A few weeks ago, it was my turn to host the family for Shabbat. Daddy Rich asked for mock crayfish, and of course, I had to oblige! For those who are scratching their heads because they have no idea what mock crayfish is – it is a traditional South African dish often served at Jewish functions. It doesn’t sound amazing – pieces of white fish in a basic thousand island dressing – but it is! This was the spark for my inspiration for the traditional Shabbat dinner, just like my Granny Sally and Granny Sylvia used to make it, throughout my childhood and teenage years in South Africa.
Shabbat is one of the key practices in the Jewish religion. Even if you “don’t do much” in the way of keeping all the laws, I would say that having Shabbat dinner on a Friday night, in whatever form it takes, is one thing that most traditional Jewish families observe.
For me, Shabbat is synonymous with four things, which I would call the symbols of Shabbat: 1) Shabbat candles 2) wine 3) challah (special sweet brioche-like braided bread) and lastly, and for me, most importantly, 4) family.
From these four elements we get the full sensory experience that is Shabbat.
Shabbat is a very important part of the week for my family and me and therefore, I wanted to give it the respect it deserves. I did this by styling the dinner in a formal way, with the table properly set, and the silver polished. On walking into the dining room, I wanted my guests to know that it was not just a regular dinner on any night of the week. The immediate sense of tradition is felt on seeing the distinctive Shabbat table with a white, more formal, tablecloth, laden with the challah board, wine and wine glasses and a simple arrangement of flowers. On the sideboard are the glowing candles in their beautiful traditional silver candlesticks, which I got as a gift for my Batmitzvah, 19 years ago.
The sound of Shabbat is of voices – singing, laughing, talking and discussing all kinds of topics, usually a few simultaneously! Beyond this, there is silence. We cannot listen to music or watch TV and so the sweet sound of family is what characterises Shabbat.
The sweet smell of challah warming in the oven just cannot be beaten! I waited until the meal was almost ready to be served before putting the challah into the oven, so that the irresistible smell wafting from the oven would whet the appetites and draw everyone to their seats. And if your mouth isn’t already watering, the juicy smell of the rich garlic and tomato sauce in which the meat was roasting, will definitely do it!
The white silk tablecloth, soft to the touch, signifies the special meal of Shabbat.
But in my family, the soft, doughy challah that you eat with your hands is definitely quintessentially SHABBAT. Rolling and squashing the “inside” into a ball may not be the greatest table etiquette but it’s the best tradition in our family!
While a Shabbat meal can really be anything, from take outs to gourmet, the menu this week will take us back 15+ years ago to the welcoming homes of both my grannies, Granny Sally and Granny Sylvia where we were surrounded by family every single Friday night.
This is my version of “the traditional shabbat”
- Avo halves filled with mock crayfish and topped with a sprinkle of paprika (just for Rich – although I think this is everyone’s favourite part of the meal!)
- Chopped herring, carefully decorated with boiled egg and cucumber (pickled vs. fresh is the perennial debate) with kichel, a sweet biscuit cracker, usually served with savoury dishes. Even Little B, my 20 month old can’t get enough!
- And the warm, doughy, and deliciously sweet challah sprinkled with sea salt
When I told my sister living overseas the theme of my dinner, she said “but are you making avo with mock crayfish?”. I replied “G, that’s literally why I’m doing this dinner!” Enough said! And we couldn’t have a (South African) Jewish meal without herring and kichel. As a kid I was always Granny Sally’s herring decorator, and I had so much fun doing it again now in my own home.
- Roast Beef with Monkey Gland sauce, onion soup roast potatoes and broad bean and pea smash with mint and lemon, served with a traditional French salad, complete with sliced radishes!
I chose to do a traditional meat and potatoes meal. There was much debate at the table about the origins of Monkey Gland sauce – is it a marketing trick to get people to think that us Africans eat monkey’s glands? Gross! It’s really just an amazingly delicious home made chunky barbeque gravy sauce, but slightly spicy and so, so much better.
My mum always made roast potatoes with onion soup powder sprinkled on top, they went all crispy and delish, and even me, the non potato loving person that I am, could never resist those. I forgot to buy onion soup mix so onion powder just had to suffice at the last minute… it wasn’t at all the same unfortunately, but good enough.
At both my grannie’s houses, there were always peas. I love peas! But I felt like giving them a bit of a makeover so I added broad beans and an extra kick of flavour. The freshness of the mint with a zing of the lemon was the perfect slightly gourmet side, and it still reminded us of the good old days.
My mum brought the salad, with slice radishes just like her mum used to make…the perfect accompaniment.
- mango and coconut ice cream with manuka honey and lime, sprinkled with roasted coconut chips, and a huge bowl of fresh litchis (South African for Lychees)
Mango ice-cream was a staple, and again, I felt like giving it an Aussie summer twist. The litchis/lychees were a throwback to the litchis that usually featured in my Granny Sylvia’s meals, either in her Litchi Fish, or Litchi Ice-cream, and of course the sugary Ceres Litchi fruit juice that was always a treat!
GOOD: there was a really special energy the whole night. My family absolutely loved reminiscing about old times. And mission accomplished, it felt as though Granny Sally, Oupi Ivan, Granny Sylvia and Grandpa Harry we were at my Shabbat table in some way, despite them being too unwell or too far across the ocean to be there in person.
NOT SO GOOD: the meat wasn’t cooked to perfection and the potatoes without the onion soup mix weren’t quite right.
Note to self: make sure you have all your ingredients before cooking and watch the oven carefully!