Thursday, January 17, 2013

I'm Back for Parshat Bo

It's been almost 6 months since my last post here. I've been enjoying my little girl Zoe (born 3 days after my last post - exactly on her due date!). My experience in the kitchen has changed a bit since becoming a mom and I've been mulling over what to do with this blog. I made several unsuccessful attempts to come back and while I don't have it all figured out - I miss it here. I won't be trying to post every week - after 3 years at this and a new little person to look after that doesn't seem likely. But I'll aim to post when something good is brewing in the portion and the kitchen.

So here I am, back with a throw-back. This week's portion, Parshat Bo, has only been covered once on this blog. It was a post back in 2010 and it was a good one, therefor I'm re-posting it now. Here's a little forshpies (Yiddish for taste/appetizer) of some dishes that recently popped out of my kitchen that I'll share the details of when the tie-in is right: a caramelly date and red onion wild rice, a spicy pomegranate marinated salmon and vinegary barley kale goat cheese salad.

Parshat Bo circa 2010: [with a 2013 comment in italics]
There are dishes we all like to throw together in a hurry. Some of mine include scrambled eggs and cream cheese when running late for work [I made that when I was running late??], sardines and goat cheese over lettuce with my lemon garlic dressing upon returning from work famished and tired, chicken with quartered lemons, rosemary sprigs and peeled garlic cloves when there is a one-hour countdown before Shabbat and a table full of people to feed. In this week’s portion, Parshat Bo, the whole nation does some hurried and harried cooking when they produce flat breads as they’re rushing out of Egypt.

Picture this. You’re a Hebrew slave in Egypt and you know your buddy Moses has been working on Pharoh to let you and your fellow Hebrews go. You find out that in the middle of the night Moses gets a call from a distressed Pharoh who says “Get out of from among my nation and go and worship your God as you have been asking for.” All of a sudden your Egyptian neighbors are goading you to leave Egypt hoping it will save them from the final plague. You and your Israelite friends can’t Fred Flintstone your legs fast enough to get out of there before anyone changes their mind.

But you have the thought- what if I get hungry along the way? So you grab that bowl of dough you just kneaded which hasn’t yet had time to rise, and you wrap the bowl in your cloak and carry it over your shoulders on the way out of Egypt. You had no time for any significant tzedah laderech, and it looks like most of your friends had the same idea.

You all make it to the outskirts of Egypt. While waiting for the next leg of the Exodus you bake these unleavened (i.e. un-risen) cakes of dough, aka Matzah. Nowadays your great, great, great, great (etc) grand kids eat that same stuff at their Passover Seders.

The commandment to celebrate Passover - eating Matzah and avoiding risen bread for seven days to memorialize our freedom -  appears in this portion right after the whole Matzah making story. Some of you may not be so thrilled with the story’s bread banning conclusion, others may be closet Matzah pizza lovers, or may engage in debates over Matzah shmeared in cream cheese versus Matzah and butter. Personally I can’t get enough Matzah brei (rhymes with eye) over Passover, and I enjoy the first few crunches of shmurah Matzah at the Seder. But I'm always jealous of those who have the custom to bake their Matzah in a way that is soft and doughy, probably closer to how the Israelites did it in this weeks Parsha.

If you are ever in Israel for Passover you can find these types of doughy pita breads, or lavash, being sold in the outdoor markets for those who use them at their Seders. While I wish my family did, alas we hail from Eastern Europe and stick only to the crackly stuff. But I can enjoy this type of fluffy home made treat during the rest of the year and am especially looking forward to doing so this Shabbat. Note that the recipe I use involves considerable rising time to get those pitas as puffy as possible, which is not how those who eat lavash on Passover make them, nor is it very much in the spirit of the weekly portion. So if you're pinched for time, or feeling like being truer to the text, go ahead and skip the rising process, the pitas will still be delish.

I have made pita/lavash a number of times at home and love the smell that pours out of the kitchen when I do. I feel a sense of accomplishment as the warm stack of white discs marked by spots of char grows higher as I cook. Sam and I enjoy the pitas with home made shwarma (chopp leftover turkey, fry it in a pan of oil and middle eastern spices) or spiced ground beef and chumus when we're missing Israeli fast food. You can also incorporate aromatics and herbs into the pitas themselves. I’m going to try adding crushed garlic and rosemary to some of mine this time around and use them in place of challah at my Shabbat meal. Try the recipe below and if you can reheat them a bit before serving on Shabbat I think they will taste like when you first made them- steaming with the smell of carbs and haste.

The recipe I use came from a tall cookbook by Marlena Spieler titled Jewish Cooking that my Aunt gave me 5 years ago. It’s the kind of cookbook you can find at Borders - with the wonderfully large and colorful food photographs that really entice you to make a dish, and that often illustrate part of the cooking process. This is a plus for me as I mainly choose recipes to attempt based on pictures. It's also got a nice introduction that covers Jewish history and food.

Pita or Lavash

Adapted from Jewish Cooking by Marlena Spieler

Lavash is simply a longer, pocketless pita and this recipe generally yields pocketless pitas. They are best cooked in a cast iron or a grill pan (or over the grill if you happen to have access to one in the winter). Feel free to cut out the rising time.

4.5 cups of flour
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) of yeast (rapid rise)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup of water
Optional spices such as fresh garlic and rosemary

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in one bowl. In another large bowl, mix together the oil and water, then stir in half the flour mixture. If you want to add spices, such as the garlic and rosemary I suggested, now is the time. Knead in the rest of the flour and shape into a ball. Cover the bowl with a damp dishtowel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on your time frame).

After it has risen, knead the dough for ten minutes. If you have time, cover and let it rise again. If not, divide the dough into 12 pieces for nice round pitas, or fewer for larger longer lavash. Dip your hands into some flour to keep them from sticking to the dough and flatten each piece with a rolling pin or your hands. Try to keep the pita ½ an inch thick. Keep the dough that you aren’t working with covered.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Wait for it to get smoking hot and then add one of the pitas and cook for 20 seconds. Turn it over with tongs a cook for 1 minute on the other side.

When large bubbles form on the bread turn it over again and watch as it puffs up. Press down gently with a dishtowel, and then cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove from the pan and wrap the pita in a dry dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining dough, adding the finished pitas to the stack in the dry dishtowel.

Serve hot!


  1. So nice to see you back in this space again! And love the picture of Zoe. I've never made pita on the stove before - can't wait to try it!

  2. Thanks for your encouragement to come back! I figured the shirt Zoe is wearing in the photo was blog appropriate. Happy Pita making.

  3. If this pita is half as yummy as your Zoe, we're all in for a treat.