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.

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