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I’m pretty sure that, in our first few years of marriage, my unsuspecting husband was under the impression that I actually couldn’t count to ten. This is because, while on a Sunday we would always agree to cap that week’s Shabbos table at 4 – maybe 5 – guests, by Wednesday or Thursday this number had inevitably risen to 10 or 12.

It’s not my fault. I guess I’m just a super Jew when it comes to the mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim/ hosting guests. After all, we are guests in Hashem’s world, so why not emulate His ways and host guests in our world? Also, I’m pretty sure I learned at sem that turning away anyone who needs a place for Shabbos is tantamount to a criminal offense…

And so… when we were offered the opportunity to move to America and host open-house Shabbos tables for Indiana University’s starving Jewish student population, I simply COULD NOT WAIT to get started.

In the early months, the challenge was definitely not in learning to cook for large crowds (our first Friday night we had 4 guests), it was more a matter of a never knowing how many people to expect and therefore cater accordingly. (Undercatering is basically not in my vocabulary, and I don’t like to waste food either.)  In our first semester on campus we could expect anything from 15-30 students for dinner and 10-15 for lunch. By the end of the year we were pulling in a solid 40-50 for Friday nights and 15-25 for lunch.

By now, we can expect anything from 40-90 on a Friday night, and anything up to 35 for the lunch meals – depending on what we are are competing against on the academic calendar – plus anyone who shows up for Third Meal. It therefore definitely took some time before I was able to figure out a menu that was flexible enough to be stretched at meals where we are bombarded with people, and can also be reinvented as different dishes in meals to follow.

It also needs to be said that while I may be somewhat of a perfectionist – read: obsessive-compulsive – when it comes to my food presentation, other responsibilities in my life dictate that I also need to cook FAST. Obviously, when catering for such a large volume of people, it is definitely preferable to get started earlier in the week. However, sometimes I can’t even get started cooking until Thursday night, and on those weeks I absolutely need to do everything in fast-forward mode.

I can’t wait to blog about all my favorite dishes to serve to large crowds, but in the meantime I just want to share one super-fast, delicious and gourmet menu that anyone can do and that can feed 25 people.  This menu includes 3 accompaniments for challah, a fish dish and 2 salads, contains no added sugar, and is a great starter course for Shabbos or even Sheva Brachos. It also goes exceptionally well with home made Spelt challah or Spelt rolls (see previous post.)

Warning: Do not undertake this menu unless you are sure you will be able to handle  a paparazzi of followers stalking you for your recipes for years to come.

THE MENU:

  • Homemade Authentic Middle Eastern Hummus
  • Homemade Basil & Walnut Pesto
  • Oven-Roasted Garlic Heads
  • Baked BBQ Gefilte Fish (Store bought frozen-logs with a homemade tweak)
  • Asian-style Shredded Cabbage salad
  • Boutique Tomato salad

THE INGREDIENTS:

Hummus (preparation time: 5 mins)

  • 3 x 12 ounce cans of drained Chick Peas
  • 3-4 heaping tablespoons Tahini Paste
  • generous squeeze of Lemon Juice (I use bottled but fresh would be nice)
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 4 cloves of Garlic
  • Salt/Pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil, Pine Nuts and Zatar or Paprika for garnish

Basil-Walnut Pesto (preparation time: 5 mins + washing the basil leaves)

  • 4ish packed cups of fresh Basil leaves
  • 4 cloves Garlic
  • 1 cup Walnuts
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • sprinkle of Salt/Pepper to taste

Oven-Roast Garlics (preparation time: 5 mins)

  • 8-10 Heads of Garlic
  • 1 cup Olive Oil
  • Salt/Pepper optional

Baked BBQ Gefilte Fish (preparation time: 5 mins):

  • 2 Frozen Gefilte Fish loaves
  • BBQ sauce
  • Optional garnish: Israeli cucumber or baby spinach leaves

Asian Cabbage Salad (preparation time: 5 mins plus washing/checking the scallions):

  • White or Purple Shredded Cabbage (approx. 2 large bags or 4 small bags)
  • Bunch of Scallions (Green Onions)
  • 2ish bags of Craisins
  • 2 bags chopped or flaked Almonds (Toasted is nice, and you can also sub for Walnuts or Pecans)
  • generous sprinkling of Toasted Sesame Seeds

Dressing: Olive Oil, Honey, Soy Sauce, Vinegar (any type will do), Salt, Pepper

Tomato Salad (preparation time: Let’s say 5-10 mins or even faster if you use an electric chopper):

  • 2 pounds ripe red Tomatoes sliced into neat wedges (rough chopped is also fine)
  • Splash of Olive Oil
  • Sprinkle of Salt
  • Optional – chopped Scallions, fresh chopped basil or cilantro
  • Optional – splash of Balsamic Vinegar and a dash of pepper

THE METHOD:

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Fish: Unwrap frozen gefilte fish loaves and place side by side in a 9×13 inch pan.  The paper removes easily when run under warm water
  • Cover with BBQ sauce
  • Place in middle of oven for approximately 1 hr
  • Garlics: Rub the outer shells off your garlic heads (as many as you want to roast) and slice of the tips of the inner shell closest to the root (as per picture below)
  • Place in a foil tray and douse in olive oil and optional salt/pepper
  • Place in top shelf of oven for approx 30 mins
  • If you are planning on toasting your nuts for the cabbage salad, now would be a good time to throw them on a tray and stick them in the oven
  • Houmous: Toss all the ingredients for the houmous in a food processor (you can also use a bowl and an immersion blender, although this will take a couple of minutes longer
  •  Taste. Adjust accordingly. Taste again. Repeat if necessary. Scrape into a serving bowl or tupperware for later. (Garnish with olive oil, pine nuts and either zatar or paprika before serving)
  • Wash out food processor.
  • Pesto: Toss in all the ingredients for the basil-walnut pesto.
  • Taste. Adjust accordingly. Taste again. Repeat if necessary. Scrape into a serving bowl or tupperware for later.
  • Throw food processor in the sink for someone else to wash.
  • Salad #1: Throw shredded cabbage, nuts (best to allow to cool first), scallions and craisins in your favorite salad bowl.
  • Squeeze in approx: 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup soy sauce, sprinkle of salt/pepper (no need to mix dressing in a separate cup)
  • Toss salad. Adjust to taste. Sprinkle in sesame seeds. Toss again. Voila.
  • Salad #2: Throw sliced tomato wedges in a bowl. Drip olive oil on top. Sprinkle in salt to taste. Add in any optional extras (see ingredients list above).
  • Remove garlics and gefilte fish from oven. Garlics can be served either in the shell, or with the cloves popped out floating in olive oil.
  • Add another layer of BBQ sauce to the fish if desired. Served sliced. A bed of baby spinach leaves or a border of cucumber circles adds color, contrast and taste to the plate.

You are done.

Whoever takes on this challenge, please let me know. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

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