"Can I bring anything?" How many times have you asked that well-meaning question in response to a simcha invitation? Food, above all, seems to have the power to convey love, caring and affection. And whoever heard of a celebration with just chips and dips?
Busy schedules hardly leave time for last-minute preparations, yet you want the dish you contribute to be fresh-tasting, delicious and portable. Casseroles and potpies are ideal for these occasions, as they can be made ahead of time and easily transported to the special occasion. They can also be baked and served in the namesake container -- a casserole dish -- and can be made ahead, frozen and then reheated with little compromise on the quality of the end result.
Marinated salads and vegetable sides are another good bet, especially those that are pareve, so they will fit into any menu.
The following recipes represent a cause for celebration of any kind.
Israeli Couscous and Vegetable Casserole
4 green onions, sliced
1 red pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp. saffron
8 oz. Israeli couscous
4 cups vegetable stock or to cover
1/2 cup diced butternut squash
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup diced zucchini
2 cups cooked beans
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large pan.
Cook the onions, pepper and garlic about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and saffron. Cook until bubbly.
Add the couscous and stir until coated with tomato mixture.
Add the stock to cover by 1/2 -inch and bring to a boil.
Add the remaining vegetables, cover and cook about 8 minutes. Stir in the beans and cook for another minute.
Garnish with olives and parsley.
Place the mixture in shallow baking dish, cover with foil, and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
Butternut Squash, Eggplant and Black-Bean Chili
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large leek, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
pinch red pepper
1 medium butternut squash
2 cups diced eggplant
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 zucchini, diced
1 large tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 large Golden Delicious apple, diced
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cups cooked black beans
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large skillet.
Cook the leeks with cumin and red pepper about 4 minutes.
Stir in the squash, eggplant, carrots and zucchini, and cook for about 4 minutes.
Add the tomato, apple, vegetable stock and beans. Cover and cook 10 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.
Taste for salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Place in shallow baking dish, cover with foil, and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
Serves 6 to 8.
Three-Cheese and Spinach Phyllo Pie
2 packages (10 oz. each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup minced dill
1/2 cup cottage cheese or ricotta
3 oz. feta cheese
3 Tbsps. Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsps. bread crumbs
14 sheets phyllo dough
melted butter or oil
Preheat oven to 375°.
Grease an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.
In a large bowl, combine the filling ingredients until well-blended.
Brush one sheet of phyllo with butter or oil and fold in half, buttered-side in. Place in the pan, allowing some of the dough to overhang.
Continue with next five sheets and place in the pan in a spoke-like fashion.
Spread the filling over the phyllo and fold the overhanging dough over the filling. Brush well with butter or oil.
Butter and fold remaining sheets of phyllo in half and place in pan in a spoke-like fashion
Tuck the overhanging dough inside of the pan, lifting bottom crust and gently pushing leaves underneath. Brush the top with melted butter or oil, and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Cover well with foil, and refrigerate or freeze until needed. Reheat in a 375° oven for 20 minutes.
To serve, release the sides of the springform and place on serving platter. Cut into wedges.
Sweet-and-Sour Artichoke-and-Carrot Salad
1 cup water
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
salt and pepper
chervil, parsley or basil, chopped
Combine the water, lemon juice, honey and oil in a medium saucepan.
Add the artichoke hearts and carrots. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes.
Transfer the artichokes and carrots to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Continue to cook the liquid until reduced to about 1/2 cup.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and pour over artichokes. Sprinkle with the herbs. Serve at room temperature.
Serves 8 to 10.
Roasted Red-Pepper and White-Bean Salad
1/2 tsp. prepared mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsps. white-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
6 Tbsps. olive oil
4 large red peppers, roasted
3 cups cooked white beans
1/2 cup pitted black olives, halved
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl.
In a large bowl, combine the peppers, beans and olives. Toss with the vinaigrette.
Taste for salt and pepper.
Sprinkle with parsley just before serving.
Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail her at: email@example.com .