Monday, July 26, 2010

Pastures of Plenty - Parshat Eikev

This Parsha, Parhsat Eikev, contains an abundance of food references. Wine, grain, water, bread, oil, lamb, veal, manna, wheat, barley, dates, pomegranates, figs, grapes, olives, and of course, milk and honey. This bounty awaiting the Nation of Israel probably has those complainers salivating. Turns out, those who’ve been complaining for years about the lack of desert food selection majorly failed the test God now reveals He was carrying out; to see if they would keep His commandments.

“He subjected you to the hardships of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that God decrees.” So yeah, they haven’t done so well. But they still get the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (i.e. the land of Israel) because of the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I for one am glad to hear that the Nation will be around so much food. Despite the fact that they have been a stiff necked, stubborn people, they have grown exponentially. What started out as a family of 70 coming down to Egypt with Jacob to avoid famine in Canaan, has turned into a nation as numerous as the stars in heaven. It’s gonna take a lot of food to keep them happy, and they’ll have to be weaned off of manna. Lucky for them there’s a special deal with the produce of the land of Israel - it’s not like in Egypt where they had to constantly water everything to get it to grow. The land of hills and valleys soaks water from the rains of heaven, and God looks after the agricultural cycle. But that whole system will fall apart if they stray from their relationship with God.

The abundant produce from the land of milk and honey has been my inspiration for this week’s recipes. First, I want to wish a happy anniversary to my honey, this Thursday marks three wonderful years since Sam and I got hitched! Before Sam and I were married we enjoyed a Shabbat dinner at our friends Jeremy and Jana in DC. Jana made these amazing stuffed dates with goat cheese and pistachio nuts. Aside from looking like little jewels, the balance of sweet and savory struck in the dish produced a rich and creamy bite size amuse-bouche. When I have replicated this dish at home I usually keep it low key- slit open a large Medjool date, remove the pit and just spoon some goat cheese into the center. But I’ve spruced things up a bit for you and whipped the goat cheese up first with some crushed pistachio nuts and milk and adorned each date with a green morsel of nutmeat.

The second recipe reflects just how excited and grateful I feel about the delicious local produce that we continue to get through our CSA. On our lazy Sunday afternoon I opened my vegetable drawer to retrieve the cilantro, basil, yellow squash, green peppers and ears of corn to make a sauteed medley with cheese and herbs. I served it to Sam while he was working on a family photograph project for several hours via skype (think over 4,500 slides) and he boasted to everyone on the other line about what good treatment he gets around here.

Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Pistachio Nuts

10 Medjool dates

5 tbsp of goat cheese

2.5 tbsp of shelled pistachios plus 10 beautiful shelled pistachios for garnish

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp milk

Make a slice along the length of each date and carefully remove the pit of the date. Try to keep the date as intact as possible. Chop the pistachios and put them in a bowl. Add the goat cheese, milk and a pinch of salt, then whip them all together with a spatula.

Once the cheese and nut mixture has reached a spreadable consistency spoon it into the dates evenly. Top each date with a pistachio and serve on a platter.

Summer Vegetable Medley with Herbs and Goat Cheese

1 yellow onion

2 green peppers

2 small yellow squash

2 ears of corn

olive oil

salt and pepper

2 tbsp basil, chopped

2 tbsp cilantro, chopped

4 tbsp of goat cheese

1 lime

Peel and dice the onion. Chop the squash and pepper - be sure to remove all the seeds and the white ribs from the pepper. 

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the onion. Let it brown for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

In the mean time, shuck the corn, being careful to remove all the strands of corn silk, and cut off the tapered end of the cob. Stand the ear on the cut end and using a sharp knife, run the blade down the cob of corn to remove the kernels. Repeat this all around the cob until you have removed all the kernels.

Add the chopped vegetable and the corn kernels to the pot with the cooking onions. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the vegetables. Sauteed for 4 more minutes or until the green peppers are nice and bright. 

Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl and add the goat cheese and herbs.

