Cook | For fun office party, just say cheese

Food is a central party of any well-run office. Is it your birthday? Most organizations will bring you a cake. But at the JCCSF, my department focuses all the birthday love on cheese. Funny for a room scattered with dairy-sensitive Jews, so I’ve been brainstorming how to accommodate the cheese while still respecting the lactose-adverse.

Enter the hearty salad, where the cheese — feta, cheddar, etc. — is optional. Perfect for an office birthday or a potluck celebration, these grain and pasta salads offer satisfying options for all food lovers. And while the  recipes are delicious with the cheese, you can easily put it off in a little bowl on the side.


Broccoli Cheddar and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad

Serves 6-8

1 lb. pasta shells

4 cups broccoli florets, broken in small clusters

1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted

1 pint cherry or plum tomatoes, halved

1⁄4 cup (heaping) sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 small clove garlic, peeled

1⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar

1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1⁄2 tsp. salt

plenty of fresh black pepper

8 oz. sharp cheddar, cut in 1⁄4-inch squares

1⁄2 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Steam broccoli until crisp tender — no more than 3 minutes. In a large bowl, combine pasta, broccoli, olives and raw tomatoes. In a food processor, blend sun-dried tomatoes, Dijon, garlic, balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper until smooth. Toss pasta salad with dressing until coated. Toss in cheddar squares (or keep to the side) and basil.


Black Quinoa Caprese Salad

Serves 4

1 cup black quinoa, prewashed or rinsed well

1 tsp. kosher salt, divided

1⁄4 cup + 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tbs. white balsamic

1 tsp. fresh garlic, minced

1 tsp. honey

1⁄2 tsp. Dijon mustard

freshly ground black pepper

1 pint cherry or plum tomatoes, cut in half

8 oz. small fresh mozzarella     balls, cut in half

1⁄3 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

2 Tbs. capers

2 Tbs. toasted pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)

Cook quinoa with 1⁄2 tsp. of the salt according to package directions. Fluff with a fork. Combine olive oil, white balsamic, garlic, honey, mustard, remaining 1⁄2 tsp. salt and plenty of fresh black pepper in a jar. Shake. Add half the dressing to warm quinoa. Cool to room temperature. Add tomatoes, mozzarella (or keep to the side), basil and capers to quinoa. Toss with remaining dressing, and a little more black pepper and salt to taste. Mix. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds.


Nectarine, Farro and Feta Salad with Basil

Serves 4

11⁄2 cups farro

1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice

1⁄2 cup olive oil

1 Tbs. shallot, minced

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. salt

freshly ground black pepper

15-oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained

2 cups diced nectarines

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1⁄3 cup fresh mint, chiffonade

1⁄3 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

Bring a medium saucepan full of salted water to boil. Simmer farro for 18 minutes. Meanwhile, in a jar combine lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, lemon zest, Dijon, salt and black pepper. Shake to combine. Drain farro when al dente and transfer to large bowl. Add garbanzo beans and toss with half the dressing. Cool. Mix in remaining ingredients. Season with additional dressing, salt and pepper to taste.

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O Manischewitz Cook-Off, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet” and works at the JCC of San Francisco. Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is

Josie A.G. Shapiro

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff and is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.”