The most important Jewish holiday happens not once a year, but once a week. Every Friday evening just before sundown the Shabbat candles are lit at dinner tables, and families settle in for a shared feast with their loved ones and honored guests to celebrate the Jewish day of rest.
A few minutes before sunset on Friday, the women of the house light two candles and recite a blessing that officially ushers in Shabbat. After blessings over wine and challah—a braided loaf of sweet, eggy bread—a festive dinner is kicked off with a hearty proclamation of “Shabbat Shalom!”
One Friday, Chef Scotty Schwartz and his family invited us to their home to celebrate Shabbat. The meal featured traditional Ashkenazi dishes, which have their origins in Eastern Europe and Russia. All the cooking and baking had been done in advance in accordance with Shabbat laws, so everyone could enjoy the company and the meal at leisure.
The meal began with deviled eggs stuffed with chopped liver and topped with caramelized onions.
Chef Scotty considers this dish his Southern adaptation of the traditional Ashkenazi chopped liver and onions. But he learned his great aunt, who hails from Hungary, makes a similar stuffed egg dish. Also on the table was a platter of gefilte fish, an Eastern European classic. Chef Scotty referred to the first course, a soul-warming bowl of matzo ball soup, as “Jewish penicillin” because of its restorative powers. The soup boasts so few ingredients— chicken stock, simmered matzo balls, carrots and a few snips of dill— so the quality of the broth is of the utmost importance. The secret to a rich, complex broth is a double stock that results in a pure, comforting soup.
Up next was tender, slow-braised brisket flavored with tomatoes, onions and carrots accompanied by crisp potato latkes with a dollop of applesauce and bright Brussels sprouts. Schmaltz, the family’s English bulldog, rested in the corner while we chatted over wine and enjoyed a camaraderie that was as nourishing as the meal itself.
Over dinner, once a week, 52 times a year, the fast pace and rigors of everyday life are set aside and a restful transition occurs. Shabbat is a time to pause and absorb the simple pleasures of feasting, family and friends.