Shabbat Under the Stars

What better place is there to celebrate Shabbat, and enjoy a Friday night dinner, than on a campground surrounded by earth’s bounty of natural beauty.

My Shabbat journey is one rooted in exploration. It started with my love of having friends and family over for Friday night dinner and exploring Jewish foods, foodways, ingredients, and histories, which culminated in my book 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.

During the pandemic, my husband and I converted a Honda minivan into a camper (more like a bed on wheels with great storage and a giant cooler) and periodically hit the road. 

For the past two springs we’ve been touring the southwest seeing sights such as Yellowstone, Arches, Zion, Mount Rushmore, Death Valley, Rocky Mountains, and the Rio Grande. We spent Shabbats at beachside campgrounds—in the middle of some of the most breathtaking rock formations—next to rushing rivers, verdant fields, tall forests, amazing deserts filled with cacti, and other spectacular locations. On our last big trip we overlapped with Passover and spent the first Seder with the University of Texas in Lubbock with travelling rabbis from Chabad. The two young rebbes brought kosher food from Miami, kashered their airbnb kitchen, and cooked everything. Our second night was with a friend in Dallas, who made the pomegranate molasses brisket from my book.

We also have a favourite beach campground we go to periodically just below Mendocino and we have celebrated Shabbat there as well as a beachfront campground in El Segundo, where we stayed when I was in that area for a book signing.

Other trips have been through California to Eugene, Oregon, and back down the coast of the Monterey Peninsula and elsewhere in northern California. 

And just as often as our location changed, so did the food we ate. There is something about camping and Shabbat that go together for me. I enjoy al fresco dinners, and because the meals are simpler to prepare I am able to focus on commemorating Shabbat and appreciating our surroundings. Though sometimes our campground is not much more than a glorified parking lot. 

We always start our trip by defrosting frozen meals as we drive, in preparation for the festivities. A popular choice is the one-pot meal layered chicken and rice plov which freezes well and is easy to reheat on our camp stove. 

If we stay on the road longer, Shabbat dinner might be: burgers, steaks, or chicken cooked over a grill, with potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked on the coals; a quick stir fry or sauté; a veggie and bean stew; or even just a plate of spaghetti with sauce from a jar to keep things easy after a day of adventure or an all-day drive.

On shorter trips I usually have a challah prepared. But on longer expeditions we make hamotzi over bagels, pitas, or even the matzah we tuck into our small camping pantry for “emergency” carbs. 

But what about all the other Shabbat customs we are used to having? To bring them along, I often have to downsize. For the kiddush I carry miniature boxes of grape juice or 8 ounce bottles of wine. And for the candles I used tea lights and small battery-operated Shabbat candles (although during the last trip I forgot to bring the batteries) for campgrounds that don’t allow open flames.

One of my family’s favourite prayers is the “Shehecheyanu,” an appreciation to God for bringing us to this moment in time. As we look around our campsite, enjoy our meal, and watch the stars come out, this prayer is all encompassing and fitting. For we are in each other’s company and basking in nature’s glow.


Adapted from 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen (The Collective Book Studio)

Serves 8


2 cups white basmati rice
1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided 
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
3 1/2 cups boiling water 
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more if needed
4 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch matchsticks
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill or cilantro, divided
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cups chopped fresh spinach or chard
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (see note)


Rinse the rice in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Drain. In a large heatproof bowl, mix together the rice, 1 teaspoon of salt, the saffron, and boiling water. Let soak for at least 1 hour. In a large bowl toss the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

In a 6-quart pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until the onions begin to soften, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the carrots and sauté until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes, adding another drizzle of oil if the pot seems dry. 

Stir in the cinnamon, turmeric, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and 1/4 cup of dill and sauté for 1 minute. Add the chicken, lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes. 

Layer the green beans evenly over the chicken and vegetables. Layer the spinach over the green beans. Carefully pour the rice mixture with the water into the pot. Do not stir or mix in with the other ingredients. Cover and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 45 minutes. (While the rice is cooking, open the lid as little as possible but check periodically to make sure the pot has not dried out. Add water, a little at a time, as needed.) Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

Uncover, place a rimmed platter on top of the pot and carefully flip over the pot onto the platter. The plov should turn out with the vegetables and chicken on top. Use a spatula to smooth it back into shape if needed. Serve the plov on the platter, garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup of dill and drizzle with pomegranate molasses.

Make it in advance for eating at home: make the plov in a Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot up to 3 days in advance and keep it in the pot (or alternatively, transfer it to a large casserole or baking pan). Cover and refrigerate. To serve, sprinkle the top with a little water. Cover and reheat in a 350°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes (from room temperature) or until it’s warmed through. Invert the pot onto a serving platter and garnish as instructed above.

To take camping or to freeze: stir plov so ingredients are evenly distributed. Portion into freezer-safe containers and freeze for up to 6 months. Defrost and reheat as above or transfer to a large pot over low to medium-low heat. Cover and cook defrosted plov until heated through, stirring occasionally. If necessary, add water by the tablespoon so the dish heats through without burning or sticking. 

Note: pomegranate molasses is available in some supermarkets as well as in Middle Eastern, kosher, specialty, and on-line stores.

Header image design by Clarrie Feinstein.

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