Tips for organising a brachah
Celebratory meals

Tips for organising a brachah

South African cook and author Sharon Lurie, also known as the Kosher Butcher’s Wife, shares some of her tips for creating an intimate meal as part of a bar/bat mitzvah celebration.

When I was asked to give a couple hints and tips for catering bar/bat mitzvah meals for a smaller crowd of about 30, I took it that it didn’t include the local soccer team, entire school and every leaf on the family tree! Phew! Just family and perhaps closest friends. A challenge for me because I’m a bit of a “the more the merrier” type of person!

Sharon Lurie

However, ‘barrmis’ and ‘battis’ today are not what they were when my sons were of bar mitzvah age. Invitations back then set the tone for the upcoming function. And, my word were those invitations creative. Admittedly I was guilty as charged of doing just that! From miniature Torahs, to velvet-embossed cylinders that housed an invitation to coincide with Purim and read like Megillat Esther, to golden embossed miniature satin tzitzit, beautifully boxed, and sent to the whole soccer team, half the school, and aunties and uncles they’d never met!! That was the trend, back then.

Today, however, in South Africa (and I believe for Jewish communities all around the world), thank goodness it’s more about the mitzvah. It seems to me (well at least the bar/bat mitzvahs I’ve been invited to of late) that much emphasis is placed on the brachah that immediately follows the shule service, usually catered by the shule’s ladies guild. The food selection that’s being put together vary in style.

There is the casual spread of traditional Jewish favourites of cheesecakes, chopped herring, kichel (thin sugared biscuits), assorted bagels, sushi, crudité, popcorn… and then there’s functions with white gloved carvers slicing mounds of imported salmon and tables laden with baskets and bowls overflowing with accompaniments such as rye bread, miniature bagels, capers, cucumbers, cream cheese, tomatoes and onions. Ice cream carts with a variety of flavours and sorbet lollies are also quite a popular novelty, as are candy bars, chocolates and personalised biscuits and cookies.

So let me get back to the original question – how would I cater for an intimate barmi or batti brachah for about 30 people? For me, I would choose a Friday night dinner at home, where the personal warmth of family and close friends overflows and brachot and beautiful stories about the bar/bat mitzvah child flow around the table. As it is Shabbat, I would start my canvas with a white tablecloth, and I’d elegantly start decorating it.

In South Africa we are lucky enough to have the Gemacht – a ‘central depot’ where one is able to hire, for a small fee or donation, an array of items that people have no use for after some of their simchas. Items such as tablecloths, serviettes, candelabras, beautiful centrepieces, vases, whatever one would need for either an elegant or casual celebratory meal.

Have you taken a look at the top of your cupboards lately to see what could be up there that you’ve forgotten about? You might be surprised at the many wonderful vases and dishes you have lying around that could look great on your table. A couple of small pictures of the bar/bat mitzvah child framed on the table also add to the ambience of his/her special day. Personally, I love themes for special meals.

I remember doing an ‘Out of Africa’ themed spread, but was undecided on whether to make it formal or casual. So I decided to combine the two, using traditional enamel plates and mugs with all sorts of wooden crates and platters to display the food. I decorated the table with proteas and succulents, linen serviettes with elegant African beaded serviette rings, candelabras, candles, and two old brass elephants (told you you’d find things you’d forgotten you had!). The taste of Africa was what we really wanted, and do allow me to share with you some of the recipes I used.

Sharon Lurie’s third and latest cookbook, A Taste of South Africa with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife, is out now. Available online through Amazon.

Safari Brisket Crockpot

2 tbsp maizena/ corn starch
sprinkling of salt and pepper
2 – 21/2 kg fresh brisket
little oil for frying
1 tsp marmite dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
100g dried apricots
2 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp Nando’s peri peri sauce (medium or hot)
1/2 cup chutney
1 tsp grated ginger
50g tomato beef paste
4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp onion soup mix
1 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper

Rub brisket in corn starch and sprinkling of salt and pepper, and fry in a little oil until golden brown. Make sure all outer surfaces are nice and brown. Remember that the crockpot isn’t going to brown your meat. Browning adds colour and helps in flavour development.

Place the rest of the ingredients either into a food processor or into a jug and blend with a hand blender – this can be prepared a day or two before and stored in the fridge.

Place the browned brisket into a crockpot, cover with seasoning mixture and cook on high for an hour. Then, turn down the temperature to low for another 8 to 10 hours. You can leave it on low for about 11 to 12 hours. This brisket dish goes great with corn cob muffins.

Bobba Shar’s No Bake Melktert

For the base:
200 – 250g Marie biscuits, tea biscuits or Graham crackers
125g butter/margarine, melted

For the filling:
1 litre milk
3 tbsp butter/margarine
1 tin (395g) condensed milk
1 heaped tbsp custard powder
3 tbsp cornflour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence

To make the base:
Crush biscuits then add melted butter. Mix well and press firmly into a pie dish that’s big enough to hold about 11/2 litres (6 cups) of liquid. Refrigerate biscuit base until ready to use.
To make the filling:
Heat 750ml of milk, keeping one cup (250 ml) aside to use later. Add butter and condensed milk to warmed milk and keep stirring with a whisk. As it starts to come to the boil, remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Using the 250 ml milk kept aside earlier, mix with 3 lightly beaten eggs, custard powder and cornflour. Beat well with a whisk until smooth. Slowly add warm milk and condensed milk mixture to egg mixture (slowly as you don’t want it to scramble the eggs) and keep whisking all the time until well combined.

Return this mixture to heat and continue whisking until thick. It’s important to whisk all the time as the mixture must be very smooth. Whisking should ensure no lumps. If you find a few, I would strain it through a fine sieve.

Finally, add vanilla essence, stir well and pour into pie crust. Sprinkle with cinnamon and allow to cool before serving.

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