums, peeled, pitted, and diced
Kosher salt to taste
¾ teaspoon sugar, or more, if needed
½ lemon, or more, if needed
Nonstick vegetable spray
1½ pounds red snapper
fillets, skin removed
Optional accompaniment: white rice
Equipment: a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex pan, or comparable non-metallic bakeware
Set a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Score the skin of the tomatoes with a sharp knife, making an X formation. Using a slotted spoon, gently submerge the tomatoes into the boiling water, 1 at a time. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes, until the skins loosen around the X. Remove the tomatoes one at a time with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate to cool. Then dice them. In a medium-sized saucepan, place the tomatoes, plums and salt. Cover the saucepan and simmer on a medium-low flame until softened, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Tomatoes and plums will give off liquids. Lower the flame if the liquids are cooking away. Add the sugar and stir on a low flame until it dissolves. Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Squeeze the lemon so its juice runs through the sieve and into the bowl. Pour the contents of the bowl slowly into the tomato-plum mixture. Stir to combine. With a teaspoon, check the sauce for seasoning; it should be tangy. Depending on your taste, you can add up to ¼ teaspoon sugar, a bit more lemon juice or nothing at all. Cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, coat the ovenproof 9-inch-by-13-inch pan with nonstick spray. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the fish under cold water. Drain it on paper towels. Place the fillets in the prepared oven-proof pan. They may overlap slightly. Cover them with the cooled tomato mixture. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the fillets flake when pierced with a fork. Cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours. Then move the fish to an attractive platter and cover it with the sauce. Serve it cold as an appetizer or return it to room temperature and serve it with rice as a main course. If you prefer warm fish with the rice, microwave the fish and sauce for 30 to 60 seconds on high power.
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer, or 4 to 6 as a main course
Feta, Tomato and Basil Salad | Dairy
3 ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh basil, or more,
⅓ cup of feta cheese,
Kosher salt to taste
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
Red wine vinegar for drizzling
Olive oil for drizzling
Rinse the tomatoes under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife, cut the cores out of the tomatoes and discard. Slice the tomatoes into wedges and cut them in half. Move them to an attractive bowl. Julienne the basil leaves and place them in the bowl with the tomatoes. Sprinkle the crumbled feta cheese on top. Add the salt sparingly because the feta cheese contains a lot of salt. Spoon in the garlic powder. Drizzle on the vinegar and olive oil. Gently toss the ingredients together to combine. The tomatoes should be thoroughly coated with olive oil. Add more basil or salt, if desired. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.
Braised Escarole | Pareve
1 head of escarole
2 teaspoons free-running salt,
such as Morton’s
6 tablespoons olive oil, or more,
8 cloves of garlic, minced
Kosher salt to taste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Equipment: 2 large pots
Cut off the white ends from the bottom of the head of escarole and discard. Separate the leaves. Because escarole usually traps the soil it was grown in, rinse the leaves under cold water. Then fill a sink or a large pot with cold water. Add the free-running salt and stir to dissolve. Submerge the leaves in water for a few minutes. Rinse them again to wash off any soil or salt. Drain on paper towels. With a sharp knife, cut the escarole leaves, a few at a time, into ribbons. Then chop the ribbons. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil into each pot and heat over a medium-low flame until warm. Add half the garlic to each pot and sauté, until fragrant, about a minute. Divide the escarole leaves into 2 equal portions and place half in each pot. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Stir gently to coat leaves with oil. Cover the pots and braise for 5 minutes, stirring twice. Once the leaves wilt, sprinkle half of the red pepper flakes into each pot and stir to combine. Continue braising until the leaves are cooked through. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature. The recipe can be covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature 2 hours before serving or quickly reheat in 2 skillets to serve it hot. The escarole can be served hot, at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Serves 6 to 8
Apple-Blueberry Kuchen | Dairy
This cake tastes best if made a day in advance.
3 baking apples, such as Gala, Fuji or Honeycrisp
½ cup blueberries, or more, if needed
Nonstick vegetable spray
10 tablespoons sweet butter
(1 stick, plus 2 tablespoons)
at room temperature
½ cup sugar
3 large eggs
(not jumbo sized)
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Optional accompaniment: vanilla
Equipment: 11-by-7-inch Pyrex pan or comparably sized ovenproof bakeware
Peel, core and dice the apples. Rinse the blueberries under cold water and dry them on paper towels. Remove their stems. Reserve the fruit. Coat the baking pan with nonstick spray. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Spoon in the flour, half at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add the lemon zest, vanilla and cinnamon and beat again. Move the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. Gently sprinkle the diced apple pieces on top. Fill in the spaces between the apples with the blueberries. If there are still spaces between the apples and blueberries, add more blueberries to fill them. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the kuchen comes out clean. Cool the kuchen to room temperature on a rack. Cover it loosely with aluminum foil until serving. The kuchen does not need to be refrigerated for 24 hours. When ready to serve, cut it into 15 squares. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Serves 10 to 15 JN
This article first appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.