By Sari Kreines, Program Manager: Houses
Hello! My name is Sari Kreines and I am the Program Manager for the Houses. You don’t interact with me much, but you may recognize my work in the form of emails with many gifs! I love to host my friends (I am an MHWOW host after all) and of course hosting meals comes with needing to accommodate for people’s dietary needs. I’m personally a pescatarian (aka a vegetarian who still eats fish) and I have friends that are vegan, allergic to dairy, gluten free, and/or allergic to soy. I consider myself an amateur foodie who likes to experiment with recipes constantly to make sure all of my friends leave my home feeling full and happy. One of my personal favorite meals that can solve all dietary restrictions in one is: Build-Your-Own Taco Bar! It’s tasty, quick, and doesn’t break the bank – plus it’s easy to scale up or down depending on how many people you’re hosting! So long as you keep everyone in mind, menu possibilities are endless. Here are my top 5 questions I ask myself to make sure everyone that comes to my programs feels comfortable, welcome and wants to return for the food:
- Will everyone have a main dish?
- More often than not, the vegetarian/vegan option at events are salads made of romaine lettuce, cut up vegetables and maybe a couple of croutons. For me, this is not an exciting meal option and therefore, the next time I’m invited to that event, I will either decline graciously or know to eat beforehand. Hopefully, this is something you are trying to avoid at your programs. If the vegetarian main dish is going to be a salad, make sure to add in some hearty beans, gluten free grains and throw out a bowl of walnuts or pecans for folks to add in on their own.
- Is everything labeled with common food allergies?
- An easy way to do this is to put pieces of masking tape out in front of each food item identifying potential allergies. For example, if you’re serving a pecan pie, you could write, “contains: nuts, gluten and dairy.” If you’re utilizing any packaged foods (my favorite is any and all of the dips from Trader Joe’s) leave the packaging out in a convenient and obvious location for people to check for themselves.
- Hot tip: This is also a great technique to use when hosting potlucks where you don’t know what’s in everything! When someone comes in with food, hand them a roll of tape and a marker and explain the process.
- Do I have separate cookware and serving utensils to reduce the risk of cross contamination?
- I used to live in a house with 13 other people, where one of my housemates was very allergic to dairy, not just lactose intolerant. For the first time, I had to be aware of what knife I was using to cut my block of cheese and if I washed it before cutting into the communal head of lettuce. If I didn’t wash the knife between cutting my cheese and cutting the lettuce, my housemate would’ve had a deadly allergic reaction from eating the lettuce. This is cross contamination and it’s easily avoidable. Wash your cookware and utensils thoroughly between prepping each part of the meal, and make sure you have separate serving utensils for each food item.
- Is my menu easily customizable?
- A great way to make sure everyone will be able to find something to eat is creating a build your own [insert meal] buffet. With this format, community members will be able to add all of the things they know they can eat (or want to eat) without having to ask “does the vegetarian option contain gluten in it?” My favorite build your own meal to make is a build your own taco bar: low cost, so many options for all dietary restrictions and easy to accommodate kashrut observance levels.
- Am I making myself available and approachable during the program?
- This one might be like, duh, but is arguably the most important question to ask yourself. You could make a sign to put up near the food that reads, “Have a question? Ask [insert your name/photo here]” or, my personal favorite, give everyone a food tour. A food tour means giving an explanation of all of the food that’s being served, which items are vegetarian, gluten free, nut free, etc. AND it gives everyone the opportunity to see you as the person to go to with the food related questions.
Food is something that brings people together in many ways. Maybe you’re hosting a specific food themed evening (Sushi in the Sukkah, anyone?) and that’s what brought someone to Moishe House for the first time. Or maybe someone is new and is nervous about striking up a conversation, lucky for them, there’s some delicious food options for them to make small talk about. Whatever it might be, the way you make people feel by thinking ahead about their needs, will make them want to keep coming back.
Classic Taco Bar Recipe (as retold by Sari)
Cook Time: 30-45 minutes
- 1 package of 10 Flour tortillas (contains: wheat, some brands contain dairy)
- 1 package of 10 Corn tortillas
- 2 cups (350 grams) uncooked white or brown rice (no shame in a bag of microwavable rice. Rice is difficult to cook and takes up stove top space)
- 1 can black beans (approx 432 grams) (2 cans if you’re doing a vegetarian meal or have many vegetarians attending)
The Produce Section:
- 1 white onion, sliced
- 2-3 bell peppers, sliced (my personal favs are anything but green, but you do you and choose your own flavors!)
- 1 jalapeno, diced with seeds removed (leave out if your community doesn’t do spicy)
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 packages extra firm tofu (1 package approx 349 grams) (amount will depend on how many people you anticipate will eat vegetarian/vegan, about 1/4 package per person) (contains: soy)
- 1 package (450 grams) ground beef (can sub for 3 chicken breasts)
Spices (or buy premade taco seasoning for ease):
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional if you want to make it spicy)
- 2 ripe avocados, sliced
- 2 cups (350 grams) guacamole (homemade or premade and the more the merrier, this will certainly be the first ingredient to go)
- 1 head of lettuce (or 1 bag of pre-shredded lettuce)
- 1 bottle salsa
- 2 cups (350 grams) shredded cheese (if you are doing a dairy meal or not keeping kosher) (contains: dairy)
- 1 container sour cream (if you are doing a dairy meal or not keeping kosher) (contains: dairy)
Step 1: Prepare the tofu
- Remove the tofu from its packaging and slice it into three to four sections
- Wrap the tofu in a cloth or paper towel and press down to remove excess moisture (if you have a tofu press, use that instead)
- Once the excess water has been removed, cut the tofu into small, half inch strips
- Mix all of the spices together to create your taco seasoning
- Place the tofu in a container and use half of the spice mix to coat the tofu
Step 2: Cook the veggies
- In a medium sized pan, heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil (I like to use olive oil) on medium heat
- Add in your sliced onions and minced garlic and cook until the onions start to become translucent
- Once this happens, add in all of your types of peppers
- Add in salt and pepper to taste
- Cook this mixture until the peppers begin to soften to your liking
Step 3: Cook the proteins
- If you’re a master chef with lots of kitchen utensils, you can do this at the same time as you are cooking your veggies. Otherwise, place your veggies in a bowl, set them aside and clean off your pan.
- In a medium to large sized pan, heat 1 tablespoon of your choice of cooking oil on medium heat
- Once the oil is heated, place the tofu in the pan and cook each side for about 5 minutes, checking consistently to make sure the tofu isn’t burning
- If you want crispier tofu, cook each side for a few extra minutes
- In a separate pan, brown the ground beef over medium-high heat.
- Add taco seasonings and simmer until fully cooked and seasoned.
Step 4: Cook the rice (and beans if you’d like!)
- Cook the rice according to the package
- Drain and rinse the beans, place them in a bowl and serve OR follow the below instructions to heat them up
- Place the drained and rinsed beans into a small pot on low heat
- Add in a little garlic powder and chilli powder to your liking
- Simmer on low, stirring every so often to make sure the beans aren’t burning
- Cook until warmed or leave on low heat until ready to serve
Step 5: Set it up buffet style, serve and enjoy!
- Set out your fixings starting with the taco shells, making sure to keep the flour tortilla separate from the corn
- Make sure you have separate serving utensils for everything so there’s less risk for cross contamination for those with food allergies