Shavuot - The Sound of Moosic
Shavuot, aka "Z'man Matan Torateinu," The Time of the Giving of Our Torah is soon to be feast a-pun us. So to understand the title of this episode, we read in Exodus 19:16-19:
"And it was on the third day, as it became morning, and there was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain, the sound of the shofar was very strong, and all the people in the camp became seized with trembling" . . .. "And the sound of the shofar became stronger and exceedingly loud; Moses spoke, and the Almighty responded with thunder."
Moshe Rabbeinu descended from Sinai with the Torah and the laws of kashruth, the kosher laws, the guidelines that remind us with every meal that what we eat is who we are. The Hebrews weren't quite prepared for this--or for the next few thousand years, either, but we've survived--and none of their utensils were properly cleaned ("kashered") so their meals were either dairy or pareve until that could happen and they had a set of things ready for meat meals.
After Eden, some authorities say we were vegetarian. Check out Genesis 1:29,30 for some clues about this, so there wasn't any need for kashruth. After The Deluge there was a "pre-kosher" guideline, the Seven Laws of Noah. One of them was that it was prohibited to eat any part of a living animal, so as to not cause excessive pain. This was interpreted by extension to include milk, so once the Torah was given, and milk was included among the types of products in which Eretz Israel is blessed, it was party-hearty-party, guilt-free. Oh--who's kidding whom here about guilt, when we learned about dairy and cholesterol. . . I digress. No, I don't, and I'll tell you why.
It turns out that one of Mount Sinai's names is "Gavunim," because it resembles a huge piece of cheese, "g'vina," in Hebrew. Because of these things Shavuot is, as a rule, a dairy holiday. So we're gonna make an easy-sneezy cheese from yogurt and not with full-fat whole milk or cream. Takes a couple of days so it doesn't seem like it's an item for the busy-day kitchen, but all, and that's all, you have to do is set it up, and it does by itself. No, really. . . just smile, lips-together-teeth-apart when they exclaim, "when DID you find the time?"
I'm presenting here a couple uses of our "labneh," to show how it can be used similarly to cream cheese in both savory and sweet dishes. First, is what a Lebanese-American friend calls "Shangleesh" (SHANG-gleesh), or an herbal-marinated tangy cheese ball. And the herbs are quite suited to this holiday since in Exodus 12:22 the Israelites in Egypt are instructed to "Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe" which began the Exodus that brought us to this place. Many people reading this don't have za'atar (both the name of the herb and the herb mix) at hand in their pantry so there's also a recipe for what I feel is a reasonable substitute. And yet again, a substitute for sumac, aka "lemon berry" so while not authentic and lacking a certain bitter overtone we can substitute a bit of sour salt (citric acid) for it.
We then go on to an easily-prepared Hungarian-inspired blintz "cake" (no rolling or frying!) layered with, I see your home-made delight and raise you a fast home-made seasonal jam. I don't think I can add anything to the blintz/crepe lexicon so either purchase already-made leaves/crepes or make your own from your favorite recipe. I will note two tricks o'the trade
here: be sure to let the batter rest for a full hour before making the crepes, AND substitute a couple tablespoons of corn starch or potato starch for the flour called for.
Other uses for our labneh would to be take the semi-drained product and add some lemon juice, garlic, and dill for a quickquickquick sauce for a cold broiled or cold poached salmon (what with the hot weather in the HemiNorth approaching), or take a walk on the sweet side with sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest to make a tart'n'tangy topping for a fresh fruit salad.
Yield: About 2-1/2 pints
8 cups plain yogurt
2 tsp. salt
Place the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with a spoon until they are thoroughly combined.
Line a colander (a strainer with feet) with a double layer of cheesecloth, leaving plenty of the material overlapping the sides. Pour the yogurt into the bowl or colander.
Tie the ends of the cloth together and secure with string. Set colander over a plate or shallow bowl. As long as there's a ridge to catch the whey, the liquid that will drain out. Refrigerate. When you remember, if you're home, every 4-6 hours or so, open the package. Turn the mass by scraping/folding the "hardened" edge into the center so as to "equalize" the drained and undrained material. If you're not home, then whenever you get a chance. Leave overnight or until the cheese is firm enough to mold. Use the whey in other recipes--such as dairy soups where you wish a slight tang or use it in a refreshing breakfast smoothie. That's all there is, and that's that with that.
