Shabbat table

Low-Stress Shabbat Dinner

I like to invite my students to Shabbat dinner at my home. It’s a low-stress way for them to experience the rituals of Shabbat, and a chance to just hang out and chat. It’s also a chance for me to meet their families, if they choose to include them.

However, there are challenges. Many of my students are vegetarians or vegans, so the menu needed to account for that. I needed a main dish that everyone could enjoy and that wasn’t too expensive. I finally settled on something that was a treat for me, and a novelty for many Californians: Hoppin’ John, a dish of black eyed peas and rice, seasoned with onions and spices, and with an assortment of hot sauces on the table for those who enjoy a little heat.

I needed to keep the work to a reasonable level. Cooking a big meal for as many as twenty people was just too much for me, so I make the rest of the meal potluck. For side dishes and desserts, I ask the students to bring a dish if they can.

I buy the challah from a local bakery. I could make it, but I’m hoarding my energy to play host later in the evening, remember?

The table is deliberately simple: white cloth, plates, silverware, candlesticks, challah plate and cover. Cups for wine or grape juice. Matches where I can find them.

Once people begin to arrive, the evening pretty much runs itself. They are excited to see one another, and curious to see what everyone brought. Some enjoy rummaging through the hot sauce tray, looking for interesting things. We light candles, I make kiddush, we make motzi, and we have a lovely meal. At the end, we bless and clean up. I send leftovers home with anyone who wants (thank goodness for Ziplock bags) and by then I am ready to fall into bed!

It’s not hard. It need not be a production. Why not call some friends and give it a try?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

12 thoughts on “Low-Stress Shabbat Dinner”

  1. What a delightful way to get to know your community! Love this idea. I would enjoy your Hoppin John recipe and to know what hot sauces you serve with it. The Challah, wine and grape juice I can manage. L’Chaim!

    1. I linked to a Hoppin John recipe in the post, although mine is a little different. When I’m making things from my childhood, I don’t measure things, so my recipes tend to be rather vague.

      On Thursday, I put a bag of dried black eyed peas in my crockpot and cover them with water. I cook them on “low” all night. Friday morning, I chop a couple of onions, sauté them in olive oil, and add them to the peas in the crockpot, along with a 2-4 drops of Liquid Smoke. Later in the day, I drain the peas, saving the “liquor.” Then I make a big pot of rice (how much depends on how many people are coming to dinner.) Instead of plain water, I use the pot liquor from the peas, adding enough water to cook the rice. Then I toss peas and rice together and salt it to taste, but lightly. I serve it in a couple of bowls on the table, so that we aren’t passing one giant heavy bowl around. Nice garnishes include chopped tomato, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro or parsley.

      Hot sauces? Let’s see what I have at the moment: Tabasco, both Regular and Mild; Tapatío; Huy Fong Sriracha; Cholula; Tiger Sauce; Louisiana Hot Sauce; Jala Hot Sauce.

      1. Thank you Rabbi Ruth! I am going to try ur recipe this next Shabbat! Sounds delish! And the only hot sauce I am missing is Jala Hot Sauce, so I will look for it when I shop!

        I do hope you are feeling better!


  2. just in time hopping john! We are about to go to a dinner, to get to know our new rabbi and his wife. He is a vegetarian and she is vegan. Easy and lovely.

  3. Rabbi Ruth, this sounds very much like what Etz Chaim in Merced does three weeks a month when our Student Rabbi does not come up from L.A. Since our congregation is small it’s all potluck & we tell people who are on special diets to be sure to bring something they can eat. Sometimes we do a lay led service & sometimes we just schmooze. Carol Friedman, President, Etz Chaim, Merced, CA.

  4. I bet it is the highlight of your guests’ week.
    Hoppin’ John sounds terrific!
    You did not mention it, but I am sure that if you added a thought about the Torah portion before lighting the candles it would add an extra delicious Shabbat spice to the meal!

    1. Words of Torah are always appropriate at the Shabbat table, indeed! Thank you for reading and commenting, Rabbi Fuchs. I enjoy your blog very much.

  5. Michael, I hope that you are able to find some friends or family with whom to share Shabbat dinner in Denmark! Thank you for reading the blog and commenting – please feel free to leave questions any time!

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