Challah bread on a wire cooling rack

Friday night Shabbat dinner ideas

Learn more about the Jewish tradition of Friday night dinner and try our favourite family-friendly recipes. Try making challah and sweet babka buns

Friday night is the start of the Jewish Sabbath, which commences at sundown and continues until the same time on Saturday evening. The meal is a time of celebration when many families – often several generations – sit down to eat together.

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What happens at Friday night dinner?

Friday night dinner recipes

Before the family sits down to eat, the mother of the household recites a blessing as she lights two candles to welcome in the Sabbath. More blessings (kiddush) are recited over the first cup of wine, then over the challah bread – a delicious sweet plaited loaf enriched with eggs and oil. A little piece of the loaf is handed to everyone at the table before the loaf is sliced. Challah is made with oil, not butter, as the religious dietary rules (known as kosher or kashrut) require that Jewish people do not mix meat and milk in the same meal. If the challah is dairy-free, it allows the family to choose a meat- or dairy-based main course. If meat is on the menu, desserts will also be dairy-free.

What is served at Friday night dinner?

Friday night dinner starters

The meal is generally a three-course affair that traditionally kicks off with a Jewish classic: clear chicken soup with matzah balls. Matzah balls are dumplings made from matzah meal, which is finely ground matzah crackers. Some people add fine vermicelli noodles (or lokshen in Yiddish) and slices of carrot.

Or, you might serve a different soup starter, like this simple pea & mint soup for an early summer meal or beetroot & onion seed soup when you’re short on time. If keeping kosher, remember to avoid butter or cream in your recipe if you’ll be serving meat as a main course.

Some families like to serve a meze of dips and salads for dunking their challah into, like this easy hummus, a smoky baba ganoush made from charred aubergines or this punchy Spanish tomato & garlic dip.

Other classic starters include chopped liver – a simple, smooth chicken liver pâté – or egg and onion, an egg mayonnaise mixed with sweet sautéed onions. Both are perfect served with a slice of challah.

Friday night dinner mains

Main courses are often meat dishes, but it could also be fish or, as more people are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, a meat-free centrepiece.

A flavour-filled classic roast chicken & gravy, pot-roast chicken with stock or a roast chicken traybake that requires minimal hands-on time will go down well. Some families prefer a slow-cooked brisket, the remains of which can be enjoyed for lunch the next day. A sticky-sweet pomegranate and red onion brisket has a Middle Eastern twist and sits well with cauliflower harissa pilaf or a simple bowl of spicy couscous salad.

This blackened roast salmon would make a fabulously showstopping main course, as would a platter of bay-crumbed salmon, which needs no sides as mushrooms and spinach are cooked alongside (although you could serve it with some steamed new potatoes). For non-meat-eaters, this vegetarian wellington stuffed with beetroot, mushroom and butternut squash makes a suitably stunning centrepiece, or plump for this easy vegan wellington, which is packed with sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

A very traditional side dish is the kugel, a noodle bake with potatoes or vegetables. Most common is potato kugel, which is like a pot of baked rosti potatoes. Kugels can also be sweet – made with eggs, sugar, noodles and sometimes fruit – and served as dessert.

Fill the table with tasty vegetable sides like these honey-roasted carrots or ultimate roast potatoes, some simple honey-mustard steamed greens and colourful salads, like this rainbow-hued plate of crunchy broccoli salad.

Friday night dinner desserts

After a meaty meal, those following kosher rules will serve dairy-free desserts. Foods that contain neither meat nor dairy (and may or may not contain eggs) are known as parev. Always popular are seasonal fruit crumbles – with the crumble topping made with non-dairy spread instead of butter – like this vegan apple crumble. Use a mixture of berries during the summer months or plums in autumn for a quick and easy family favourite. Or, up the indulgence factor with this decadent vegan chocolate & date tart or an autumnal sticky toffee pear pudding. And, you can’t go wrong with a simple fruit salad, especially when served with non-dairy ice cream (or regular ice cream, if you’ve eaten a fish or vegetarian main course).

Anything goes if you’ve eaten a dairy, fish or vegetarian main course, so this white chocolate & raspberry ripple baked cheesecake is bound to be popular, and a chocolatey pud like this showstopping millionaire’s chocolate brownie tart will impress.

Want to try even more family-friendly meals? Try our recipes below…

Family dessert recipes
Summer family meal ideas
Budget meals for large families
Five family recipes made healthier

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What are your favourite Jewish recipes? Leave a comment below…