Cooking for a Crowd

I feel a little silly coming to this space to tell you about a recipe that took the internet by storm  (checks notes, squints eyes) TEN YEARS AGO. I’ve been making it for years without a peep on this blog, but this fall I learned it’s very easy to double, triple, and even sextuple the recipe. So now I’m here to share the gospel of chickpea and butternut squash salad with tahini dressing.

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A local friend who I met through this blog has developed a crew of kiddush makers for the Conservative synagogue in town. Our volunteer group gathers in the kitchen every few weeks when it’s our turn to get the meal on the table. I’ve been tapped to do the menu planning, and it’s been a learning process. I think December’s Chinese food themed luncheon, with lo mein, magic tofu, Asian slaw, and gingery roasted broccoli salad, all served on top of white rice, was the best one we’ve churned out so far.

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Catching you up on the girls: here’s Bea at her ballet recital from December.

But for one of our earlier meals this fall, I made this chickpea and butternut squash salad with a tahini dressing using six butternut squashes I had piling up in my kitchen from the end of the fall CSA. I made it again this week in my own kitchen with tahini I picked up from Buy Nothing Northampton. As you can see in the photo, Rich tossed his with arugula we had in the fridge for a little something extra.

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And here’s the birthday girl Lilli at school this past Friday!

I think this is technically supposed to be served warm, but since it travels well and makes great leftovers, I’m not too picky about the temp it’s served at.

Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients

For salad:

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)

1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped

For tahini dressing:

1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt

Juice from half a lemon

3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. You might need to add more water to thin it out.

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, and onion in a mixing bowl. Add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully.

The Middle

Wait a sec, where did July go? July is the cream in the center of the summer cookie, and it seems I’ve licked it clean. It’s been a tasty month, not to worry. July started with a few days up in York Harbor, Maine, at Sylvie’s in-laws, where we spent the mornings tag-teaming crossword puzzles, eating cherries, and vying for the best reading seats on the wraparound porch.

Mid-month, some friends went out of town, and we jumped at the chance to enjoy their CSA share for that week. I’m used to my share coming in a box, but theirs, through Red Fire Farms, is set up is like a mini-farmer’s market: you pick your own veggies to match the allotment for the week. The produce was really exquisite, and, as a Western Mass native, I was delighted to learn their farms are located in Granby and Montague. I advised the two women running the stand to make sure to get to Montague this summer, even if to take an afternoon off for lunch and a visit to The Book Mill.

So we started the month out of town and with an empty fridge and ended up with a bounty. Pounds of carrots filled my crispers, and beets and their thick green leaves poked out of my middle shelves whenever I opened the door. My cupboard barely shut with the piles of potatoes July was offering us. I panicked for just a second, not knowing what to do with all the vegetables. But then it dawned on me that I had all the ingredients for my very favorite beet salad, a salad, I realized with some embarrassment, that I had never shared on this blog.

Beet vinaigrette, along with Salad Olivier, is a Russian salad I enjoyed at my best friend’s house growing up. (Sure, she’s originally from Latvia, but this seems to be a catch-all Baltic dish. At some point I’ll get Salad Olivier up on the blog. Love that salad. Love it, love it.) The recipe I use, and the one my mom uses, is from Spice and Spirit cookbook, that purple cookbook with the perfect hamentashen dough recipe. The authors note that this salad is often served “as a side dish at a Kiddush” which makes sense because it’s a cold dish that can be made ahead or assembled from ingredients cooked before Shabbos.

Sure, boiling potatoes and cooking beets takes some time, but I prepped all the vegetables for this salad over a few days. Although the recipe calls for boiling the beets, potatoes and carrots all in one pot, a few days ago I grabbed the beets that were in the fridge, cut off the greens (and set them aside for some nice sautés with garlic, maybe some ginger) gave them a rinse, and placed them into a lasagna pan (something that had sides). I filled the pan with about a half inch of water, covered and sealed the entire pan with foil, and tossed it all in a 400 degree heated oven for an hour or so. I knew they were done when a fork easily slid in and out of them. When the beets were cooled down, I tossed them into a bowl, covered them, and put them in the fridge. For the past few days, I’ve grabbed a beet or two, run them under cold water which allowed their skin to easily slip away, and added them to salads and dishes. Couldn’t be easier.

