Shavuot, which begins this year at sundown on June 8th, celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shavuot has been celebrated as an agricultural festival since the times of the Temple. It was said that when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, the barren desert exploded with blooming flowers, as if the earth itself rejoiced.
Shavuot is closely associated with feasting on dairy dishes such as creamy cheesecakes, tender blintzes, plump kreplach, and cheese-filled noodle kugels slathered with sour cream and fruit. Mediterranean Jews celebrate by eating crispy bourekas (turnovers) stuffed with feta cheese or spinach-cheese fillings. Fragrant new fruits appear throughout the meal, from soup to dessert, and there are special holiday breads to remind us of the Temple grain offerings. An easy way to include vegetables is to serve a platter of raw or lightly steamed veggies such as cherry or grape tomatoes, crisp cucumber and pepper strips along with a low-fat yogurt dip.
Jayne Cohen, the author of Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations (Wiley, 2008), says: “Food is truly magical. Through the simple act of eating, Jews partake of a mystical but very real communion with their families, their traditions, and the world itself.”
Her year-round holiday cookbook, Jewish Holiday Cooking, is packed with 200 soul-satisfying Kosher recipes, offering a multitude of intriguing culinary possibilities, from traditional Ashkenazi fare and tempting Sephardi choices to inspired contemporary variations. Her recipes are guaranteed to produce indelible memories as well as edible delights.
Cohen writes: “A dairy meal – which embraces anything from cheese blintzes to salmon croquettes – was always thought of as light, simply because no meat was served. Often lavish in butterfat and frequently followed by a rich dessert, the dairy meal was a fixture not only of Shavuot and steaming summer nights but Thursdays and pre-holiday evenings too, when the stomach needed rest before the next day’s meat-based Sabbath or festival dinner.
Dairy recipes, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardi, are among the stars of the Jewish kitchen. They are not simply sauces or side dishes playing second fiddle to traditional main course meats or chicken. The meals are rounded out with a host of wholesome pareve foods: fish, grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Of course for many children – and adults – the delight of a dairy meal is its promise of dessert because all desserts, rich in cream, butter, cheese – or all three together – become possible.”
For Shavuot, here are some delicious dairy dishes to serve to family and friends. I’m happy to share a couple of quick, easy recipes from two of my own books that I’ve authored. I’ve also included Jayne Cohen’s special cheese blintzes. Her directions are lengthy and detailed but very easy to follow – it’s like having her right beside you in your kitchen, guiding you each step of the way. Welcome to Blintz University!
I’ve also included cookbook author Faye Levy’s fabulous Feta-Filled Borekas for a Mediterranean touch. Prepare to indulge – and enjoy some dairy-delicious dishes!
No-Cook Lazy Day Beet Borscht
10 to 12 servings (about 14 cups)
This light and refreshing soup tastes exactly like the dairy borscht my late Aunt Adele was famous for, but with none of the work. The color is incredible. Don’t dare tell anyone how easy it is!
- 2 (19 oz./540 ml) cans beets
- 48 oz. (1.36 liters) can tomato juice (preferably low-sodium)
- 4½ cups (1 liter) buttermilk
- ½ cup sugar (artificial sweetener can be used)
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
- Drain beet juice into a very large mixing bowl.
- Process drained beets in the processor using the Steel Knife, until fine.
- Combine all ingredients with beet juice in mixing bowl and mix well.
- Store in glass jars in the refrigerator. Keeps about 10 days. Serve chilled.
To freeze, pour borscht into storage containers, leaving at least 1 inch at the top of each container.
138 calories/serving, 1.1 g fat (0.6 g saturated), 4 mg cholesterol, 6 g protein, 29 g carbohydrate, 418 g sodium, 634 mg potassium, 3 g fiber, 149 mg calcium
Source: Healthy Helpings (Whitecap) by Norene Gilletz
Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
6 to 8 servings
This casserole is ideal as a brunch dish for Shavuot or anytime of year. It can be assembled in advance and baked just before your guests arrive!
- 1 (10 oz.) package frozen broccoli, defrosted
- 4 oz. Cheddar cheese (1 cup grated)
- 2 cups creamed cottage cheese (low-fat is fine)
- 3 eggs (or 2 eggs plus 2 egg whites)
- 2 Tablespoons margarine (regular or light)
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- Dash salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Steel Blade: Chop broccoli in your food processor with several quick on/off pulses, until coarsely chopped. Place in sprayed 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish. Grater: Grate cheese, using medium pressure.
- Steel Blade: Add remaining ingredients to grated cheese. Process just until mixed, 8 to 10 seconds. Pour over broccoli and mix well. (Can be assembled up to this point and refrigerated overnight.) Bake in preheated 325°F oven about 1 hour.
