Shavuot

Cheesecake: Do I Need an Excuse?

May 19, 2009
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Shavuot is the time when we celebrate the giving of the Torah, but like so many other Jewish holidays, there’s a food component too. This is the “dairy” holiday.

Visions of cheesecake come to mind.

I’ve heard numerous explanations of why dairy and Shavuot go hand in hand. One is that the holiday commemorates the origins of kashruth, including the separation of eating meat and dairy. Another is to remember the promise of Israel, the “land of milk and honey.”

And there are others. But I don’t need to search too long or hard, I’m just happy for an excuse to eat cheesecake.

For my family, traditional Shavuot foods are a big bonus. Like most folks, we love cheesecake, but beyond that we like dairy dishes of all kinds, and have them frequently, even for Shabbat. Shavuot is a food fest for us. One child doesn’t love chicken, one doesn’t eat beef, and so on, like in many families. Dairy meals are easier and more welcome because everyone enjoys cheese and yogurt, sour cream, eggs and the rest of the list of dairy ingredients.

Besides, having a dairy meal means better desserts. We can have ice cream right after dinner. Or maybe whipped cream topped fruit or pie or fruit cobbler a la mode or pudding or, of course, cheesecake.

For this year’s holiday I might prepare a fish dinner, starting out with a chilled soup suitable to warm weather – Cream of Fennel is a family favorite and I can make it a couple of days ahead. The soup will be followed by salmon on the grill, fresh tomato salad (with a mustardy vinaigrette dressing) and Eggplant with Yogurt and Pine Nuts, a recipe that is in my book, Hip Kosher.

Or we may decide to begin with Greens and Goat Cheese Salad. This is a large mélange of mixed lettuces and other salad ingredients plus crispy crumb-coated goat cheese rounds. All the greens are washed and readied well ahead of dinner; the goat cheese crisps are fried and set aside. If we have the salad, I’ll serve cheese or mushroom frittatas with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes for dinner.

On the other hand, my sons-in-law love my recipe for Huevos Rancheros, a Mexican egg-and-salsa dish with corn tortillas and melted cheese (another recipe from Hip Kosher), so maybe I’ll decide on that instead. I can set this casserole up ahead and pop it under the broiler at the last minute. In that case we’ll begin the meal with nachos (complete with cooked beans, grated cheddar cheese, hot fresh chili peppers and a large mound of sour cream).

I can’t decide which meal to make right now. But I do know what’s for dessert.

Cheesecake of course.

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Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She currently writes regular features for the food and community sections of daily newspapers and has written articles for Newsday, Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer’s Digest, Connecticut magazine, and many other publications. She operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut and is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent is
Hip Kosher (DaCapo, 2008).