The goat cheese will melt from the warmth of the vegetables, which is just what you want. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over the mixture. Stir until everything is mixed in well and serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Olive Garden - Parshat Vaetchanan

Moses is at his speeches again in this week's portion, Parshat Vaetchanan. It’s like he’s been invited to the graduation ceremony of the nation of Israel and he has a few clear messages- go forth strongly, remember where you came from and be grateful, be proud of your Judaism, pass on what you’ve learned to the generation after you and don’t aggravate the big guy. Some heavy hitters appear in this speech- the Ten Commandments, the Shema, the verse that gets recited in synagogues when the Torah is lifted after reading from it and the text of the wise child of the Passover Haggadah. Basically, Moses really wants the nation to do well in the land, to keep a good relationship with God, and to do so means to adhere to his commandments, and to not forget to write.

The consequences of not following God’s rules are that they’ll be kicked out of the land. Don’t let God catch you making graven images or you’ll be evicted, expelled and scattered throughout the world. It might be tempting for the nation, Moses acknowledges, because the neighboring nations to Israel all use images in their worship of gods, but commandment #2 tells us that’s not the Jewish way. If you do go astray, however, and get kicked out, no matter where you are flung, you can still seek God out and return, and God will take you back. Because even if you forgot the covenant He made with you, God will never forget.

But Moses wants to fortify the nation against such mess ups so he continues dispersing advice. Another challenge coming up is they will soon have an abundance of food at their fingertips, as opposed to when they were in the desert, and they may forget that God is still the one sustaining them. Moses puts it so eloquently, so I have to quote him; “When your God brings you to the land that He swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He will give to you great cities that you didn’t build, houses full of good things that you didn’t fill them with, cisterns that you didn’t hew, vineyards and olive groves that you didn’t plant- and you will eat your fill. So take care that you don’t forget God who freed you from the land of Egypt, from bondage.”

Moses really brings it full circle. He is pained that he can’t join them in the land of Israel, but he reminds them that this momentous occasion that they will soon experience is the culmination of the entire Torah and a journey that began with Abraham. It won’t be easy at first. They’ll have to fight the nations that live in the land and conquer it for themselves. But then they’ll settle in, get lots of free stuff, and make it their home. And look, they’ll have olives!

I love olives, especially Israeli olives, as you may have noticed from a picture in last week’s post. I even like the ones in a can – from Beit Hashitah. My parents once stayed at the kibbutz that makes them and instead of finding mints on their pillows at night there were cans of olives and pickles. My dad tried to trick me into believing that the swimming pool was filled with pickle juice (I can be pretty gullible but I knew nobody would swim in that!). Last year I put a can of Beit Hashitah green olives to use in a pesto recipe I found that would help me use some of the collard greens that I was getting in my CSA. Here is the recipe – I plan on bringing this to the Tehilla potluck lunch-n-learn for Shabbat lunch, where I’ll also be bringing the learning – join us if you’re in the area!

I want to wish a very happy birthday to my father in law Ruben. Had he been with the Israelites in this week's portion he would have been excited about the vineyards promised to them, since he greatly enjoys a good bottle of kosher wine. L-chaim- may you live to see 120 years!

Collard Green Olive Pesto

I came across this recipe while perusing my epicurious app on my iphone on a train ride home from work. In just one crossing of the MGH bridge I knew I was gonna love it.

1 bunch of collard greens

14 pitted canned green olives

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/3 cup of water

1/2 tsp of balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 pepper

1/2 cup of olive oil

(you can add 1/2 a cup of Parmesan cheese if you want it to be dairy)

Bring 5 quarts of water to boil. meanwhile, wash the collard greens and remove the leaves from the center ribs with a knife. Discard the ribs and immerse the leaves into boiling water. Simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the greens in a colander (you can use this water to make pasta if that's part of your plans for this lovely pesto) and press out as much water as you can.

In a blender, chop up the olives, garlic and then add the cooked collard greens, the water, vinegar, salt and pepper. Lastly add in the oil in an even stream with the blender running.