Source: The Food Processor Bible (Whitecap) by Norene Gilletz
Cheese Blintzes with Fresh Berried Fruit Compote
Yields 16 to 18 blintzes
A perennial favorite, creamy cheese blintzes are often arranged on Shavuot plates to resemble the Jewish Law: placed side by side, they look like the Tablets given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Or like an unfurled scroll, the Torah.
The seasonal compote here, uncooked to retain the flowery freshness of the berry trio, partners perfectly with the rich, dairy blintzes. If you want to serve the blintzes as Tablets, arrange them atop a pool of the compote, and sprinkle five tiny parallel lines of cinnamon over each, in imitation of the Ten Commandments.
For the Blintzes:
- About 1 lb. farmer cheese (two 7.5-oz. packages are fine)
- 1/3 cup cottage cheese, preferably dry-curd (pot cheese); if unavailable, use large-curd cottage cheese
- 2½ oz. cream cheese (about 5 Tablespoons), softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- About 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 Recipe Blintz Leaves (below)
- Unsalted butter, oil, or a combination, for frying or baking
For the Fresh Berried Fruit Compote:
- 1 cup fresh ripe blueberries (about 6 oz.), picked over and rinsed
- 2 cups fresh ripe strawberries (about 12 oz.), checked, cleaned and rinsed, then hulled
- About 4 Tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Some ripe nectarines or peaches
- Optional accompaniment: sour cream, fresh mint leaves
- You will have to eliminate some of the excess liquid from the cheese to avoid soggy blintzes or the need for fillers. Jayne finds a lot of liquid accumulates in the farmer cheese packaging, so after she unwraps it, she drains off the water and pats the cheese dry with paper towels. Put the drained farmer cheese in a large bowl.
- If dry-curd cottage cheese is unavailable (it is increasingly hard to find, except at some deli counters in areas with large Jewish populations) also drain the large-curd cottage cheese. This is easiest done by draining for 15 to 20 minutes through a strainer lined with a coffee filter or a layer of paper towels.
- Meanwhile, use a fork to mash the farmer cheese very well. Add the cream cheese and vanilla and blend thoroughly. Add the drained cottage cheese and the sugar and mash until smooth. Taste and add more sugar, if desired. Beat in the egg yolks, cover, and chill thoroughly. The filling will be firmer and easier to work with when cold.
- Prepare the compote: put the blueberries and 1 cup of the strawberries in a bowl, and smash them very roughly with a fork. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the cinnamon and stir well. Set aside to macerate for about 10 minutes. Puree the remaining 1 cup strawberries, 2 tablespoons sugar and nectarines in a blender or food processor. Force the pureed berries through a fine-mesh strainer (to trap most of the bitter seeds) into the bowl of smashed berries. Stir well, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to meld the flavors. The flavors will continue to develop and strengthen, becoming sweeter as the sugar draws out the natural sweetness of the berry juices. Taste before serving and add more sugar, if you prefer it sweeter.
- Fill and fold the blintz leaves as directed below, using 1 heaping tablespoon of filling per blintz. (Jayne finds these are best when filled and folded and then chilled again and wrapped, up to 1 or 2 days before the final baking or frying. The cold cheese filling is firmer and less likely to leak out when heated.) Bake or fry as directed below.
- Serve the blintzes with the fruit compote, accompanied, if you’d like, by sour cream, and garnished with mint leaves.
Cook’s Note: Some cooks substitute packaged Chinese spring roll wrappers (made of wheat, not rice flour) for homemade blintz leaves. They would be a good, quick alternative with sturdier fillings, like cheese or potato; don’t use them for delicate fruit fillings. Seal the spring roll wrappers with egg wash before frying. Egg roll wrappers are too thick for blintzes.
The compote keeps well for 3 to 4 days, refrigerated. Leftover compote is delicious with cheesecake.
Savory Cheese Blintzes: Omit the sugar and vanilla extract. Add salt and pepper to taste, 3 Tablespoons finely chopped scallions or 2 Tablespoons snipped chives, and perhaps a handful of other fresh herbs like 2 Tablespoons parsley, 2 to 3 Tablespoons mint or chervil, and ½ to 1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest. Make the blintz leaves special by adding 2 to 3 Tablespoons snipped fresh dill to the batter.
Source: Jewish Holiday Cooking (Wiley) by Jayne Cohen
Yields 16 to 18 blintzes
Blintzes may seem complicated, but they are as easy to prepare as crepes. Easier, in fact, since they are cooked on one side only. They are the ideal pastry for the rolling pin-challenged.
Like strawberry shortcake and Wallis Simpson, they were meant to be rich. On the other hand, such hefty doses of butter, cream, and cheese are best enjoyed in the company of more pristine flavors, like gently treated fresh or dried fruit.
