The ‘Kiddush’ lunch is a tradition at many synagogues, including the one I belong to in downtown Toronto. It’s a shared meal to which all are invited following the Saturday morning services; usually about 120 people attend ours. A professional chef does the shopping and cooking, and the meals are tasty, attractive, and elaborate: a soup, salads, a hot stew or casserole, something sweet and delectable for dessert. Coffee, tea. Whiskey or ‘schnapps’ on a side table, if there’s a bar or bat mitzvah. Once a year, however, the Food Committee, comprised of volunteers from the shul membership, takes over to organize a ‘self-catered kiddush’, providing the chef with a vacation and augmenting community spirit. Somehow, due no doubt to advancing age and weakness of will, I have become a member of the food committee.
Each year the community kiddush meal adopts a theme. This time we aimed to reflect the indigenous heritage of the First Nations groups of Ontario. At the same time, we must follow the Jewish laws of ‘kashrut’ and of Sabbath: the synagogue and its kitchen are kosher and meatless, and all dishes must be fully prepared before dusk of the evening before, Friday. There can be no switching on or off of electric circuits, or lighting or dousing flames. As a further constraint, the committee has undertaken to promote use of ingredients that are organic and, where possible, local.
No problem! Duck soup! (Oops, no, not vegetarian.) Maybe ‘piece of cake.’ Or ‘easy as pie.’ Not!
We invited Shaun Adler to advise us. Shaun is the chef and proprietor at nearby Pow Wow Café , whose signature dish is the Ojibway taco, to attend our planning meeting. On a Tuesday evening, eight women and one man (the chair) surround Shaun at a long, wobbly table of scuffed gray plastic in the synagogue’s basement. “We’re so grateful that you have agreed to share your time and knowledge,” says the chair.
“Last year, we had a Moroccan theme,” a woman informs Shaun, checking her notes. “Two salads.”
“No meat. And the ingredients have to be kosher,” her neighbor adds.
“It all has to be cooked here,” someone else explains, waving her hand toward the small kitchen area at the far end of the room. “And be ready before sunset on Friday evening.”
“We’re doing all the preparation ourselves,” says another person.
Shaun holds up a hand. “Hey, everyone. My last name is ‘Adler’. My mom’s First Nations and my dad’s Jewish. I know about this stuff.” Shaun’s indigenous roots are Lac de Milles Lac First Nations, a branch of the Ojibway, based in northwestern Ontario, out beyond Thunder Bay. Shaun pulled out a spiral-bound pad of lined paper and a pen, gazed into space for a moment, and started to scribble. The vocal chorus flowed around him. “Okay, here it is,” he announced suddenly, tapping the pen on the paper. We all stopped speaking and listened.
Here it is, our kosher, vegetarian, Ojibway-inspired, locally-sourced, pre-cooked Kiddush menu, for a day of rest in the midst of a Canadian winter:
— Corn chowder in a mirepoix base, including celery, potatoes, garlic, cream, with a dish of cooked pickerel on the side
— ‘Three Sisters’ stew: lye corn, butternut squash, and red kidney beans, with parsnips and tomatoes, with a vegetarian broth.
— Wild rice pilaf—the wild rice sourced from Curve Lake Reserve—using Shaun’s cooking tip: boil with four times the volume of water normally used, which he says is a unit of rice to 1.5 of water, and then straining out the remainder to use in preparing the Three Sisters stew; or, he says, you can drink it—with dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, a little vinegar, maple syrup, and seasoned with salt and pepper.
— A green salad spiked with deep fried Jerusalem artichokes, julienned, skin on, and julienned carrots
— And finally, for dessert, bannock, with a compote of stewed apples and pears. Plus whipped cream.
Everyone is invited!