Sunday, March 7, 2010

Skills - Parshat Vayakel - Pekudai

Who is ready to play some word association?

I am.

Biblical Architect
Batzal - the Hebrew word for onion

Ok so it's a short version of the game. But it's a pretty good recap of the game my brain played this week while I read the
double portion, Vayakel - Pekudai. Sam says it's a stretch to give an onion focused recipe for this week's portion, and I agree, it is. But I'm not going to make excuses for the patterns of association in my brain.

Let me take a step back and tell you what this Biblical architect is doing in the portion.

It's time for God's home, aka
the Tabernacle, to be built. The building materials God requested from the nation are pouring in (people are actually so generous that Moses needs to tell them to stop bringing those gifts - funny, this isn't quite a problem that modern philanthropies face). God chooses two head artisans to craft and build the entire Tabernacle - Betzalel from the tribe of Judah and Ohaliav from the tribe of Dan. God describes both of them as having "chochmat lev" or wisdom of the heart. This is one of my favorite terms in the Torah, and I think a great way to describe artists - it always makes me think of my dad.

Now before we get onto the onion association, let me just share with you some further musings on Betzalel. Some might surmise that the tasks given to him when it came to building the Tabernacle were very straightforward and didn't require a lot of artistic ability. But that's not how he got
an art school in Israel named after him. Sure, God gives him all the pre-determined building plans, but they're not like the instructions for assembling a piece of Ikea furniture (which presumably, most people could follow regardless of artistic skill). The instructions to construct the Tabernacle take quite a bit of skill to execute - both on a structural level, to get all those beams lined up correctly - and on an artistic level, to fashion all the details of the Menorah and to weave the many colored linens into curtains and into priestly garments. Betzalel carries them all out according to God's specs, but in his own divinely inspired style.

So back to the word association. Yes, Betzalel's name, which means "in the shade of God," reminds me of Batzal, the Hebrew word for onion. I was actually even wondering if there might be a connection between onions needing shade to grow, but found out that apparently they need
sunlight to do well. In any event, I've scoured my cookbooks for delectable onion dishes and have come up with the following menu in Betzalel's honor, and in honor of artists everywhere - especially my Abba, and another budding wise-hearted artist who had a birthday this week (which I shamefully forgot for the second year in a row). Happy Belated Birthday Devo.

Onion Flat Bread
French Onion Soup
Cucumber and Onion Salad
Chicken Smothered in Onion and Jalapeno
Stuffed Onions and Zucchini

Onion Flat Bread
This recipe is from a cookbook that Sam's mom, Judy, gave us as an engagement gift -
Classic Italian Jewish Cooking by Edda Servi Machlin

1 pack of yeast
1.5 cups of water
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup water
1.5 tsp coarse salt

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 warm water and let it rest for a few minutes. Put flour and 1 tsp salt in a big bowl and add the dissolved yeast along with 2 tbsp oil and the rest of the water.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, shape into a ball, cover with a clean cloth and let rise for an hour or so (don't let the
rising time dictate your life).

Divide the dough into 8 parts and shape each into little balls and flatten them. Put the onions and 1 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and spread 2 tbsp of onion over each piece of flattened dough. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remaining oil.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees and bake the dough for 8-10 minutes on a silpat line baking sheet.

French Onion Soup

I'll be using Julia Child's famous recipe, found in
Mastering the Art of French Cooking - but with non dairy buttery sticks and no cheese. You can really taste the white wine in this dish and the onions have such a rich flavor from their long period of cooking.

Cucumber and Onion Salad
Any good recipe for this dish will feature white wine or cider vinegar, sugar and dill. I'll be using one from my Jewish Cooking book by Martha Spieler.

Chicken smothered in Onion and Jalapeno
This recipe is from a cookbook I really enjoy -
Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers. I picked it up for a few bucks at TJ Maxx.

1/4 cup of onion powder
3 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 tsp pepper
8 chicken legs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jalapenos, sliced into thin rings
3 medium onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the first 6 ingredients. Put the chicken in a roasting pan, coat with olive oil, cilantro, garlic and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Top with the jalapenos and onions and pour a cup of water in the bottom of the pan. Roast for 45 minutes (add water to keep the spices from scorching).

Stuffed Onions and Zucchini

This one is also from
Jewish Cooking by Martha Spieler

4 onions, skinned
4 zucchini, halved width wise
2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp curry powder
pinch of allspice
juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
8 tbsp vegetable stock or water

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes, then add the zucchini and cook for 6 more. Remove the vegetables and cool completely. Hollow out the middle of the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Chop up the cut out parts of the veggies and put in a bowl with the garlic cloves, half the olive oil, tomato paste, curry,allspice, lemon juice and parsley. Mix well and then stuff into the hollowed out vegetables. Arrange the vegetables on a silpat lined baking sheet and cover with the stock and remaining olive oil. Roast for 40 minutes.

I couldn't think of any onion desserts, which is probably a good thing.
But if you happen to have a good one please do leave a comment! P.S. You are more than welcome to comment even if you don't have an onion dessert recipe up your sleeve.


  1. Hi Elisha:

    I am one of your neighbors, and my sister directed me to your blog. I have really enjoyed reading your entries over the past few weeks.

    Regarding a dessert for this weeks portion: What about something made with acacia honey?

    Look forward to reading more in the future.

    Warm Regards,


  2. Hi Marissa, thanks for leaving a comment and a suggestion- acacia honey- very clever! I'm so glad you have been enjoying what you're reading here and I do hope that you'll knock on our door soon to say hi. Are you the Marissa who was part of our chimney cleaning craziness?