Monday, March 15, 2010

Somethin Salty - Parshat Vayikra

We're onto the third book! Feels like we're moving along at a real clip now and I'm getting the hang of things here in the blogosphere.

The third book of the Torah is called Vayikra in Hebrew, Leviticus in English. The book can get a bad rap for being a bit boring because it's full of ethics and legal jargon. However you don't have to be a lawyer to appreciate some of the rules and ethical guidelines; kosher animal specs, the basis for all the holidays, forbidden relationships, the obligations to take care of the poor, love your neighbor and be honest in business. Plus, some of the work in the Tabernacle (sacrifices) and the dudes who worked there (the Priests and Levites) are pretty interesting.

Well, in the first portion of the book, Parshat Vayikrah (the books get their names from the first key word in the first sentence of each book, likewise the names of the portions) the focus is on the food offerings and a pretty tasty menu emerges. Gracing this "menu" are three different ways to prepare flat breads that made up the meal offerings - deep fried, pan seared and oven baked (for those priests watching a waist line). They would have mostly been burnt on the alter, but the priests would have gotten the left overs as a snack. And let me tell you, it was a salty snack - if you thought a bag of pretzels could get salty look at this: "You shall salt your every meal offering with salt. You may not discontinue the salt of your God's covenant from upon your meal offering - on your every offering you shall offer salt" (Leviticus 2:13).

Oh you hadn't heard about the covenant of salt? Yeah it's not as well known as say the covenant of circumcision. In fact most people need the commentators help to figure this one out. Let's turn to trusty Nachmanides (not to be confused with Maimonides). He says that salt can be destructive when corroding things or can act as a preservative - this teaches us, he says, that the alter service will preserve the nation if performed properly and if not, can cause destruction and exile.

Last winter my book club read Salt: A World History - I never finished it because it was way too long and soporific for me - but I can tell you that salt has been around for a while and for people like me and my mom (who is often asked if she's like some X with her salt), that's a good thing. But I have a little salt story of my own.

The year that Sam and I first started dating we spent the last days of Passover in DC with his family. I took over not only switching his kitchen over for Passover but introducing some meat into his kosher dairy kitchen. I come from a meat loving family and just didn't know how Passover would be done without some meat. Sam's friends all approved of this introduction. While I was food shopping in DC I found several containers of flavored salts packaged with a built in grinder and they served me well long after Passover was over. I still use the same brand to grind over wedges of home made sweet potato fries while they roast in the oven with some olive oil, add it to dressings and sprinkle over fish.

We've recently acquired a few more grinders of flavored salt from Trader Joe's. I've been using the lemon pepper salt to add a kick to canned salmon sandwiches we take to work for lunch. I recently added some of the everyday seasoning to omelets ala Julia Child but Sam actually enjoys that salt most when grinding it onto his palm and licking the stuff right off. Who can blame him? It's a blend of thick sea salt kernels, whole pepper corns, coriander seeds and chili pepper flakes.

I wanted to share two salt centric recipes with you - one to star in the main course and one to grace dessert. Salt already has a place on the Shabbat table - it is shaken onto the Challah slices before passing them around as a reminder of the meal offering and showbreads being paired with salt in the Tabernacle. Given the timing of the year I have decided to share kosher-for-Passover recipes (but you wouldn't know it from the taste).

Sweet Potato "Fries"
These aren't fried but roasted to a nice texture - when you bite into one it's crispy on the outside but nice and soft on the inside and really has an intense sweet potato flavor.

3-5 sweet potatoes
Olive oil
Coarse Sea salt and herb mixture

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Scrub the sweet potatoes and leave the skins on. Slice them into 1 inch by 5 inch wedges. Spread the wedges onto a silpat baking mat on a baking sheet.

Brush generously with olive oil and grind the salt and herb mixture over the top of the wedges. Roast for 30 minutes and keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn. Serve warm with or without ketchup.

Sea Salt Chocolate Cake
I made a version of this cake last year without salt and it went over VERY well. I recently had some salt brownies and loved the balance of baked chocolate and salt(it made me pine for a Vosges chocolate bar, which sadly are no longer kosher due to the bacon bar - damn bacon). So I thought the salt would be a good addition to this little cake.

4 ounces of fine quality bittersweet chocolate
1 stick of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
Coarse Sea Salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8 inch round baking pan. Chop chocolate finely and melt with butter in a double boiler or a glass bowl set in a sauce pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Add eggs and whisk then sift in the cocoa powder and whisk again. Finally add the sugar and whisk. Sprinkle the top of the cake with sea salt.

Pour batter into the pan and bake for 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and then invert on a serving plate.


Everyone's favorite Matzah holiday starts on March 29th this year and I wanted to share with you a few of the highlights from our festivities last year. Sam and I ran three shopping trips and filled up 1.5 refrigerators in preparation for hosting twelve of our family members who all stayed at the hotel conveniently located across the street from our apartment. Aside from the nonstop family fun there was non stop cooking, eating and dish washing. Below are pictures of our Seder table all set and ready to go way ahead of when the holiday actually began (a veritable miracle that I was only able to accomplish and then capture on film with the help of said visiting family members). I've also included my menus and plan of attack in the kitchen. A high degree of organization is the only way to make it through this holiday!

Passover 2009 Menu

Wednesday Night- First Seder (10 People)
Matzah Ball Soup
(Fennel soup for non chicken eaters)
Roasted Vegetable Torte
Walnut Cookies
Mandle Bread

Thursday Lunch 7-10 people
Kufta Kebobs
Sweet Potato Fries

Thursday Night - Second Seder 10 people
Stuffed Bell Peppers with anchovies etc
Lemon Garlic Chicken
Meat Loaf
Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli
Chocolate Cake

Friday Lunch 13 people
Cold Carrot and fennel soup
Grapefruit, mango and cucumber salad
Smoked Salmon and Swiss chard quiche
Walnut cookies and chocolate cookies
Sliced fruit

Shabbat Dinner 13 people
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Relish
Garlic Spinach
Baked Apples with matza meal and sugar crust

Shabbat Lunch 13 people
Fish Kebobs
Roasted Asparagus
Fruit Salad
Chocolate Cake

Cooking Schedule
Monday Night
-Walnut Cookies
-Chocolate cookies
-Tuesday Night
-Shank bone for Seder plate
-Eggs for seder
-Roasted Vegetable Torte
-Tzimmes (Ema)
-Carrot and fennel Soup

Wednesday afternoon
-Mandle Bread (Judy)
-Prep parsley and chazeret
-Stuffed Bell Peppers
-Lemon Garlic Chicken
-Salt water
-Matzah Ball Soup
-Kufta Kabobs
-Sweet Potato Fries
-Guacamole (Sam)
-Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli
-Meat Loaf (Ema)
-Roasted Asparagus

-Chocolate cake
-Smoked Salmon and Swiss chard quiche
-Garlic Spinach
-Mashed potatoes
-Baked Apples
-Fish Kebobs
-Chimichury sauce


  1. Ha, thanks Nachshon! We've still never taken you there - may have to remedy that.