In a wonderful Russian play of the 60’s about love, kindness, and caring, there was a line that bothered me: “Even a cat appreciates a good word.” I could never understand the word “even” in this phrase – why “even a cat”? What about dogs? Birds? People, after all? My grandmother, may she rest in peace, talked to her plants, and they grew like crazy. My brother, who has inherited her green thumb, sings to plants and recites poetry to them. His house looks like a garden. But if good words have this power, imagine the harm bad words can cause!
In Judaism, there is a concept called “Loshon HoRah” – bad or evil talk. The Torah explicitly states that the punishment for engaging in it is Tzoraas, a terrible affliction commonly translated as leprosy. It is so highly infectious that those afflicted are immediately isolated, the isolation strictly enforced. There is no treatment nor remedy for it, other than – according to the Torah! – Loshon Tov, good talk or even a good word. We spent this past Shabbos visiting friends whose youngest daughter, a four-year old, proudly demonstrated projects she had done at school. As the kids were learning the dangers of Loshon HoRah and the value of Loshon Tov, they have cut out and colored those huge lips you see on the photo, with a slit to open the mouth; they taped the top of a zip lock bag in the back, and pulled the zip part to the front through the slit. Finally, they attached signs distributed by the teacher: “ZIP YOUR LIP FROM Loshon HoRah.” I am sure little Chanaleh internalized the lesson!
This happened about 2600 years ago, during the times of Prophet Elisha, when there was great famine in the land, and the Aramean king BenHaddad used this opportunity to lay siege to the Jewish city of Samaria. Desperate, the Jewish king Jehoram sent his right-hand man to the Prophet who promised that by the same time next day, food would be so plentiful as to be sold for next to nothing. “Nah, – exclaimed the king’s messenger, – Man, you’re nuts! You gotta be a total fake feeding me this kind of BS! Even if G-d made windows in heaven, how could this happen?” (Kings II). “Fine, – calmly replied Elisha, – you’ll see it with your own eyes, but you won’t eat of it.”
That night, four lepers were sitting by the city gate. “Why should we sit here until we die? – they said, – If we try to enter the city, they’ll kill us, and anyway, they are dying of starvation themselves. Let’s head to the Aramean army tents – at least we’ll have a chance. If they don’t kill us, maybe they’ll feed us!” But when they approached the enemy camp, they found it abandoned. Writes Rabbi Dr Nissan Mindel, “The siege of Samaria was broken, and the enemy fled in terror leaving so much food in their wake, that it became as plentiful and as cheap as in the years of plenty, and once again, the words of the prophet were fulfilled to the letter” (www.chabad.org). Apparently, during the night, Arameans heard the sounds of a great advancing army, an auditory illusion sent by H-shem to save the people of Samaria. Happily, the four lepers went from one tent to another, ate their fill, and grabbed as much gold and silver as they could carry. And in the middle of this gluttonous orgy, they stopped and said to each other, ”What the heck are we doing? We were struck by leprosy for our sins, and no matter how rich we become by plundering these tents, it won’t help us! Let’s do something good for a change – let’s go into the city and report this to the king.”
And so they did, and were miraculously cured of their affliction. Thus, Loshon Tov, the good words, proved healing of the deadly disease caused by Loshon HoRah. Meanwhile, the king’s right-hand man was mowed down and trampled by a stampede of hungry people rushing to the tents to get some food. The words of the prophet were fulfilled once again: king’s messenger saw cheap and plentiful food but never got to eat of it. As we were discussing this story with little Chanaleh’s older siblings, the great-grandchildren of Nissan Mindel, we talked about the famine: what did the ancient Israelis eat when there was nothing to eat?
Jews Mallow (Jute Mallow), otherwise known as Egyptian spinach, was a food staple in the ancient Jewish culture. Full of all kinds of nutrients, including protein, it was something that grew in the wild, without being cultivated (http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet). Mushrooms could also be gathered in the Northern Kingdom, as well as eggs of wild fowl.