1. Mix ingredients.
2. Line colander with cheesecloth and set into plate or shallow bowl.
3. Pour yogurt into colander, refrigerate, and scrape sides of cheesecloth down now and again.
4. Drain whey until consistency wished is achieved.
SHANGLESH (Marinated Yogurt Cheese Balls)
Garlic herb seasoning to taste (I like the Mrs. Dash line of products)*SEE NOTE
Red pepper flakes (highly optional)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Olive oil, to cover (start with 1 cup)
Mix the red pepper flakes, if using, into the labneh along with the garlic-herb seasoning and salt and pepper.
Using your fingers, shape the resulting soft cheese into 1-1/2" balls. Roll the balls in za'atar (see below) and then place in large bowl. Pour on the olive oil. Gentlygentlygently. From the side of the bowl, because the balls are still quite soft. Place back in refrigerator.
Let sit overnight (or more) before bringing out the bowl, and serving with pita petals (wedges) and maybe a few lemon slices to squeeze over it. Great twofer here, 'cuz the oil can be used later in herbal vinaigrettes or drizzled over broiled fish steaks. Lightly coat the leftover pita with the oil and more za'atar and bake to make pita chips. . .
*NOTE: DO NOT USE FRESH GARLIC unless planning on serving in the next 2 days. It's not safe, because of botulism issues, to let garlic or fresh herbs sit immersed in oil for more than a coupla days.
1. When cheese is formed roll into balls, roll balls in za'atar, and cover with oil.
2. Let marinate overnight and serve with pita and lemon wedges.
Yield: Approximately 1-1/4 cup
3/4 cup dried marjoram or oregano (do try to find marjoram)
1/4 cup dried thyme
1 tsp. dried mint
1/4 cup sesame seeds (toasted, optional)
1 tbsp. sumac (or 1 tsp. sour salt if sumac is not available)
1/2 tsp. salt
Place the ingredients in a jar, cover tightly, and shake well to mix.
Store in a dry, cool place.
None needed, it's all there.
BLINTZ TORTE (Palacsinta Torta)
1 sheet of waxed paper, cut into four strips
9 blintz leaves/crepes
2 cups labneh
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 cups apricot lekvar (see below)
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Mint sprig (optional)
First, we need to assemble this on the serving plate itself so we need to make sure it's not all messed up with the gooze and schtuff. Take the four strips of waxed paper and put them on the edge of the plate.
Mix the yogurt cheese with the sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Have it at the ready with the apricot jam/lekvar. So from one end to t'other, you have crepes, bowl of labneh, bowl of lekvar, prepared plate, and sieve with powdered sugar in it.
Now we begin the assembly. Take one of the leaves, leopard side down (spotted, that is), and spread with a layer of the flavored yogurt cheese. Cover that with a layer of the lekvar, and place the layered leaf on the plate.
Continue with the next leaf and place on top of the first one. And so on, until you have a stack 8 layers high, and if that doesn't look right, add layers until it does. Just make sure you have an extra one left for the cap. Leave a few tablespoons of each of the mixtures.
Take the ninth crepe and roll it fairly tight into a cylinder. With a sharp knife, cut across the roll to make narrow strips as if you're making noodles. Well, actually you ARE making noodles.
To decorate the torte, make a loose ball of the crepe noodles and place it in the center of the top layer or just spread them out on it.
Spoon the powdered sugar gently into a sieve, if you haven't done that already. Holding the sieve about 6" above the torte, bat at the edge of the sieve with your other hand to snowdrift the sugar in an even pattern over the blintz cake.
Place decorative drips and drabs of the two fillings over the sugar coating. If you wish, place a mint sprig in the middle of the layer or in the noodle ball. Pull wax paper strips away from the cake and serve, cut in wedges.
1. Place wax paper strips on serving plate.
2. Make labneh filling.
3. Make lekvar filling.
4. Layer fillings on leaves, stacking them on the plate.
5. Make crepe "noodles" and arrange on top of torte. Decorate with powdered sugar, and drops of leftover fillings. Place mint sprig, if using, and serve
Yield: 2 cups
2 cups dried apricots
2 cups water (approximately, water to cover) or white wine Sugar to taste (approximately 1/4 cup)
2 tsp. orange juice
Generous 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. apricot brandy (optional)
Cook apricots on medium heat in either wine or water and sugar until soft, about 15 minutes. Water should be cooked away so that the apricots are stewy-juicy but not dry. Whiz in blender or food processor until pureed. They should be a thick mass.
Stir in rest of ingredients, and cool. Easyeasyeasy. Byyythewaayyy... this also makes a great hamantasch filling.
1. Cook apricots with sugar until soft and stewy-juicy.
2. Puree apricots until fairly smooth, dense, and spreadable.
3. Add rest of ingredients and cool.