Like many modern American families, the faces around my dinner table have changed as family members pass on, others leave for, and then return from, college and new members join our family through marriage. With each of those alterations, our religious and culinary traditions transformed, morphing to fit our new family. But, Shabbat dinner — the one sacrosanct observance in our family — remains.
When I was little, our Shabbat table was filled with singing and numerous sets of Shabbat candles. Each dinner started with the telling of a Jewish fable like those of the fools of Chelm. Despite being able to trace our Ashkenazi ancestry back generations into eastern Europe, our meal never included the chicken, tzimmes or kugel that my friends ate. Instead, each Shabbat was celebrated with a filet or whole fish that was picked up from the fishmonger that morning. Glistening pink salmon, pan-seared tuna topped with mango salsa, brilliant red snapper or shad doused with lemon juice and onions took center stage in our elaborate feasts. During high school, homemade challah that I baked after school graced the table each week, while seasonal vegetables and sliced melon with berries rounded out the meal.
At the end of college, my step-mother Margie, joined our family. With her addition, came a change of menu. Margie’s tastes led us towards succulent marinated steaks and grilled chickens seasoned with fennel powder or tangy lemon and za’atar. Side dishes of pastas, tomato salads and Zalmicks challah (a tradition originally brought home from college in New York) became our new Shabbat fare. We had outgrown the stories of the fools of Chelm, but the Shabbat candles remained, as did the feeling of Shabbat.
Four years later, as my brother brought home his bride-to-be — both of whom had committed to keeping kosher — our meals changed once again. If someone stopped by the market with kosher meat, dinner often features chicken. Otherwise, fish reappears on the menu. Shabbat dinner with all six of us is a rare — except during the summer months when we all gather at our home by the beach. There, simple, clean and delicious summer fare is laid across the Shabbat table — marinated and grilled fish kebabs, watermelon feta salad speckled with fresh herbs from our garden and grilled corn succotash. With a bit of planning, everyone is happy to sit down at the backyard table and enjoy the Shabbat feast.
Summer Fish Kebabs
Cook’s note: While these kebabs are easily adaptable to the vegetables or fruits you have at home, peaches and onions pair particularly well, offering sweetness and bite.
¾ pound Chilean sea bass, skin removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
¾ Pound salmon skin removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
2-3 large peaches chopped into large chunks
1 red or yellow pepper, chopped into thick pieces
1 Vidalia onion also chopped into chunks the size of the fish pieces
Juice from 2 limes
3 tablespoons safflower or canola oil
(optional) 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Whisk together the marinade. There is no fine rule for the amounts, continue to taste it until it’s to your satisfaction. Put one third of the marinade on the side and sprinkle cilantro into it.
2) Combine all of the kebab ingredients into a bowl with the majority of the marinade. Toss well and let marinate for 20 minutes.
3) Place the marinated fish, vegetables and fruit on skewers (preferably metal grill skewers. If you use wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes beforehand). Alternate fish, vegetables and fruit on each skewer.
4) Grill on medium heat for approximately 5 on each side. (The amount of time will depend upon the thickness of your fish and how you like it prepared). Remove from grill.
5) Drizzle left over marinade with cilantro over the kebabs and serve.