Sadly, I’ve gone to several funerals lately. It occurred to me that we could all benefit from a handful of tips when conveying our sympathy and support through the gesture of homemade food.
Because there is always an overabundance of sweets at shivas, probably to ease the bitterness of the loss, I suggest delivering healthier alternatives, which are more practical.
The most helpful offerings are casseroles, which can easily be popped into the oven. Should a backlog of food accumulate, casseroles usually freeze well. Tape reheating and freezing instructions to the top of the casserole, so people can readily find them.
Marinated salads and roasted vegetables require no effort to serve and are still appetizing, should they get overlooked for a couple of days in a crowded refrigerator.
I also bake muffins because people rarely bring breakfast pastries to shivas.
I used to pack food in disposable containers so the family wouldn’t have to wash cookware and remember to return it. But I now present food in ceramic cookware. Being surrounded by attractive serving pieces, instead of a sea of aluminum and plastic, lifts the spirits.
Collecting my tableware at a later date gives me a good excuse to spend time with a friend or relative, once the company of the shiva week thins out and loneliness sets in.
One of the best things about Judaism are the customs surrounding the worst time in people’s lives. While the food we bring to a grieving family can’t mitigate their heartbreaking loss, anything homemade shows love in the most caring way.
Roasted Root Vegetables | Pareve
Serves four to six
Equipment: 10-by-15-inch Pyrex or roasting pan
- Nonstick vegetable spray
- 4 large carrots
- 4 parsnips
- 1 turnip
- 1-2 beets
- 1 large sweet potato
- 2 medium onions
- 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, or more, if needed
- Kosher salt to taste
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Coat the Pyrex pan with nonstick spray.
Peel and cut the carrots, parsnips, turnip, beets, sweet potato and onions into 1-inch chunks. Arrange the vegetables in the prepared pan. Drizzle the vinegar and olive oil over them. Turn them with a spoon until they are evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt.
Roast for 45 to 60 minutes, turning often, until the vegetables are golden brown and cooked through. Add more olive oil if the vegetables become dry or stick to the pan. Serve immediately or at room temperature. The recipe can be refrigerated and brought back to room temperature to serve and/or it can be briefly microwaved.
Mushroom Timbale | Dairy
Equipment: a 2½-quart soufflé dish or comparable deep casserole
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup olive oil, or more, if needed
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- ½ cup mozzarella, diced
- 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
Prepare the macaroni according to the package instructions. When ready, drain it in a colander.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat the soufflé dish with butter.
Dissolve the tomato paste in two cups of warm water and reserve.
In a large saucepan, heat ¼ cup olive oil over a low flame. Sauté the garlic in the oil, until fragrant, about one to two minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir until they are wilting and turning golden brown. Drizzle in more oil, if needed. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper and stir.
Add the dissolved tomato paste, basil and parsley to the mushroom mixture. Stir to combine. Cover the saucepan and simmer on a medium-low flame for 30 to 40 minutes, until slightly thickened. If the sauce simmers too quickly, reduce the flame.
Remove the cover and cool the sauce briefly. Remove ⅓ cup of sauce and reserve. Ladle the remaining sauce into a large bowl. Add the three cheeses and the elbow macaroni. Stir to combine.
Ladle the pasta and sauce mixture into the prepared soufflé dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Spoon on the ⅓ cup of sauce. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees until the timbale bubbles at the edges and is heated through. The timbale can be served immediately, or cooled and refrigerated. Timbale freezes well.
To reheat, bring the timbale to room temperature, then place it in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until bubbling at the edges.
Cherry Tomato Salad | Pareve
Prepare a day in advance
- 2 tablespoons pignoli (pine) nuts
- 1 seedless cucumber
- 6 sugar snap peas, strings removed
- ½ pint (6 ounces) cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 tablespoon dill, chopped
- 1 teaspoon red onion, chopped
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Red wine vinegar for drizzling
- Kosher salt to taste
Preheat a toaster oven to 350 degrees. Line the tray with aluminum foil. Arrange the pignoli nuts evenly on the foil. Bake the nuts until fragrant, about one to two minutes. Watch them constantly as they burn easily. Cool to room temperature. Reserve in a sealed container.
Remove the small seeds from the cucumber and discard them. Dice the cucumber and place it in a large bowl. Cut the sugar snap peas into four pieces and move to the bowl. Add the tomatoes, dill and red onion. Drizzle on the oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with salt. Gently toss until the vegetables are well coated. Move the vegetables to the bowl you’ll serve the salad in. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. The salad will last several days in the refrigerator.
When ready to serve, sprinkle in the pignoli nuts and toss well. Serve immediately.
Blueberry Muffins | Pareve
12 small (not mini) muffins
Equipment: muffin tin for 12 muffins and 12 baking cups (paper or foil liners)
- Nonstick vegetable spray
- 2 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 egg, hand beaten
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup blueberries
Place an oven shelf in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place 12 baking cups inside the muffin tin indentations. Lightly spray them with nonstick spray.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the orange juice, egg, corn oil, vanilla and cinnamon. Mix well with an electric mixer. Add the blueberries and, with a spoon, gently mix to combine.
Spoon the dough evenly into the lined muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes until golden on top and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of a couple muffins comes out clean. Cool briefly and serve, or cool completely and store in a plastic container. Muffins freeze well.
I just read your article “Comfort Food After a Funeral.” My mother taught me when I was very young to take food to a shiva house in a pretty dish and not make it all about “a throwaway experience.” I am so thankful to you for writing those words and teaching the next generation the same thing. It is a beautiful mitzvah to reclaim your dish by spending time with those in mourning. Again, thank you for your teachable moment.