Offering hospitality Old Testament style, sans servants and calf

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A man sits under some trees and spies three strangers. He begs of them to partake of his hospitality. He asks his wife to quickly make some cakes out of the choicest flour, he tells his servant to kill a calf and prepare its meat, and he brings his guests refreshing curds to eat.

It is this passage in the week’s Torah portion from Genesis (18:1–22:24), Parashat Vayera, that is the basis of the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, or welcoming guests. Abraham’s actions are even more remarkable in that God has appeared before him and he must turn away to offer the strangers succor.

This portion fascinates me for several reasons. The first is the importance of the act of hospitality. The second is practical. Killing and butchering a calf doesn’t seem like my idea of a quick meal these days. The third is historical. What kind of cakes would Sarah have made with her choice flour? How would the meat be prepared to cook quickly?

I’ve put together a menu based on my reflections on this parshah. The recipes are all relatively quick to make.

The cakes, like the ones Sarah probably made, are a form of flatbread made of barley flour.

Cutting the beef into small cubes reduces cooking time.

As for serving curds with meat, the laws of kashrut now prohibit that, but a dessert of nondairy vanilla yogurt drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped dates and nuts would be just as satisfying.

Quick Steak Kabobs

Serves 4-6

1⁄2 cup olive oil

1⁄4 cup lemon juice

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1⁄4 tsp. dried oregano

1⁄8 tsp. ground red (cayenne) pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

11⁄2 to 2 lbs. beef steak, cut into 1-inch cubes

1⁄4 cup chopped parsley

In a large glass or stainless-steel bowl combine the oil, juice, black pepper, salt, oregano, red pepper and garlic. Stir well. Reserve 1⁄4 cup of marinade. Combine the steak cubes with the remainder and toss well. Use immediately, or if desired, cover and marinate for up to 2 hours.

Preheat broiler or grill. Thread the steak on 4-6 skewers. (If using bamboo or wood skewers, soak in water for a half-hour before using.) Place under broiler or on grill over medium-high heat, basting with the reserved marinade and turning occasionally until cooked to desired doneness. Serve on or off the skewers. Sprinkle with parsley.

If desired, make additional marinade and use it to marinate sliced zucchini or other vegetables for the grill. Serve the kabobs with rice or couscous and the barley cakes.

Barley Flour Cakes

Serves 4

2 cups barley flour

1⁄2 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. olive oil

3⁄4 cup warm water (90-100 degrees)

2 Tbs. vegetable oil plus additional as needed

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Drizzle in olive oil and water, mixing continually. Continue to mix (or use hands) until a dough forms. Working with your hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes until smooth. Cover with damp cloth and let rest 30 minutes.

Separate dough into 8 balls, then flatten and pat each into a rough disk about 2 to 21⁄2 inches in diameter and about 1⁄4- to 1⁄2-inch thick.

Heat vegetable oil in a heavy fry pan over medium-high heat. Fry cakes 1-2 minutes on each side, adding additional oil as needed, until lightly browned on both sides and cooked through.

These round quick breads have an earthy, satisfying taste. Barley flour is available from natural food stores and online.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs her food at Contact her at [email protected].


Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].