Several years ago, a friend invited me to a Shabbat dinner in Brooklyn. When I arrived, I was greeted by a glass of red wine, and lots of friendly, familiar faces. And then I saw it: a huge spread of take-out Chinese food, complete with plastic containers, paper cartons, and piles of napkins. Wait, what? I confess: The food snob in me was slightly taken aback by the prospect of serving mediocre take-out food to guests.
To be fair, this visceral response to the sight of take-out cartons comes from my upbringing. When I was growing up, my mother loved to entertain, and much of her joy in welcoming people into her home still comes from preparing food from scratch. This means days of preparation, especially cooking. The way she sees it, entertaining is as much about impressing the guests with a splendid feast as it is about people getting together to enjoy themselves. I’m my mother’s daughter, and a professional chef to boot — I could no more invite people over and serve them store-bought food than I could ask them to pay for their meal.
Still, those Shabbat dinners at my friend’s apartment over the years, always with the take-out suggested that food, and the effort put into preparing it, did not always have to play a starring role in every event. This became abundantly clear before the meal was served, when the lights were dimmed slightly. A tray of lit candles made its way around the room, and each guest spoke briefly about something for which they were grateful. Finally, a quiet prayer was said, and then, “Shabbat shalom.”
Instants later, we grabbed paper plates and filled them with greasy stir-fry, limp egg rolls, and bland noodles. There was no breathless exclaiming over how great the food was, because, frankly, it wasn’t — it was simply a backdrop for the lively conversations taking place around the room. Shabbat, I realized, is primarily about being part of a community. Serving take-out simply ensures that there is less work for our hosts and more time for everyone to focus on the experience and joy we share, rather than the bread we break.
This recipe for vegetable moo shu is inspired by these Shabbat dinners, with the added bonus that cooking it yourself means it can be fresh and healthy. What’s more, it’s easy on the hosts: Just serve it buffet style, and let guests assemble the rolls themselves. Flour tortillas from the supermarket make a perfect stand-in for hard-to-find moo shu pancakes. I serve it with steamed rice, and sautéed Chinese broccoli for a crunchy, green element.
Vegetable Moo Shu with Flour Tortillas
Recipe adapted from “Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life,” by Louisa Shafia. Makes about 8 moo shu rolls.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 14-oz block firm tofu, drained and cut into strips
8 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, julienned
1 large burdock root, peeled and julienned
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cups firmly packed shredded napa cabbage
8 8-inch flour tortillas
1 jar hoisin sauce
1) Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2) Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the tofu. Sauté until brown, then remove from the pan.
3) Add the rest of the olive oil to the pan, followed by the shiitakes. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, then add the carrot, burdock root, ginger, garlic, maple syrup, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the tofu. Remove from the heat and season with salt.
4) Place the tortillas on a baking sheet and warm them in the oven for 2 minutes.
5) Spread the warm tortillas with a spoonful of hoisin sauce. Place a scant 1/2 cup of the vegetables on a tortilla and roll up. Serve.