Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Got Your Goat - Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

It's time for God to lay down the law. Set some parameters. At the beginning of this week's double portion (again!), Parshat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, God references the boundaries that have been overstepped by Aron's sons, Nadav and Avihu. This is a pretty sad story that I glossed over a few weeks ago when it appeared in the Parsha but now let me catch you up. Nadav and Aviyhu, also priests themselves, were excited during the dedication of the Tabernacle and brought an unsolicited sacrifice. But God was not happy with this, and instead of sending a fire down to consume their sacrifice the fire sent consumes them.

This is a tough story to take in. It's hard to wrap our heads around why God wouldn't be touched by this kind of spontaneous gift. Some commentators, such as Rabbi Shimshon Rephael Hirsch, try to explain that it was because these guys were too focused on their personal experience of the dedication instead of the national experience, and as leaders they needed to be focused on the latter. Others interpret the paragraph following the story, which contains a precept for Priests to refrain from drinking any alcohol before entering the Tabernacle, as an indication that Nadav and Avihu were in fact drunk when they entered the sanctuary with this unsolicited sacrifice and that wasn't cool with God.

So now, in this week's portion, God reestablishes the boundaries that Nadav and Avihu broke and decrees that Priests can only come to the Holy area of the Tabernacle at certain times. The very next time God commands Aron to come there it is with a bull, a ram and two goats to perform a complicated atonement service. The atonement seems to be a combination of repenting for the sins of Aron's sons and for the sins of the Nation before they can continue to build a relationship with God. It entails a lot of back and forth trips for the High Priest between sacrificing on the inner and outer alters, costume changes and ritual immersions. After this account the text commands that this ceremony will be a perpetual yearly holiday of atonement - which we all know as Yom Kippur. The service which was enacted in the Tabernacle and then later the Temple in Jerusalem certainly looks different than what we're used to at High Holiday time. For instance I'm not sure when the last time was that any of you saw a goat or two around on Yom Kippur.

Let's zoom in on these two goats. Aron brings them to the Tabernacle entrance; one gets marked for God and one for "Azazel" (translated as wilderness). The one marked for God gets offered as a sin offering on behalf of the nation, and its blood gets sprinkled around the Tabernacle. Then Aron lays his hands on the goat marked for "Azazel" and "confesses over it all the sins of the nation... and puts them all on its head." The goat gets sent off to the wilderness along with the sins of the people. Here you have it - the original scapegoat.

So this week I'm thinking of goat cheese salad. But not just any old goat cheese salad. My very favorite one. With roasted beets and my go-to lemon and garlic dressing. I would literally eat this salad every day if I could. And as my colleague Emily can tell you, I do eat it pretty often - she can smell it from the cube next door. I would just need someone at home to be peeling and roasting the beets each day for me. I'm not a huge fan of the red stains beets leave on my hands while I peel and cut them so I either wear gloves during this process or just scrub the beets real well and skip the peeling. But I do love how the roasted beets turn the cheese pink after being tossed together. I'm also a big fan of the combination of the two very earthy tastes in the goat cheese and the roasted beets. The beets have a crispness to their flavor, even after they have been roasted, that compliments the more mature taste of the cheese.

The farmers markets will be opening at the end of the month around Boston and I can't wait to pick up a bundle of beets there and roast them for this salad. We buy logs of goat cheese (look for "Original" after the link) from Costco, and we run through it pretty quickly for a Costco of cheese. I'm sad that there are no local kosher cheese CSA's in our neck of the woods. Free summer concerts will be starting up at the end of May too and this is one of our favorite picnic meals, especially for those evenings at the Hatch shell. The picnic version of this simple salad consists of lettuce, crumbled goat cheese, roasted beets, dressing, and cucumber if you're in the mood. If you want to get fancier than picnic fare you can try following the recipe below. Make sure you factor in an hour for the goat cheese to rest in the fridge covered in bread crumbs before you pan fry it. Watermelon can be a good substitute for the beets when it's too hot to roast any veggies over the summer; on those days feel free to also use the raw goat cheese.

Fried Goat Cheese and Roasted Beet Salad
The fried goat cheese portion of this recipe is an adaptation from this Epicurious Recipe

3 medium beets, scrubbed well
1 head of red leaf lettuce (or whatever you like best), washed and ripped into bite sized pieces
8 tablespoons of goat cheese, each pressed into a 1/2 inch thick disc
1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs (I got some Iron Chef ones from Costco, and have enjoyed using Jeff Nathan's in the past)
Some herbs for encrusting the cheese such as rosemary, tarragon, thyme (you can skip this if you buy an herbed panko crumb)
1 egg white
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For dressing:
1 garlic clove
1 lemon
2 teaspoons of olive oil
Dash of water
1 teaspoon of coarse salt

Coat the goat cheese discs in the egg white and then the bread crumbs and herbs. Put on a dish, cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the beets into half moon slices about 1/2 inch thick. Lay the slices out on a Silpat lined baking sheet and coat with 3 tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for an hour - test with a fork to make sure they are very soft and pliable at the end of their cooking time - if not, let them go a little longer. Cool.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Put the refrigerated cheese discs into the skillet and fry on each side for 3 minutes.

To make the dressing: Cut the lemon in half and squeeze both halves with a handled squeezer into a cup. Crush the garlic clove with a good quality crusher into the cup. Add oil, water and salt. Mix it up. Pour over the salad before serving and prepare to pucker and dig in for more.

Toss lettuce, beets, and dressing and serve on individual plates with 1-2 cheese discs.

Thank you to Sam for all the pictures in the post this week!


  1. You can get local kosher goat cheese from the Adamah farm at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center! If you are willing to somehow get it from its CSA locations at the retreat center or White Plains or I think NYC. :)

  2. Exactly- my "kosher cheese CSA" link went to that program! I've tasted the feta from there and boy is it good! But that would be a mighty shlep from Cambridge for me.