When love is in the air, its time to celebrate

“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.” (Solomon’s Song 8:7)

The Song of Solomon, perhaps the most beautiful book of the Bible, discusses romantic and physical love. In our tradition, love, and its physical expression in marriage, are our biggest joy and celebration — as well as a very serious contract.

There is a Talmudic tale: A wedding procession and a funeral procession meet at a crossroads at exactly the same moment. Which procession should cross first? The wedding procession proceeds, as the continuation of life always takes priority.

Engagements are always exciting and promising, and an engagement party is a wonderful way to get everyone together before the wedding.

It seems the best way to mingle is with appetizers — and they can be exceptionally easy to prepare. Communal platters served casually allow for great mingling and visiting. The following appetizers are extremely simple to prepare, yet combine interesting tastes and textures.

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Dip

2 large eggplants, sliced

1 Tbs. coarse sea salt

5 Tbs. olive oil

1 head garlic, peeled and separated into cloves

3 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1⁄2 tsp. black pepper

Sprinkle the eggplant slices with the coarse sea salt and allow to stand for 30 minutes. Rinse well with water and pat dry. Brush both sides of each slice with 4 Tbs. of the olive oil, place on baking sheets and roast in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes, until they are very soft.

Toss the garlic cloves with the remaining olive oil. Place the garlic cloves in a small ovenproof dish, and roast in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until they are very soft.

Allow the eggplant and garlic to cool slightly, then mash them together. Mix in the parsley, fine sea salt and pepper. Serve with pita bread or crackers.

Deviled Eggs

Makes 2 dozen

12 hard boiled eggs

1⁄4 cup sour cream

1⁄4 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbs. mustard

2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley

Sweet Hungarian paprika

Peel the eggs, cut them into halves lengthwise and scoop out the yolks. Mash the yolks with the sour cream, mayonnaise and mustard until smooth. Stir in the parsley. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip, and pipe about a tablespoon into each white. Sprinkle each egg with a little paprika. Serve at room temperature.

Marinated Olives and Feta

Serves 4-6

2 tsp. toasted cumin seeds

1 tsp. toasted coriander seeds

1 tsp. red chili flakes

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

Zest from 1 large orange

1 cup olive oil

12 oz. assorted olives

12 oz. feta cheese, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes

2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley

2 tsp. chopped thyme

Heat the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, chili flakes, garlic slices, orange zest and olive oil in a saucepan until just warm and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Pour over the olives and allow to cool completely. Gently stir in the feta, and allow everything to marinate at least 4 hours. This will keep for several days covered in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve, bring the olives and cheese to room temperature and stir in the parsley and thyme. Serve with sliced baguette or pita bread.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at www.GoRebecca.com. She can be reached at [email protected].