It’s time to get outdoors after the long, cold winter
Lag Ba’Omer, which falls on May 18 (18 Iyar) this year, is an eagerly anticipated holiday in both the United States and Israel, where it is celebrated with bonfires, picnics and toy bows and arrows. Israeli children also look forward to Lag Ba’Omer parades, while American Jews enjoy gathering with friends and families outdoors after the long winter.
Food can be as simple as foil-wrapped potatoes roasted in the bonfire and wieners on sticks cooked in the fire. Dessert? Marshmallows toasted by the flames are a traditional favorite, and s’mores are also popular.
If you want to create a more elaborate spread or maybe a dish to bring to a Lag Ba’Omer celebration, you can look to your old picnic standbys – or create new traditions with these crowd-pleasing recipes. The recipes were developed with simplicity in mind because no one wants to arrive at a picnic exhausted from a cooking marathon – and it’s not necessary, either.
Easy citrus salad
A variety of citrus fruits, such as pink grapefruit, white grapefruit, clementines, blood oranges, kumquats, oranges (avoid fruit that has a lot of seeds, such as tangerines)
Tarragon, cinnamon, mint or other spices
Grand Marnier or another orange-flavored liqueur
Wash the skins of each piece of fruit. Using a sharp paring knife and a cutting board, slice off just enough of the top and bottom of each fruit to expose the flesh. Then place the fruit on one of its now-flat sides, and cut away the rest of the skin, working from top to bottom and following the shape of the fruit. When all the skin is removed, the fruit should still be round. Then, turn the fruit onto its side, and cut into slices at least 1/4-inch thick.
Arrange the slices in a random single layer on a plate or platter that highlights the colors of the fruit – a white platter, for instance, works well. Add a few slices of fruit on top of the first layer to get a nice contrast in depth and color.
Prepare a simple syrup: Mix equal parts of water and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. (This should be very quick, a minute or two.) Let the simple syrup cool for 10 minutes, and then drizzle over the citrus.
Or: Add the spice/spices of your choice to the simple syrup once it boils. The process and amounts vary by spice, so check a cookbook or Internet source once you have chosen your spice. You can leave the chopped spices in the simple syrup or strain the syrup before drizzling on the fruit.
Or: Skip the simple syrup and instead use agave or honey (heat for a few seconds in the microwave so it thins a little) instead. Or: Skip the simple syrup and drizzle an orange-flavored liqueur over the fruit.
Chill before serving.
Easy kale salad
1 bunch kale, preferably flat kale (also called dino or lacinato kale)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Black pepper, to taste
Rinse kale thoroughly and dry as much as possible. Rip into bite-sized pieces and discard spines. Mix the lemon juice and salt, and pour over kale. Using your hands, massage the lemon juice mixture into the kale pieces for a few minutes, until they begin to soften and wilt. Place a heavy plate or a pan on top of the kale, and let sit at least a half-hour to further soften. Using your hands, toss kale with the remaining ingredients. Adjust seasonings. Chill. Serves 4.
Russet (baking) potatoes and/or sweet potatoes
Butter or margarine
Wash and dry potatoes. Using a fork, pierce each potato in several places. Rub the skin with a generous amount of butter. Wrap in foil, and make sure to cover completely. Then wrap in a second layer of foil. Place potatoes in the embers near the edge of the fire; cover in embers as completely as possible (but make sure you know where they are!). In about a half-hour, start testing with a barbecue fork for doneness – bigger potatoes will take longer to cook through, perhaps as long as an hour.
When potatoes are tender, use tongs to remove them from the fire. Allow to cool for a few minutes, and then carefully remove the outer layer of foil. Serve with salt, pepper and more butter or butter substitute, or let your imagination run wild: maybe a cheese, chive and sour cream bar for the baked potatoes and honey butter or a brown sugar-cinnamon butter for the sweet potatoes.
1 pound skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup ketchup
1-1/2 teaspoons mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Cut chicken into uniform chunks about 1-inch square or bite-sized. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl, add chicken and mix to coat. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for several hours or overnight.
An hour before cooking, place wooden skewers in room-temperature water to soak.
When chicken is done marinating, thread onto skewers; leave a small space between each chunk. Cook in broiler or on grill, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Test a piece to make sure it is cooked through before serving.
CHEF CYNTHIA writes widely about food and blogs at Cruisin’ Kitchen (cruisin-kitchen.com). She is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel in Woonsocket.