Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Magical Mystery Meal

We had a really amazing shabbat (sabbath) meal on Friday night. I made Indian food -- a real treat since there are no kosher-certified Indian restaurants anywhere near D.C., and because it's a nice departure from typical shabbat foods. I have never used as much fresh ginger in one meal as I used to make this one. Specifically, I made the following recipes:

Garden Vegetable Soup (ok, this is not Indian, but I didn't have it in me to make rasam): . I cut the olive oil in half, and omitted the corn and potatoes to keep this soup starch-free for my food plan. I also added a parsnip because I had one that needed to be used up. The leeks and lemon juice gave this soup an unanticipated freshness.

Indian Spiced Chicken: Because the laws of kashrut [Jewish dietary laws] forbid mixing milk and meat products, I substituted equal amounts of plain soy yogurt for the yogurt and plain, full-fat soy milk for the half-and-half. Having had Indian food consisting of meat cooked with dairy for much of my life, I can attest that by the time I added all of the wonderful seasonings, you honestly couldn't tell that I used soy products in my adaptation. I also substantially cut the honey in this recipe.

Chickpea curry: I used Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes, which Cook's Illustrated ranks as the best-tasting canned tomatoes. The garam masala spice blend is from Penzey's, an amazing spice company. My Orthodox rabbi told me their spices are acceptably kosher even without certification, because we verified that they do not use any drying agents, which are the chemicals that can pose a problem with the kashrut of spices. This does NOT apply to the Penzey's blends which have cheese, of course, but any straight herbs or spices, or regular spice blends, are fine, according to my rabbi. Yesss! If you are uncomfortable using Penzey's without certification, McCormick's Gourmet Collection includes garam masala, or you could make your own. Just remember to toast the spices in a hot, dry skillet or you will not get the taste you're looking for.

For my curry, I used fresh chick peas instead of canned. I've recently started using the bagged beans instead of canned to cut down on exposure to BPA, and I've found they are so much tastier and have a firmer, more pleasing texture than their canned counterparts. I cook a whole bag at once and then freeze any excess in individual portions, then defrost them as needed.

Additionally, we served basmati rice. Lydia made delicious challah, traditional Jewish egg bread, and David made his amazing home-made applesauce. Our guests also complemented the wines we served.

But beyond the food, the meal felt really special: we had two lovely guests visiting from New Jersey who contacted our shul [synagogue] for shabbat hospitality. You never know who's coming your way when you accept hospitality guests -- crazy and/or inappropriate guests do show up -- but these young women were really delightful and contributed meaningfully to the conversation. They were also superbly grateful, which was nice. The conversation was a nice balance of serious topics and humor.

Finally, I felt really good about the spiritual tenor of our shabbat meal. I lapsed into a bad habit of shabbat being a passive day where I observe all the restrictions of the day -- no phone, computer, driving, manipulating electricity, hard exercise, cooking, etc. -- but otherwise, shabbat had very little spiritual content. I'm trying to more actively observe shabbat, dwelling in the spirit of the day, really internalizing the spiritual rest that it is supposed to convey, and remembering that shabbat is a partnership with God. We (and all of our animals and "servants") rest because on shabbat, God rested from the work of creation. To that end, I'm trying to attend synagogue more regularly, although certainly NOT every week; nothing gives me pleasure like slipping back into bed with Kacy and the Washington Post after a leisurely breakfast on shabbat morning. Shul or not, I've committed to saying at least one liturgical prayer service over shabbat as part of my "put spirituality back in shabbat" campaign.

Another way I've tried to become more actively shabbat observant is by singing zemirot, shabbat songs, at our shabbat meals and by learning/talking more about the parsha. That's the weekly portion of the Hebrew bible, the Torah (aka "The Old Testament" -- a term I find objectionable because obviously it connotes that it has been supplanted by a newer testament) that we read at our synagogue. At the meal I'm writing about, we had a nice discussion about the parsha, and a meaningful broader discussion about the challenges and rewards of more actively observing shabbat, especially for busy professionals who are exhausted at the week's end and kinda eager to get through the ritual so they can crash or read.

All in all, it was a really special shabbat meal, and thinking about it makes me smile in the midst of what has been a challenging week due to an ethical conflict I'm navigating, and self-pity about my limitations caused by my Lyme Disease. Ironically, I ordered a pair of the warmest mittens I've ever worn from and they were delivered with an elaborate brochure, geared for Christian readers, urging them to more actively observe the sabbath. I think that the importance of a shabbat, whatever form it takes for you, is more relevant than ever in our fractured, multi-tasking, 24/7-connected world. Whatever your faith, I highly recommend it.

P.S. This post took me four days due to my disability -- now I see why!


Renee said...

I'm glad to know this, Sarah. I've been trying to do something similar in a small way myself this year by affirmatively celebrating Rosh Chodesh , a monthly holiday that's generally neglected. Adding spirituality - or at least the joys of good food, friends and song...has got my vote.

It's good to hear from you - keep writing whenever you can,

Stef said...

Sarah, we have Penzey’s here, too – so cool! And your (David’s) homemade applesauce recipe – genius! I recently discovered chunky applesauce, and I love it! The only problem is that I can only find one brand that has no additives (including sugar), and it is VERY expensive. I’m going to try David’s version once I finish what I have open in my fridge – too cool!

I’m delighted to read you are re-finding/re-infusing your Shabbat with heart-felt spirituality; making the time and spending the effort to find/be in connection with Spirit IS work for me; but it is SO fulfilling and rewarding, I, too, smile long after the moment itself has passed. Wonderful.

And people I know are “envious” of my self-imposed Sunday of no leaving the house; and so many of them say, “Oh, I would love to do that, but…” But nothing. Interesting how we really DO make time/find money/scrounge up resources for the things that are truly important in our lives. But, I step off my soap box now… : )

As for your ethical dilemmas you are facing… you know where to find me if/when you want to chat.

Thanks for the post Sarah! I really enjoyed reading it.

Hugs to you,