Zachary shares his Passover Menu, and Jewish Holiday meal planning tips.
Holidays are a time when we want to eat something special with people who are dear to us. But how often does trying to prepare a great meal result precisely missing the time with family because you are so busy in the kitchen?!
Zachary shares with us his tips for hospitality on the holidays, so that we can enjoy delicious, healthy food, and nourishing connections with our guests.
Tell us about yourself, Zachary Libow!
I’m born and bred in California and currently work as the Circulation Manager for J. Weekly, a legacy Jewish news media organization. I have a MA in foreign policy from American University, and a BA in history from CSU Long Beach. I love books (especially cookbooks!), the NBA (go Dubs!), investigative and longform journalism, and all dogs everywhere.
I’m probably the only Jew you’ll ever meet who will knead his challah blasting Young Thug and Kevin Gates. On the weekends I really enjoy making the most of the sunlight with my girlfriend on outdoor excursions with her dog. When I’m not doing those things, you can find me cooking, playing cards, and reading a novel or the latest article from one of the news journals I subscribe to.
You can find me online here:
Tell us about your connection to Judaism
I grew up in an unaffiliated synagogue (which I would say straddles the Reform and Conservative/Masorti movements) and went to a Jewish high school. But Judaism or Yiddishkeit was never really something inside the home when we grew up, always outside at shul or school. Now as I’m older I’m trying to cultivate a Jewish home, and my primary vehicle for that is through food. Cooking lets me tap into thousands of years of our traditions and culture. As a hasidic rabbi once said, “forget everything, all you need to know is the food!”
How do you accommodate different dietary preferences in meal planning?
My dad is a Type I diabetic, my mom is on a low-acid diet, and my girlfriend is vegan—balancing all of those dietary preferences and restrictions can be challenging! For bigger holidays or Shabbat dinners where I want to go all out, I’ll make a couple of entrees to be the centerpieces. However, most times I’ll have the entree be meat or fish and make all the sides vegetarian or vegan. I’ve also learned to adapt more recipes to be more Libow family-friendly without sacrificing on flavor. There are a lot of keto alternatives that are great for diabetics, for example. Making homemade ice cream with alternative sugars has been great for dessert!
How do you manage your menu if guests want to offer to contribute a dish to a holiday meal?
It’ll depend on the type of dinner. My Pesach dinner was very formal, replete with pure silver, napkin art and printed menus. It was very clear from the onset that guests should not bring their own food, but some asked what they could contribute and I told them, “wine is always welcome!” Otherwise, I assume if guests want to bring something, it might be because they have dietary restrictions and want to make sure they can eat something without putting out the host. It’s very easy to simply use the buffet side table in the formal dining room. This easily turns a dinner from guests being served to serving themselves.
What do you think about nutritional and pleasure value in recipes?
Health and nutrition don’t have to come at the expense of flavor! Using fresh, organic, local ingredients goes a long way to increasing the flavor profile of a dish, while still ensuring good nutrition. One of my core beliefs is that out of our five senses, taste is the most exquisite and exciting way to experience the world. As I like to say, you’re allowed not to like something, but you’re not allowed to not even try it!
What are your Top 5 Jewish Cookbooks?
In no particular order, these are the essentials in my rotation (although I have plenty more!):
Encyclopedia of Jewish Food – R’ Gil Marks
This is the Bible of Jewish food, a compendium of our food history in a single book. I bust this out every time I want to start looking at regional Jewish food, and his collection of charosets for Passover from all over the world always make it onto my seder plate. I haven’t had to make the same charoset once since I got it!
Jewish Cooking in America – Joan Nathan
As an American Jew, Joan Nathan’s seminal cookbook is imperative to capture the food of my parents and grandparents. Learning how Jewish food changes and adapts across this enormous country is also a ton of fun. When I think of Amero-Ashkenazi food, this is the one.
The Book of Jewish Food – Claudia Roden
Another collection of almost a thousand recipes from Roden’s travels and her own Mizrahi heritage. When I need Sepharadi cuisine, this will usually be the first book I crack open.
52 Shabbats – Faith Kramer
From my native Bay Area and a regular contributor to J. Weekly, Kramer made a complete menu for every Shabbat of the year. It’s complete, it’s delicious, and easy!
All the Jewish Food Hero cookbooks!
And, obviously, when I am looking for healthy Jew-ish, I will always check Kenden’s blog. I own Feeding The Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves, and many of those dishes have made it to my dinner table.
What is the best thing you learned from another person about food and hospitality?
From my savta: Always have amuse-bouches and even some appetizers at the ready when your guests walk in.
And, more often than not, just enough food is not enough—cook in abundance!
From my mom: Presentation is everything!
Creating and setting the table not only sets the atmosphere but elevates the food and your whole dining experience. Holidays can be really special: set it apart by busting out the nice dinnerware.
From my auntie: Perfection is the enemy of good, and even very good.
It’s okay to have exacting standards, but your guests—and especially your family—will always relish the opportunity to have something homemade.
What was on your Passover 2022 menu?
Sweet Beet Horseradish Relish
Curaçao Charoset (Garosa)
Yemenite Charoset (Doukeh)
Baked Terrine Gefilte Fish
Vegetable Matzo Ball Soup (in Beyond Chopped Liver: 59 Recipes Get a Vegan Health Makeover)
Kale and Amaranth Salad with Horseradish Dressing
Vegan Kibbeh Nayeh (in Feeding Women in the Bible, Feeding Ourselves)
Cauliflower Rice Tabbouleh
Wine-Braised Brisket with Butternut Squash
Roast Salmon with Citrus-Honey Glaze
Flourless Chocolate Berry Cake
Over to you – share your top tips!
Let me know in the comments:
- How do you approach meal planning for the holidays?
- When it comes to hosting special meals what have you learned the hard way?!
- Do you have any tried and tested strategies to share, to take the hassle out of holiday food?
- Share your favorite ever holiday menu – whether you cooked it or were invited as a guest!
Jewish Food Hero’s meal planning template
Meal planning is stress-reducing process, regardless of whether it is for a special occasion or a regular week. Read about meal planning benefits and download Jewish Food Hero’s meal planning template here!