At Shabbat meal, cook up wedding blessings

The most anticipated of all simchas is perhaps a wedding. (Mothers of infants envision their bridal gowns before they are out of diapers.)

The ceremony is followed by a party with lots of mazel tovs, music, dancing and food. The weekend usually includes a rehearsal dinner the night before, a brunch the day after, and a Shabbat kiddush-luncheon in between. To kick off the festivities, a special Shabbat dinner for out-of-towners is a wonderful way to see friends and family.

Here is a whimsical Shabbat dinner, featuring symbolic foods from different cultures that signify good wishes for the bride and groom: Eggs, seeds and filled foods hopefully ensure the couple lots of children, golden-colored foods like chicken soup predict prosperity, and honey means a sweet life.

Stuffed Grape Leaves | Serves about 24

1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cups long-grain white rice
5 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
3 Tbs. chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 Tbs. finely chopped fresh dill
5 cups (or more) hot water
1/2 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
1 32-oz. jar grape leaves, rinsed, drained, tough stems trimmed
lemon wedges
Heat oil in large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in rice, lemon juice, parsley, dill and 1 cup hot water. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat.
Cover and simmer until rice is partially cooked and no liquid remains, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in dried cherries.
Cover bottom of large saucepan with a few grape leaves. Place one large leaf on work surface. Spoon 1/4 cup rice mixture in center at widest part of leaf. Fold bottom of leaf over. Fold sides in. Roll up. Place seam-side down in pan. Repeat filling and rolling with remaining rice filling and grape leaves, stacking filled leaves atop one another in pan if necessary. Pour enough hot water over just to cover. Place heavy large heatproof plate over stuffed grape leaves. Cover.
Simmer over medium-low heat until leaves are tender and rice is cooked through, about one hour. Using slotted spoon, transfer stuffed grape leaves to platter. Serve warm or cold with lemon wedges.

Italian Wedding Soup | Serves 8

3 cloves garlic
2 Tbs. olive oil
8 cups chicken stock
2 10-oz. bags frozen chopped spinach
3 cups diced boneless chicken
3 eggs
2 Tbs. lemon juice
Sauté garlic in olive oil. Add stock and spinach. Cook until spinach thaws. Add chicken. Simmer 7 minutes. Beat eggs with pepper and add slowly to broth. Remove from heat, add lemon juice. Stir well and serve.

Honeyed Hens | Serves 8

4 Cornish hens, split in half
salt and pepper
1/2 cup honey
2 Tbs. fresh orange juice
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
3 Tbs. cumin seed, toasted and crushed
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Combine glaze ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse hens and blot dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using about a third of the glaze, brush both sides of hen halves. Place, skin-side down, on a baking sheet with low sides. Place in oven and roast 10 minutes. Turn heat down to 375 degrees. Brush hens again with half the remaining glaze and roast five minutes. Turn hens over, and roast 10 minutes. Brush with remaining glaze and roast until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes more. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].