Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Tisket A Tasket - Parshat Shemot

Well done, we made it to the book of Shemot (which literally means Names) aka Exodus. Well, maybe half congratulations since we covered 7 out of the 12 portions in the book of Breishit, aka Genesis (sorry for the late start). The book of Shemot is a great one - the next step in understanding the shaping of the Jewish nation. And this week's portion, Parshat Shemot (named for the book), contains one of the greatest moments of suspense in Jewish history. Only you might not have realized it.

You see, the book of Exodus starts out with this new Pharoh on the scene, one whom the text tells us doesn't know Joseph. So instead of seeing the Children of Israel as an asset to Egypt with a symbiotic history, this Pharoh sees the growing of the the Hebrew Nation as a threat to Egypt. Therefore Pharoh comes up with a plan to weaken the Nation by tasking them with the back breaking work of building pyramids. Only it seems that the harder he makes their work, the stronger and larger the Hebrew Nation grows. Back to the drawing board for Pharoh - next he conceives of a plan to kill off newborns. He enlists two midwives to kill every male born to a Hebrew woman. Fortunately for us, those brave midwives disobey. In plan B part 2 Pharoh gets the whole of Egypt on board - if you see a Jewish boy born, throw him into the Nile. That'll keep their numbers down, Pharoh figures.

Now here's where the moment of suspense is about to come in. During this time of national alert, Code Orange if you will, a Hebrew woman has been hiding her new born baby boy for 3 months, but knows she can't do it any longer without getting caught by an Egyptian neighbor. This brave mother, hoping for a better future for her child, weaves a basket out of reeds, covers it in pitch, nestles her baby in it and sends it down the Nile. She places her older daughter on watch duty from the banks to follow the basket and see what becomes of it.

As readers of the text we're all hoping for the baby to survive, but who should he first encounter? Eeh gads! Pharoh's daughter is taking a bath in the Nile and his basket is on a collision course with her!! We're biting our nails because we know that Pharoh is the one who decreed the killing of Jewish baby boys, and if his daughter finds this one she will surely obey. We're at the edge of our seat when she reaches her arm out and grabs the basket, our body tenses as she sees it's a baby boy and we practically cover our eyes when she announces "this is a baby of the Hebrews." Suddenly the baby's sister jumps out from her watch post and offers the daughter of Pharoh to find a Hebrew nurse to take care of the baby. Will Pharoh's daughter go for this we wonder? Or will she laugh her royal laugh and drown him right then and there?? Miraculously, in a moment of reprieve, she agrees to have the baby nursed till he is weaned, at which point she declares he will begin his life in the palace as Pharoh's daughter's own son. Phew.

That baby is of course Moses, and we may be so used to the text and the ironic ending, which lands Moses, the future leader of the Jewish people, a home in the palace of Pharoh, the oppressor of the Jewish people, that we can forget how suspenseful this moment in the portion is.

In homage to the brave women who saved and raised Moses (the midwives, his mom, his sister and the daughter of Pharoh) I share with you a recipe for a lattice tart constructed of woven squash slices which is reminiscent of the basket woven for baby Moses.

I first made this recipe on a Friday afternoon in college while preparing a Shabbat meal for my family. It was during my three month's as a vegan (a stint which was inspired by a wonderful restaurant in NYC's East Village, Caravan of Dreams, and was truncated when I got Mono on the Eve of Passover. FYI, if you are an Observant, Ashkenazy Vegan there is nothing to eat on Passover to cure Mono) and I was trying not to have my new diet choices impact my family's Shabbat meals. I saw the pictures of this recipe (I rarely cook a recipe that doesn't have a good picture to go with it) in my trusty Martha Stewart Cookbook, and was excited that it looked fancy enough to serve at a Shabbat table and that it could be incognito as a protein dish for meu. The idea of weaving the squash slices into a lattice pattern married my love of crafting and cooking. I was also excited that I had that Friday (and every Friday) off from Stern College, which would give me enough time to go slowly with the dish (in addition to cooking the rest of two Shabbat meals and cleaning the apartment). But I have simplified the recipe a bit, so you need not take the day off to prepare it.

