Let a Vegetable Shine

I knew Michelle many years ago at Brandeis, and it was one of those happy life coincidences to be able to reconnect in Philadelphia, with gobs of mutual friends and an almost-overlapping Shabbat community.  Vegetables are the stars of her post, which made my mouth water to read.  Enjoy!

A few weeks ago, a call went out over the e-mail list for Minyan Dorshei Derech asking for Shabbat lunch hosts for new students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for the Shabbat just after their orientation.  I graduated a few months ago, and it is hard for me to imagine that there will be a new group of students there who will never be my classmates.   I volunteered immediately to host, remembering how overwhelming orientation can be, hoping to share a bit of calm with some of the new students this Shabbat.  We were joined by a fellow new Rabbi, creating a balance between students just starting and those of us who have just finished.

I like feeding people a good Shabbat meal.  I don’t host meals as often as I’d like, but when I do, I cook.  Somebody else can bring wine or challah, or maybe a salad, but I like to plan and cook a whole meal.   I enjoy making sure that people are taken care of, and I like giving people homemade gifts.  As much as I would like to, I can’t knit gifts for everybody I know, but I can feed people fairly efficiently. When I moved two years ago, I only looked at apartments with space to host a sit-down meal for a dozen people.   I also like simple foods, with only a few ingredients in each dish (I am not a cholent or chili person!), and I especially like to let a vegetable shine.

Having a community garden plot and growing many of my own vegetables has only increased these instincts.  I am not simply putting food on the table that could have been bought anywhere.  This is as local as possible, with no pest management system (when the bugs eat the kale, the solution is to get rid of the kale) and no underpaid farm workers.  Working together with friends, I planted the cucumbers, pruned the tomato plants, and thinned the radishes.   I know very little about gardening, but we seem to have an amazing bounty, and I love to share the produce.  I have dropped off bags of tomatoes on friends’ porches.  I learned how to make a kale salad, radish green pesto, and a chard frittata for potlucks.    I want the bright colors and natural sweetness of each of these foods to be appreciated.

This week, preparing to host Shabbat lunch, I picked sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, and some herbs before I went shopping.  It does help that I work in New Hope, so I can buy fruits and vegetables from a farm to supplement these foods.  The meal was planned around the garden, and around what could be bought at the farm.  We started our lunch with gazpacho, and enjoyed a beet and feta salad, tortellini with fresh pesto, a black bean and corn salad, and a cucumber salad.  We finished this off with individual whole peach pies.  The meal was almost vegan and almost gluten free.  With the expection of the garlic, avocado, lemon juice, and peaches, all of the fruits and vegetables were grown in the garden or at a farm about 20 miles away.  Everybody ate happily, though the peppers made the gazpacho spicier that I had expected and the peach pies were falling apart.   I was glad to have a dining room, and to fill it with new students, new rabbis, and their families.

The favorite dish was shockingly easy, so that’s the recipe I’ll share!

Cucumber Salad with Soy and Ginger
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Cucumbers (ideally small Kirby or pickling cucumbers)
Fresh ginger
Soy sauce
White vinegar

Slice cucumbers into thin slices.  Peel and mince some ginger.  In a bowl, mix equal  parts soy sauce and vinegar with a teaspoon or so of honey.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

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