Almost a decade after considering in these pages how to feed family and friends for the Jewish High Holidays, which this year begin at sundown on Sunday with Rosh Hashanah and run through the Yom Kippur break-fast after sundown on Oct. 12, I find it’s time to update the approach.
If you’re hosting for the first time, know that you’re blessed with many more options, from inspiration and doorstep delivery to recipes that reflect a blend of Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions. The world has gotten more chill about entertaining, in general. Issue an open-house invite, and you can’t always expect the courtesy of an RSVP. No matter; what’s important is the positive spirit you can evoke with the right mix of delicious things to eat.
A post-synagogue buffet or a sit-down meal still calls for advance attention, and it must be flexible enough to accommodate tastes and special diets. Experienced hosts have learned to rely on a combination of homemade and purchased items.
In particular, platters — the reliable bones of a spread meant for grazing — can be so much more than a pile of bagels with cream cheese or an array of cut-up fruit.
Now’s the time to plan, so here are a few things to keep in mind, gleaned from some of my favorite veteran Washington-area High Holidays hosts and caterers:
■ With heads-up notice — typically two to four days — deli counters and restaurants that cater will gladly build a platter upon a favorite private receptacle of yours instead of a disposable one.
■ If you’ve ordered from a place previously, ask whether it has retained that information. That is immensely helpful when gauging guest estimates and remembering what worked, and didn’t work, on your holiday table.
■ Figure on three-ounce portions per person for whitefish salads and egg salads, and two-ounce portions per person for smoked fish. Just before Yom Kippur, look for DGS Delicatessen four- and eight-ounce packs of its bourbon-rinsed smoked salmon in select Washington area Whole Foods Markets.
■ Offer an unexpected twist on the traditional, such as Herbed Gefilte Fish With Carrot-Citrus Horseradish or Cardamom Pickled Grapes from the new “The Gefilte Manifesto” cookbook by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern (Flatiron Books; see below).
■ Don’t hesitate to create platters of your own, drawing from various sources and thinking about a balance of color. Sturdy lettuce cups can stand in for condiment containers. Put down a bed of greens; green leaf lettuce holds up well.
■If you run short of platters, use wooden cutting boards.
■ Dried fruits and nuts can create a beautiful canvas on their own instead of being relegated to separate bowls.
■A grilled side of salmon or whole smoked fish makes a stunning presentation, especially when it’s surrounded by slices of olives, pickled vegetables and late-summer tomatoes.
■ Serve noodle kugels in two-inch squares; reheat, covered, in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, then remove the cover to crisp up the top.
■ If you have the storage space and inclination to host again, investing in an inexpensive set of glass or nice melamine plates and cutlery will be worth it.
■ Add bialys and slices of cocktail-size rye bread to an assortment of flavors and sizes of sliced bagels. Offer plain and flavored cream cheeses; don’t worry about buying “lite” versions for the holidays.
■Make desserts easy to reach for by pre-slicing and scaling some to bite-size portions.
■ Have take-home containers on hand if you don’t want leftovers; if you are counting on leftovers, set aside what you’d like before assembling the buffet.
■Hire or barter for a few hours’ worth of cleanup help.