I dedicate this post to my three day old nephew, who I am very grateful to say was born totally healthy in a hospital in Chicago, far away from any Pharohs. Mazal Tov to his Granny, Saba and Savta, Mom and Dad, big brother, and proud uncle. And, since this is a great vegetarian dish I want to also dedicate the post to my seven day old "niece," whose parents and big sister are gracious vegetarians - Mazal Tov to all of you as well. I can't wait to meet you two little ones in a few days. A double portion indeed!

Squash Lattice Tart

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living 2002 Annual Recipes Cook Book

This Recipe is quite amenable to change. I recently discovered that using a frozen pie crust is the easiest way to go, but if you want to shape your own dough (pizza or pastry, home made or store bought, no one is judging), it can really be made in any shape - the recipe suggests a rectangle but if you don't have a rectangle pie tart, go ahead and make it square, round, oval, you name it. The recipe can be made pareve (non-dairy) by using tofu and soy milk, or dairy by using cheese and milk or cream. So feel free to play with my variation of the recipe as well.

2 frozen pie crusts, pizza dough or puff pastry
Coarse salt
2 zucchinis, washed and edges trimmed
2 yellow squash, washed and edges trimmed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 large onions diced OR 2 leeks, white part only, well washed and diced
1/2 cup of firm tofu or Cheese
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup of high fat soy milk OR high fat milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 375.

If you are using frozen pie crusts skip down to after the image below.

The recipe calls for a 4/12 x 14 tart pan, but you can get creative with this. I suggest making this tart in a pan with a lip to make it feel more basket like and to absorb the liquid you will add, but feel free to play with the shape - what ever evokes the basket image most for you.

Place the dough on the tart pan and trim to fit. If using pizza dough, bake the crust alone for 5 minutes and then cool.

Cut the zucchini and squash in half lengthwise and trim the yellow squash to be more of a symmetrical cylinder. Using a mandolin slicer or some serious patience and skills plus a vegetable peeler, very thinly slice 1 zucchini and 1 yellow squash lengthwise.

Dice the other zucchini and squash. Saute them, along with the diced onions or leeks, in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 8 minutes until golden brown. Crumble the tofu or cheese over the veggies and then spread the mixture in the crust(s).

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and soy or regular milk and then pour over the tofu veggie mixture in the crust.

Here's for the basket weaving part:
1. Start at the narrower end of the tart, or one one side of a circular pie dish. Place the squash slices in alternating colors all the way down the length of the tart - you will probably have to use a few strips of squash in each line to make it all the way from one end of the tart to the other - that is fine.

2. Now go from the wider end of the tart to the opposite side, alternating colors, and also using multiple strips of the same color in each line to reach the opposite side. But this time, when going from the one side to the other, weave the slices into a lattice form by gently lifting the old slices to put the new ones over and under them in a pattern (keep repeating to yourself, over under, over, under). For some help with this general technique check out this video.

3. Continue the pattern until the whole pie is covered. Trim or tuck the ends of the squash slices to fit.

Bake the tart, loosely covered with tin foil for 35 minutes. Cool before serving.


  1. Thanks for including Eden in your dedication! We can't wait to see you and Sam. I love the Code Orange analogy... you are funny and eloquent - a natural story teller!

  2. I love the link this week between the parsha and your recipe. A woven squash "basket" - how cool! I can't wait to see the finished product. Mazal tov to you and Sam on your "double portion."

  3. Thanks so much Amy! We had such a great time with you and the family this weekend!

    Jess - sorry I've made you wait to long to see the finished product - I had planned to post it last week (I bought all the ingredients) but life took over. I do hope to post some pics this week. I made a cheese version this weekend in Chicago (but skipped the lattice work because I was short on time) and it was a big success!