Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Not Wheat Free - Parshat Miketz

Sixteen years ago to the week, I stood in the social hall of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, wearing a calf-length cream lace dress, belting out the first lines of Parshat Miketz to a room full of female family and friends (and a few men watching from the side). I distinctly recall feeling a little nervous and a little proud on, this my Bat Mitzvah day. For months I had learned with my neighbors how to sing this portion for the service in the Women's Tefillah. I love when I still get an opportunity to do it today especially since most (but to be honest, not all) of my nervousness has faded.

The prominence of wheat in the portion gave my mom a number of ideas for the bat mitzvah party decor (aside from the purple and gold theme); wheat featured in the flower bouquets (see picture below), huge stalks of wheat flanked the stage where Andy Statman and his band played, and to complete the theme she had found an antique pin in the shape of wheat for me to wear.

Here is how the wheat comes in. In the opening lines of the portion Pharoh has two dreams and doesn't know what to make of them. In his first dream, he finds himself standing on the banks of a river. Seven fat cows emerge from the river, followed by seven skinny cows. The skinny cows swallow the fat cows but remain totally skinny (the gossip magazines may want to get the scoop on that diet). In another dream he sees seven ears of grain growing from one healthy stalk of wheat, and next to it a sickly stalk with seven sad looking grains growing on it. The sickly stalk consumes the hearty and healthy stalk of wheat but remains gaunt and sickly looking.

Being stuck in pre-google times, Pharoh seeks someone to interpret these two dreams, yet none of his advisers come forward with an explanation. Pharoh's sommelier tells him that he met a man in jail whose name was Joseph, and this Joseph had correctly interpreted a dream of his. So at Pharoh's command Joseph is brought out of jail, cleaned up a bit and sent directly to him. Pharoh anxiously tells Joseph his dreams.

Joseph tells Pharoh that both of his dreams mean the same thing - a seven year period of abundance is about to begin in Egypt and will immediately be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph recommends that Pharoh appoint someone to oversee wheat and grain collection in the seven years of plenty and distribution of grain during the seven years of famine. Pharoh is so impressed with Joseph that he immediately appoints Joseph to oversee the whole process. So there's wheat again.

In the spirit of the wheat theme and both of Pharoh's prophetic dreams I'm recommending two dishes this week. The wheat berry salad came to mind first. The second, the lean meat meatloaf, covers Pharoh's second dream.

Wheat Berry Salad with Onions and Citrus
Adapted from an epicurious recipe

1.5 cups wheat berries (you can buy these in bulk raw from Whole Foods)
5 cups of water
4 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 cups finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 green onions, minced
3 clementines peeled, pitted, and chopped
Salt and pepper

Soak wheat berries in water overnight, or a few hours. Bring the soaking water and berries to boil in a sauce pan. Reduce heat to medium-low to simmer for about 1 hour. Once they are tender, drain the wheat berries from the water.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion and saute for 6 minutes, try and get a bit of a crisp on them. Remove from heat and add the rest of the olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the pan or a separate container and whisk with the red onions.

Combine wheat berries, green onions and clementines in large bowl, and pour the dressing over. Add salt and pepper and toss well. Cool before serving.

Lean Mean Spicy Meatloaf

This meatloaf gets a kick from jalapenos and has a mellow citrus note from lemon juice and zest.

1 lb lean ground meat
2 fresh or canned jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 egg
1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs (If you don't have panko you can use regular but I like the texture they add to the meatloaf)
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon, plus some zest
2 tbsp ketchup
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and knead together with hands until fully combined.

If you line a loaf pan with a strip of parchment it comes out of the pan easier - fold the ends of the strip over the top of the meatloaf to keep the top from drying out.

Put the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 30 - 45 minutes.

Also, Happy Chanukah! This is a surprise bonus. My birthday present to you.

My Hebrew birthday is the 4th night so this holiday always has some added excitement for me. Each year on Chanukah I like to taste as many different brands of jelly donuts as I can and as many different kinds of latkas. This year, inspired by a recipe from Gwenyth Paltrow's blog and the recipe for the wheat berries I came up with the following unusual but delicious concoction.

Potato Latkas with Red and Green Onions and Apple

1 large baking potato, peeled
2 large apples, cored and peeled
1 medium red onion, peeled
3 green onions chopped
1 egg
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp coarse sea salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
sour cream and applesauce for serving

Slice the potato in four and feed into a cuisinart with a shredder attachment (should yield about 1.5 cups). Do the same with the apples (should yield 2/3 of a cup) and the red onion. Put the grated potato and apple in a bowl of cold water and swish them around to get the starch out (makes for crispier latkas).

Drain the potato and apple and add the red onion to the mix. Put all of it into a large swath of cheese cloth and squeeze out as much moisture as you can (got this great tip from my neighbor Eli!). Put the drained fruit and vegetables in a bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, except the olive oil. Form the latkas by tablespoons and flatten them out using the palm of your hand.

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick pan over high heat. Place 4 latkas at a time in the pan and fry them for 2-3 minutes on each side- the oil should be hot enough that it turns the latkas a nice brown, but the oil never smokes. Drain the latkas on paper towels and serve with sour cream and applesauce, or whatever your favorite toppings are!


  1. I remember you Bat Mitzvah and it was beautiful! Thanks for sharing the recipes. - Jenn

  2. Thanks for commenting Jenn. I was so thrilled to have you at my Bat Mitzvah, and to then have you at my wedding! I hope that you're enjoying the recipes, and maybe even attempting some of them.

  3. More tempting recipes! I like your creative approach to food and presentation styles give me ideas to kick mine up a bit. xoM

  4. Thanks Michael, glad and flattered to be an inspiration!