Since I couldn’t find Egyptian spinach, I just used the regular one, roughly chopped. Mushrooms were chopped as well, onions and garlic diced. I used eggs just because I first made it right after Passover, and I haven’t had time to make aquafaba yet, but for a vegan version, feel free to use egg substitute of your choice. The interesting ingredient here is Matzah Farfel.
When you want to make matzah meal, you’d take whole matzahs and grind them. Most of them will grind into flour, but there will always be little pieces that are left “unground.” Those are called farfelech and are used in many different – and delicious! – ways. In the old times, we used to grind matzah ourselves, but here – what a country! – both matzah meal and matzah farfel are sold in stores. As I had some left after Pesach, I used it instead of flour that I haven’t had a chance to buy yet (normally, I would use soy flour for this recipe, so it will be gluten free). I always think of using leftover matzah after Pesach as very appropriate, to remind us of the lowest levels of depravity to which we had sunk in Egypt and the necessity to redeem ourselves by acquiring positive traits, lifting ourselves spiritually step by step, day by day, until we reach Shavuos and the giving of the Torah. Farfelech must be softened by covering them with hot water for a few minutes, then pouring off excess water.
Meanwhile, you quickly stir-fry mushrooms with onion and garlic, and add spinach when mushrooms start giving off liquid. Stir-fry the whole thing together for another minute or two and turn it off.
As Mr T. used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together!” Mix the veggies together with softened farfelech or soy flour, add eggs or whisked aquafaba, and season with salt and pepper.
I have a little cute cupcake / muffin maker that bakes seven mini-cupcakes in seven minutes. At this time, I think of it as symbolic: seven times seven days between Pesach and Shavuos, and we count every day as yet another step bringing us up to a higher level of personal redemption, a spiritual exodus from slavery. Of course, you can just oil a muffin form and bake these savory bits of goodness in the oven.
Experts explain that muffins are not as sweet as cupcakes and sometimes savory. On the contrary, cupcakes are miniature cakes. I don’t see anything wrong with savory cupcakes, especially since today is a National Cupcake Lover’s Day (https://foodimentary.com/june-holidays), and I think the difference is in the frosting: muffins don’t have it, but cupcakes do. In honor of a great blogger, my favorite purple person Melinda of http://www.purpleslobinrecovery.com, I made purple frosting for my savory cupcakes. Hi, girl friend, this is for you: cannellini beans with some olive oil and beet juice are pureed in a food processor. Squeeze some garlic into it (as much as you can stand), season it with salt and pepper, and add some allspice for an extra zing. This spread is good with everything, but to top my savory cupcakes with it really makes a difference!
These little bites of goodness, sprinkled by sumac – just for looks! – will definitely earn you all kinds of praise, Loshon Tov, but don’t forget the lesson little Chaneleh taught us: ZIP YOUR LIP FROM Loshon HoRah. As my grandmother used to say, “If you can’t say anything good, say nothing at all!”
- 1 cup matzah farfel (alternatively, 1 cup soy flour
- 1/2 pint mushrooms, chopped
- 2 loosely packed cups spinach, roughly chopped
- 4 eggs or 1 cup of aquafaba, whisked
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup cannellini beans, precooked and drained
- 1 tablespoon beet juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves, squeezed
- A pinch of allspice
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F or use cupcake maker. If using oven, mist muffin form with oil.
Pour hot water over farfel in bowl, keep covered for 5 minutes, drain excess water.
Stir fry onion with garlic until translucent, add mushrooms, stir fry together for 2 – 3 minutes until mushrooms are soft and giving off liquid. Add spinach, mix, stir fry together for 2 – 3 minutes.
Add stir fried vegetables to softened farfel or soy flour , add eggs or whisked aquafaba, season with salt and pepper, mix thoroughly. Fill muffin form or cupcake maker.
Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until firm and lightly golden. Bake in cupcake maker for 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, make frosting (spread). Place all ingredients into food processor, pulse until pureed into creamy mass. Scrape sides when necessary.
Top savory cupcakes with purple frosting while hot.