If you mention Nicole Goldstein’s name to anyone who knows her, you will likely hear about her Shabbat dinners. Her friends get a faraway look in their eyes as they recount menus or dishes from dinners they attended months before—and dream of the next invite.

Franklin Rubinstein (left), Nicole Goldstein and their two children, Noa and Meir

Franklin Rubinstein (left), Nicole Goldstein and their two children, Noa and Meir

Nicole enjoys cooking, but that is only a small part of the story of the Shabbat tradition she and her husband Franklin Rubinstein have built. “Shabbat is special for us.” They view the Friday evening dinners after services as a way to connect with friends and family and build their Jewish community, all in the context of Shabbat.

A typical Shabbat dinner at their home includes two to four additional families, for a total of 12 to 20 people. Active members of Ohev Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue in DC’s Shepherd Park neighborhood, Nicole and Franklin often invite families who are new shul members, along with friends from other parts and times in their lives, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Nicole, a New Yorker with a quick wit and boundless energy, met Franklin, a Texan, in law school. While Nicole no longer practices law, you can see the organizational skills she honed as a litigator in everything she does when it comes to preparing these meals.

She plans the menu on Sunday, shops on Wednesday and Thursday, cooks on Thursday night, bakes challah on Friday morning and grills (if the meal includes grilled meat) on Friday before sundown. All this happens in between caring for their two children, Meir and Noa, ages 9 and 5 respectively, and a host of other activities.

Nicole maintains a large shelf of binders with a staggering number of well-catalogued recipes, many including her own annotations and adaptations. She also maintains an extensive cookbook library, including favorites such as Paula Shoyer’s The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Desserts from Traditional to Trendy and Claudia Roden’s Arabesque: a Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon.

The Shabbat dinners often revolve around a theme and always involve multiple courses. Here are two recent Shabbat menus:

Mexican Shabbat Dinner
Cilantro-lime-chile challah
Appetizers and Salads (Salatim): Tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole; mixed greens with avocado, lime and toasted cumin vinaigrette; jicama slaw with lime-ancho dressing; grilled chorizo with aji rojo
Soup: Tortilla soup
Fish: Pescado a la veracruzana
Meat: Pollo a la brasa; steak and veggie fajitas
Side Dishes: Rice; grilled corn with chile and lime; carrots with curry and cilantro
Desserts: Mexican chocolate custard cake; mango sorbet
Drinks: Mango mint iced tea; pineapple mint tequila fizzes

Middle Eastern Shabbat Dinner
Date-mint challah
Appetizers and Salads (Salatim): Hummus; baby spinach salad with dates and almonds; smoky Syrian eggplant; orange, olive and red onion salad; plus, as Nicole described to her friends in a Facebook posting on the dinner menu, “some other salatim that I haven’t quite worked out in my head yet”
Soup: Persian pistachio soup
Fish: Tomatoes stuffed with tuna, capers and roasted red pepper (and a veggie version); Persian cod with saffron sauce
Meat: Chicken b’stilla; Lebanese chicken; Kofte kabobs; lamb tagine with pears
Vegetarian Main Dish: Ashkelon-style vegetable stew
Side Dishes: Ptitim (Israeli couscous); Syrian braised string beans with allspice and garlic; sweet potato olive salad; artichokes with peas and carrots
Desserts: Walnut raisin jam tarts; pears poached in white wine and cardamom; baklava; Googalim (Israeli cake balls)

Nicole makes almost all the food for these kosher Shabbat dinners herself. The only exception is dessert, which she occasionally buys because “that’s not my thing.” She includes a mix of easy and more difficult dishes.

According to Nicole, Franklin’s Texas upbringing has left him such a confirmed carnivore that virtually all their meals, Shabbat and otherwise, are meat rather than dairy. She doesn’t seem fazed by that and describes herself as being “obsessed with (kosher) bacon” When asked how she uses it, Nicole rattles off recipes for kosher bacon crackers (below) and chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates.

Drinks are not left to chance either at these Shabbat dinners. Wine aficionados, Nicole and Franklin enjoy pairing wines with the various courses of their Shabbat dinners, and Nicole follows Yossie’s Corkboard, a weekly newsletter on Israeli and kosher wines, for recommendations and tips.

Recently, they’ve also started to serve cocktails before the meal. Nicole describes how cocktails help guests who don’t know each other to mingle and how her children learn social skills as they help pass drinks and appetizers. When asked how they choose which cocktail they will serve, Nicole recounts one recent decision – when the parasha (weekly Torah portion) was about Rebecca (Rivka), they served a gin and Cointreau cocktail called Maiden’s Prayer.