Shabbat: Tel Aviv to New York

Shabbat has recently become an important tradition in my house. I spent the year pre-pandemic in Tel Aviv, and quickly came to love the large, family-style meals we ate every Friday. The city would shut down when the sun set, and we’d bike back from the beach to cook and drink and celebrate together.

Tel Aviv beach at sunset

I was raised Christian, but my Jewish friends and professors were thrilled to teach me about Shabbat. About six months into my year there, a friend told me I really understood the spirit when I showed up to a school Shabbat dinner with a plate of cookies and a bottle of wine to share. This is what Friday night is about for me: good food, good company, friends laughing and eating and drinking. We gave ourselves permission to forget our jobs and homework and stressors, and instead learned songs in Hebrew and talked about what had made us happy that week. Even for those of us who didn’t observe for religious reasons, these Friday night dinners became a sacred kind of space, one reserved for rest and joy and love. This is the tradition I’ve tried to bring back with me to New York.

Shabbat dinner at NYU Tel Aviv

Now each Friday I have a small group of friends over for dinner. Sometimes I bake challah, sometimes we do a potluck, sometimes we order in from our favorite falafel or Thai restaurants. My favorite meal, though, is a family-style spread of all the foods we ate in Israel. I spend the day making a spread of falafel, hummus, shawarma, and salads. We sit down around my table or gather on the rooftop and pass dishes, drink wine, talk and laugh and relax. Jewish or not, this family dinner on Fridays is such a wonderful tradition and has made it easy for all of us to keep in touch through our hectic lives in the city.

Shabbat dinner in the East Village

My go-to Shabbat meal is actually very simple and it never fails to impress. As a student on a budget I love that I can find all the ingredients at Trader Joe’s. The base of it is simple: canned chickpeas, tahini, chicken, shawarma seasoning, falafel mix, and veggies! Homemade falafel, which I do make on occasion, wins every time in a side-by-side comparison, but the falafel mix at TJ’s is delicious and the directions on the box make it a dish anyone can make. 

While the mix is settling (for about 20 minutes) I marinate diced chicken thighs in olive oil, garlic, and shawarma powder (or shawarma marinade from Whole Foods). They are about the simplest thing to sauté and the bite-size pieces are delicious thrown over hummus.

The trickiest part of this recipe is the hummus, but even that is easy to learn. I start with a can of chickpeas drained and boil them for about 30 minutes to soften them up. While this is happening, combine two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice with two or three cloves of garlic in a food processor or blender (my food processor has become a staple in my kitchen for soups, hummus, sauce, dressings, anything). Let sit for 20 minutes to cut the bite of the garlic and then mix in 1/4 cup of tahini (try TJ’s Egyptian tahini or Holyland Market on St. Marks for Israeli tahini you can make yourself). When the chickpeas are done cooking, strain and add them to the blender with 1/4 teaspoon of cumin powder and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. If it’s too thick, add cold water one tablespoon at a time until it reaches your desired texture. I’ve served this to friends of mine in and out of Israel and it’s a hit every time. 

The final bit are the toppings! My go-tos are cabbage cut into small strips, diced cucumbers, pickles, red onion, and of course, a bowl of tahini. More good options are parsley, tomatoes, spicy peppers, or anything else you want! 

Israeli food is so fun because it combines Arab cooking with ingredients brought from Jews around the world, especially from Eastern Europe. So while any Middle Eastern country has hummus and falafel (and it’s delicious everywhere you go), only in Israel would you find pickles, eggs, and schnitzel served on the side. So make it your own with other proteins and veggies! I put each of the toppings in a bowl on the table and let everyone build their own plate.

Warm some pita in your oven and let everyone get creative, sharing platters of hummus, falafel, and shawarma family style. This is great because it’s vegan and gluten-free friendly, and even picky eaters can find a few things to try. Don’t forget to pour your tahini over everything.

The assembled plate (chef’s kiss!)

Shabbat dinners have given me the perfect venue to spend time with people I love and experiment in the kitchen. Even if you’re not Jewish, try making Friday family style dinners with friends–another fun idea could be a weekly potluck (stay tuned for my favorite potluck meals on a budget). Whatever you’re cooking, the most important thing is the company. So invite your friends over–vaccinated, outdoors, socially distanced, whatever you need to feel safe–and share your food, your wine, your time, your love! Prioritising your relationships, creating these special spaces for those you care about, is what is going to maintain these relationships through undergrad and beyond. And in a city as hectic as New York we all need a fun, restful night in now and again. Shabbat shalom!

Cora Enterline is a senior at NYU studying law, ethics, and religion. She’s studied and worked in Paris and Tel Aviv, where she loved biking, traveling, dancing, and teaching English. She has a love for foreign languages, sad novels, themed dinner parties, and red wine by candlelight. This summer, follow her blog to learn easy, student-friendly recipes and find inspiration from around the world for your own dinners, picnics, and culinary adventures at home!

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