Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Soft Side - Parshat Vayikrah

I was tempted to just tell you to read last year's post on this week's portion, Parshat Vayikrah (the beginning of a new book!), but I've actually got a new idea to share.

In the portion a vegetarian sacrifice is offered. Unusual, you might say. But there were actually two non-meat items that were offered up on the alters of the Tabernacle/Temple - wine and bread. The bread appears several times in this portion, called a mincha (gift) offering. It consists of flour, oil and spices - kind of an oily pita bread. The priests could choose to prepare this offering, brought in the form of raw dough or loose ingredients by the Israelites, in several ways - bake it in an oven, grill it on a griddle or fry it in a pan. The priests would break off a piece of the baked mincha and burn it on the alter - the rest they got to eat as payment for their leadership of the nation.

When I studied in Israel for a year after gradating from high school, a teacher of mine had our class make mock mincha offerings in each of the three different preparations. It was a messy endeavor, with toaster ovens plugged into the walls of our classrooms and oily frying pans sizzling on top of individual, electric burners. But it made the room smell delicious, and each version tasted great. The only thing that was missing was an interesting salt.

Last year we talked a bit about the strange mention of the salt covenant in the portion. This obscure covenant refers to the fact that the mincha offerings of these pita like breads always had to be accompanied by salt. I shared one interpretation about the symbolism of salt last year, and this year dug a bit deeper. Both value and mystical aspects are attributed to salt. Salt was a form of currency, a preservative, a staple in our diet and signifies permanence and durability.

In trying to recreate some of the flavors of this vegetarian offering, and mainstay of the priestly diet, I came up with a whole wheat soft pretzel, covered in flavored salt. I still have that salt shaker from last year and have been using it on top of my challah lately. Well let me tell you that it goes very nicely over home made soft pretzels as well.

Last week Weight Watchers came to my office and 16 of my colleagues and myself are counting points and keeping each other accountable. When I brought in a batch of these soft pretzels I made sure to tell them they were 4 points each and I'm going to try and include point values for the new recipes here. My goal is to get to my goal before Passover - especially since one matzah is 3 points. I see that Whole Foods is not only stocking up early on matzah this year, but may be targeting the weight loss community with it's organic "light" matzah from Israel. I have no idea how matzah could ever be described as light, nor was I able to discern how much lighter this product was than it's comparisons.

Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels and Flavored Salt
Recipe adapted from
4 points

1 1/3 cups warm water
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp flavored salt (such as an herb mix or the Trader Joe’s Everyday Mix)
1 egg yolk

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes in a warm place. It will get foamy.

Stir in the oil, salt and flours.

Cut the dough into 12 sections and roll/stretch into ropes. Shape each rope into a pretzel – start out by making a U shape and hold the ends the rope and cross them strands over each other then bring each end down and stick to the bottom of the U.

Cover is a damp towel, and let the pretzels rise on lined baking sheet for about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

After the pretzels have rise, mix the egg yolk in a cup and brush onto the tops of each pretzel. Sprinkle the pretzels with flavored salt.

Bake for about 12 minutes. Cool and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

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