Last night I peeled some potatoes and carrots and set them in a large pot of water that I brought to a boil as I sat and watched the Olympics in the other room. Again, couldn’t be easier. So even though the beets, carrots and potatoes had to be cooked beforehand, the actual assembling of this salad took just a minute or two. I have a friend whose Mom is Hungarian, and I’ve noticed that she tends to keep boiled potatoes on-hand in the fridge at all times. It really does make putting together a meal a snap.

Classic Beet Vinaigrette

The amount here is massive and can feed a dozen. Feel free to halve, or even quarter, this recipe. I also tend to always have red onion on-hand, so I usually sub that in for the scallions, making this a pretty dandy pantry recipe for the summer or winter.

Ingredients

8 medium potatoes

3 carrots

6 medium beets

4 scallions (or a quarter of a red onion)

3 sour pickles (I actually prefer dill in this recipe)

Dressing

1 Tablespoon salt

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice (I enjoy balsamic in this recipe)

¼ cup oil

¼ tsp. pepper

Directions

Scrub potatoes, carrots, and beets and place in a 4-quart pot. Cover vegetables with water and cook until soft. Potatoes and carrots will become tender before the beets. Remove them and continue to cook beets.

Let vegetables cool, and peel; cut potatoes and beets into cubes. Peel and dice carrots, scallions and pickles and then mix all vegetables together in a large mixing bowl.

Mix together dressing ingredients, add to vegetables and toss well. Potatoes will take on red appearance. Chill and serve.

A Remembrance of Things Past

Most people talk about eating three squares a day — unless you’re a Brit, in which case there’s also tea, or a hobbit (second breakfast, elevensies) or a stoner (Taco Bell’s Fourth Meal). For the Jews, that somewhere-in-between meal is called kiddush.

Following Shabbat services, Jews gather, ritually sanctify wine – the root of the word kiddush – and have a bite to eat. In some congregations, that bite might be a crunchy cookie called kichel and a piece of gefilte fish or herring on a toothpick, all washed down with a shot of schnaps. Or, it could be a sit-down luncheon where the group breaks bread together (its own extremely important ritual), and then eats kugel, salads and maybe some bagels.

Sylvie actually texted me about one she went to on Saturday morning which involved a veggie cholent, sable, whitefish salad and several whiskeys — all at 10:30AM. Some congregations have an early start – think 7:30AM on a Saturday – which means they get out early, before 11. (Yes, our prayers take about three hours to complete. I’m always amazed that Mass takes an hour, homily included.)

Syl’s kiddush report reminded me of the kiddush of my childhood. It’s strange now that I think about it, because, due to merger and attrition, neither my mom and stepdad’s congregation nor my father’s exist anymore. But on Saturday morning, if I wasn’t in services, I’d be helping prep platters of cookies and visiting with the kitchen crew, many of whom, like the congregations themselves, have also passed on.

At my mom’s shul, Ruthie ran things. When Syl started talking about the kiddush, I remembered Ruthie’s broccoli salad. It was crunchy and sweet, with the perfect touch of bite from red onion. About 20 years ago the congregation put together a cookbook of Ruthie’s dishes. I called my mom for the recipe but quickly realized that I would need to adjust the measurements of things. (A cup of mayo? Ick.)

I recreated Ruthie’s Broccoli Salad for dinner tonight. Rich was at a meeting, and I had the perfect amount of broccoli in the fridge for one serving. My stomach is not a fan of raw broccoli, so I steamed mine, but only for a minute or two. This salad calls for a crunch. The recipe here serves one, but obviously, it can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled — enough for a whole congregation.

Ruthie’s Broccoli Salad

Ingredients

1 ½  cups broccoli, cleaned

2 teaspoons red onion, finely chopped

3 teaspoons golden raisins

Dressing

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons white vinegar

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over broccoli, onions and raisins. Refrigerate for several hours.