Serve the pesto warm or cold as a dip for bread, a shmear on sandwiches, a burger or stir fry topping, slather it on fish before baking, or of course toss with cooked pasta. Leftover pesto will keep for at least a week in the fridge. A great trick for freezing it is one I learned in Real Simple Magazine - freeze the pesto in single servings by putting it in a ziploc bag and scoring it with a chopstick – pressing it over the bag and forming a grid so you can break off a square of pesto after it freezes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing - Parshat Devarim

We're onto the last book people! Devarim, or Deuteronomy, reviews a lot of what is found in the previous four books of the Torah. Moses looks back on his time with the nation and gives advice for their future in the land of Israel (when he will no longer be their leader). In this week's portion, Parshat Devarim, Moses recounts the path that they have taken to get to this point- poised on the other side of the Jordan, preparing to cross into the land. He recounts the nations they fought to get to this point, the new judicial system that helped him deal with the vast nation and his adjustment to Reuven and Gad's tribal request to remain on the other side of the Jordan for the sake of their livestock. It has been quite a journey for the nation and their leader.

I just spent two weeks leading a wonderful group of people on a CJP Young Adult Mission to Israel, exploring from Metulah in the North to The Dead Sea in the South. We stood in the room where the State was declared in Tel Aviv, kayaked near Israel's Northern border, volunteered in our sister city of Haifa, sweated it up Masadah to watch four people in our group have a bar/bat mitzvah, and we stung our eyes and stained our bathing suits with mud in the Dead Sea. We ended the trip with some spirituality, relaxation and reflection in Jerusalem - Shabbat, Yad Vashem and the Western Wall Tunnels. After the Mission Sam and I stayed in Israel for five more days, hanging with family in Kirya Tivon (near Haifa) - whose hospitality is top notch - then with friends in and around Jerusalem - whose kids are the cutest!

On our way back to the US we spent a fast paced 48 hours in Paris, where my favorite impressionist paintings hang in museums and whose entire cafe culture is tailor made for my favorite sport- people watching. Spain may have won the world cup while we were there but I spent more than four hours people watching from cafes around the city where ALL of the chairs are set facing out to the street (not towards one another)- watching chic Parisians, fellow tourists, students, Jews in kippot and sweet old couples make their way through the streets.

Aside from being with amazing people and seeing great sites on this trip, I ate very well. I want to dedicate this post to everyone on the 2010 YLD Mission who I enjoyed all this great food with (and tons of good times), and to my best travel buddy Sam - it was amazing to be with you in Israel and Pari!

There are two things mentioned in this week's portion that bring me back to a great night on our trip. One is that the Dead Sea is mentioned as part of the borders that the nation had conquered "From the Kineret to the Dead Sea" (chapter 3, verse 17). The second is the livestock of the tribes of Reuven and Gad, for which they request to remain on the other side of the Jordan but agree to help conquer the land of Israel. On the night I'm thinking of, we were staying at the Dead Sea and were taken to an amazing dinner in the desert. They were grilling all sorts of meat, and the chicken was some of the best ever. I'm not sure if chicken is technically considered livestock, but I am smitten with Israeli chicken- which is by and large deboned dark meat and drum sticks (Sam loves dark meat and I have been known to remove bones from chicken thighs and legs to make him kebobs). We ate to our hearts content that night and countless others and will miss all the grilled foods. So here are two recipes for you this week and a few pictures from our trip.

I make these often in my broiler. The recipe if from Real Simple Magazine and I love the tangy ness of the apricot jelly with the balsamic vinegar.

Adapted from Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers: Bringing the Ones You Love to the Table

For the short Ribs

3/4 cup of soy sauce

3/4 cup of water

1/2 cup of rice wine vinegar

2 tsbp of sesame oil

6 garlic cloves, crushed with a good quality garlic crusher

Pinch of ground black pepper

6 scallions, thinly sliced

6 lbs of short ribs

Mix all of the above, minus the ribs, in a measuring cup or small bowl. Place the short ribs in a glass or Pyrex baking dish and cover with the marinade. Let it sit overnight. Flip the ribs and let marinate another 4-7 hours. 

Separate the ribs into batches of like-sizes; group the big ones with the big ones, medium with medium and small with small. Turn on the broiler. Start with the batch that has the smaller size ribs and cook for 4 minutes on each side. Next, cook the medium batch for 6 minutes on each side and then the large batch gets 7 minutes per side. Keep these in an oven at 150 degrees until you serve them.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Grass is Always Greener - Parshiot Matot/Masai

This week’s double portion, Parshiot Matot/Masai will close up the book of Bamidbar, aka Numbers. That means only one book left to blog about, which is starting to sound bitter sweet to me. But I do still have the first 5 potions of Breishit (Genesis) to catch up on after the high holidays before I hopefully embark on turning this blog into a cookbook.

