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.


  1. Oh my goodness! I love that photo of Sam with his father. A very belated happy birthday to Ruben.

  2. Thanks Jess. It is one of my favorites from our wedding! I love imagining what Ruben is saying - is he trying to make Sam laugh to relax him, give him some last words of advice or telling him how proud he is?