Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Journey - Lech Lecha II

Citrus brightening our kitchen this week
We first get to know Abraham in this week's portion, Parshat Lech Lecha, as he begins his journey of self discovery. We learn that he is son to Terach, husband to fellow God-devotee Sara, and uncle/fellow sheepherder to the sketchy character Lot. He looses his father, is unable to have children with Sara (both at the tail end of last week's portion) and is commanded by God to leave his homeland for a new land which God will give. Ever since that command, Abraham has been trying to figure out who he is.

Over the course of the journey we see he cares about others and also cares about himself. When a famine strikes the land Abraham takes Sara and Lot to Egypt for relief. Right before they enter the country Abraham acknowledges Sara's beauty and requests that she tell others that she is his sister so that men who are attracted to her will not harm Abraham. Sara complies, but the plan backfires when Pharoh takes a liking to Sarah and his household is struck by a plague. Pharoh is none too pleased when he figures out that Abraham is her husband and they get booted out of Egypt. After this incident Lot's herdsmen and Abraham's herdsmen quarrel so badly that Abraham suggests they part ways. He gives Lot first choice of land to settle and shepherd in and later when Lot is involved in a conflict with foreign kings Abraham steps in to negotiate for his safety.  We see Abraham is devoted to family and has a yen for self preservation.

Throughout the portion God repeats the mantra that He plans to make Abraham into a great nation and give the nation the land of Israel. Whenever things seem to go off track from that vision - they travel to another country, get involved in a contentious situation or struggle - God steps back into the picture and utters that promise again. "You will be as uncountable as the sands of the earth"... "As numerous as the stars in the sky." "Look westward, eastward, northward and southward ... all of this land I give to you."

As numerous as the grains of quinoa
But to a guy in his nineties, married to Sarah who faces infertility, it's a hard thing to fathom. He asks God if this promised nation will come from his servant Eliezer. God tells him no, it will start with one of his own children. When he asks if it will come from the child he has with his Egyptian handmade Hagar, God says, no that's not it either. It's going to be a son born to his wife Sarah - and with that one little seed, a great nation will grow. God promises that they will have a child in one year's time - they just have to have faith, and before they know it they won't even be able to count their descendants.

That image of a nation starting so small and eventually overflowing translates well into food. Imagine a pot of water flecked with little slivers of hard grain quinoa transformed in less than 30 minutes to a fluffy mound of soft grains that overtake the liquid and nearly fill the pot.  I love quinoa for it's nutty flavor, it's punch of protein, and it's ease in pairing with other flavors. I find its soft grains mimic large grains of sand and evoke the repeated promise to have a nation as numerous as the sands of the earth. My friend Batya recently let me know that a box of the stuff can be procured at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods for just $4 - another reason to love it. This week I was in search of a quionoa recipe to pair with cider braised chicken this Shabbat (look out for that recipe soon over at Grow and Behold) and recalled a fall dish of ricotta, butternut and sage on toasted baguette bread that I came across in a magazine. My how some of those flavors translate well to a pot of quinoa (minus the ricotta this time of course, but I would certainly give it a go under different circumstances). 

Roasted Butternut and Sage Quinoa 

1 large Butternut squash 
2 sprigs of thyme
5 fresh sage leaves
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp pepper, divided

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the butternut squash and wash hands well. Cut and remove the seeds and then cube the flesh. Spread cubes over a baking tray lined with a silpat mat. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Roast for 20-40 minutes, until tender - turning once.

Meanwhile, add quinoa and 2 cups of water to a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and season with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper.

Chop the sage and remove the thyme leaves from the stem. Stir into the quinoa along with the roasted butternut squash and additional olive oil.

Serve warm.

P.S. This week I made apple sauce - a great warm snack for chilly fall days. Simply place firm apples in a pot, add a few inches of water and simmer for 20 minutes. Process the apples and some liquid in a food mill. Add cinnamon and serve warm.

simmering apples
Food mill in background

Food mill close up

The end of the apples in the food mill

Finished product - just apples and cinnamon!


  1. I also made a grain and butternut squash dish this shabbat (I used barley, but quinoa works too). But I added MAN-GO juice to the recipe! get it?

  2. Very cute Melissa! I like the word play. I bet the sweet of the juice worked well with the savory roasted squash.