Poor Moses never gets a break. It seems that ever since he took the people out of Egypt they have been badgering him with complaints, concerns and challenges. They’re never really happy with their desert life accommodations, complaining incessantly about the lack of food variety (despite the heavenly manna) and the shortages of water. They’re afraid of the new land they’ll be entering and having to fight it’s inhabitants, and several times are led astray by rebellious leaders like the errant spies and the rebels who got swallowed by the land.

Aside from aggravating Moses they also are pretty good at pissing God off. At times Moses deals with these issues better than others. Last week when the daughters of Tzelofchad come with a proposed innovation, Moses goes with it. In a previous book, when others help in leading the nation by serving as judges he is not at all jealous that they too can prophesize with God. But other weeks he gets so frustrated and continually breaks down, falling on his face and needing God to pick him up by the boot straps and give him tools to deal with the situation.

This week Moses is challenged when two tribes ask him if they can stay on this side of the Jordan and not come into the land of Israel. This totally bums Moses out- what has he been working so hard for if not to delivering them safely to the promised land and now they don’t even want it? Moses himself isn’t allowed in and would kill for the chance to enter the land and here these people are willing to give up that opportunity so glibly?

Reuven and Gad are the tribes that request to stay on the fertile side of the Jordan they are now traversing. They explain that the land would be perfect for the large amounts of cattle they have acquired and now do business with. It’s bashert, meant to be, they think! Moses is really angry, and with steam coming out if his ears questions them – “So you expect your fellow tribes to enter the land and do all the fighting and dirty work for you?” "No, no," they explain, "we’ll come and fight every time we’re needed, but we want this area annexed for us." Moses fears they’ll be a bad influence on the rest of the nation and that others too will want to stay on the opposite side of the Jordan and never go into the land of Israel. It will have an effect like the negative report of the spies, and in Moses’ eyes these guys of the new generation are just as bad as their predecessors. But after more of Reuven and Gad’s assurances he relents and says that if they do fight until the end in the land of Israel they can have their request, but if not they will get the regular portion assigned to them.

I think there are several things to learn in the area of leadership from Moses and the Israelites. Number one is that the Jewish people are just stubborn complainers at the core and we shouldn’t expect anything different from them. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s also what has gotten us this far. And with that understanding, leaders of the people should spare themselves the continual chain of frustration at the people’s behavior and just meet them head on to deal with the issues and be ready for some compromising.

So let’s eat meat and remember all those cattle of the tribes of Reuven and Gad that precipitated this week’s story. I want to keep it light since it’s hard times cooking in a hot kitchen mid July. I’ve got another great salad to share with you. I love the combination of sweet soft peaches and tender savory thin slices of warm meat mixed in with the greens. I first made this salad in my second Cambridge apartment, an apartment which I think of as dinky, Sam refers to it as a dump. I’m glad to be out of there and that galley kitchen, but I do have some fond food memories from it. One of them is mixing this salad in a large metal bowl, feeling like a lunch time salad chef and oh so professional. The cooked meat is a treat that I don't include too often in salads, and it's balance with the soft fruit of the peach and the tangy balsamic dressing really tastes like summer.

Grilled Peaches and Steak Salad

2 peaches

2 pepper steaks (I get mine for free from Golden West because I write for their blog)

½ seedless cucumber sliced

½ cup of cherry tomatoes

Red leaf lettuce

1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar divided

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp of water

1 tbsp of olive oil

1 tbsp of sugar

2 cloves of garlic



Marinate the steak in ¼ balsamic vinegar and ¼ of water for ½ an hour.

Slice the peaches in half and remove the pits. Keeping the skin on, place them cut side up on a broiler pan and broil for 3 minutes or until browned on top. Let them cool and then slice them into bit size pieces.

Broil the meat for 5 minutes on each side, remove from the broiler and let it rest on a cutting board. Once it has cooled a bit, slice it against the grain in thin slices.

Wash and spin dry the lettuce leaves. Toss them into a salad bowl and add in the peaches, steak, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.

Mix up the dressing by adding the vinegar, 2 tbsp of water, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper to a cup. Crush the garlic in and mix the dressing up. Toss over the salad and serve.