Devise your own concoctions for fillings from the liveliest fruits at the market. Cooking the fruit just long enough to bring out its natural sugars (or macerating delicate raw fruits like blueberries in hot liquids, such as reduced fruit juice) and avoiding fillers like cornstarch will keep the flavors brisk and fresh tasting. If you find that your fruit is too wet for a filling, stir in a few tablespoons of ground blanched almonds or cream cheese to soak up the juices.
Blintz Leaves (The Basic Crepe)
- 1 to 1¼ cups milk, preferably whole
- 3 large eggs
- ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- Additional unsalted butter, ghee, or less preferably, a mild, flavorless oil (such as avocado) or a combination of butter and oil, for frying
- In a blender, mix 1 cup of the milk, the eggs, flour, salt, and butter until smooth. Transfer the batter to a bowl. (To prepare batter by hand, beat the eggs and butter together in a bowl; mix in ½ cup of the milk, gradually add the flour and salt, whisking until smooth, then add another ½ cup of milk; whisk until well-blended.)
- Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours at room temperature. If refrigerated, the batter should rest for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours (overnight is fine).
- Stir the batter well; it should have the consistency of light cream. If necessary, thin it with some of the remaining milk. You may have to add more milk if the batter thickens as it stands.
- Heat a very lightly buttered 6- or 7-inch skillet or crepe pan over moderately high heat until sizzling. (A nonstick pan works particularly well, but I find you do have to butter the pan, at least for the first blintz, to avoid a slightly rubbery texture.) Pour about 2 Tablespoons of batter into the hot pan (a coffee measure is good for this), and immediately tilt the pan from side to side to distribute the batter evenly over the bottom. You may find it easier both to add the batter and swirl while holding the pan off the heat. Don’t allow the batter to extend up the sides of the pan when tilting or the blintz edges will become too thin and crackly.
- Cook just until the top of the blintz is slightly dry and the edges start to curl. The bottom should be pale gold, not brown. Do not cook the other side. Loosen the blintz with a spatula and turn it out onto wax paper or a large platter, fried side up. Repeat until all the batter is used up. Pile the finished blintz leaves on a platter, separating each with sheets of wax paper or a clean kitchen cloth, and keep the exposed leaves covered to prevent them from drying out. Brush the pan with additional butter or oil only if necessary, and remember to stir the batter periodically. To avoid tears, let the freshly prepared blintz leaves cool to room temperature before filling. (And the wax paper is easier to remove when the blintz leaves are cool.)
- Blintz leaves may be prepared ahead. Let them cool to room temperature, keeping them separated by wax paper, then wrap well with foil. Refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze them for up to 1 month, separated by the wax paper and well wrapped with heavy-duty foil or in a freezer-proof container. Bring them to room temperature before filling to prevent tearing them.
- Cook’s Note: Add very little butter or oil to the pan when preparing the leaves. The batter already contains butter, so if you use a nonstick pan, you may not need to add any, after the first blintz. To grease the pan, dip a paper towel very lightly in melted butter or oil and quickly film the pan. If you put too much in or if the butter burns as you fry the leaves, wipe the pan clean with a paper towel so as not to transfer any burned butter taste.
- Work quickly greasing the pan, adding the batter, and turning out the finished leaf. The pan should always be hot before you add the batter.
- Allow the batter to rest, and stir, don’t beat, to eliminate most of the bubbles. Occasionally, bubbles will form on top of a cooking blintz leaf, and generally they are superficial and will cause no damage. But if a bubble looks like it will create a real hole through the finished leaf, I immediately smooth over it with some of the still wet batter from another part of the blintz, or I dab on a smidgen of fresh batter to cover it, letting the leaf continue cooking until it seems dry. (Because the leaves are very thin, cooked only on one side, and most fillings are rather wet, even fairly small holes could mean fillings oozing out while blintzes are frying.
Filling the Blintzes:
- Spread 1 heaping Tablespoons of the filling across the middle of the cooked side of each blintz. (Tempting as it may be to use up that extra bit of filling, do not overfill blintzes or they might explode.)
- Fold in the sides, then fold the bottom of the blintz of the filling, and roll up, jelly-roll fashion, pulling the top over tightly. You should have a neat package.
- Place filled blintzes seam side down, so they don’t open up.
- At this point, you can refrigerate the blintzes for a couple of days or freeze them for up to 1 month, and fry them just before serving.
- Don’t bother to thaw frozen blintzes, but adjust cooking time accordingly.
Cook’s Note: Fillings should always be cooled at least to room temperature. I find it is often easier to work with chilled fillings: they are firmer and less runny.
Cooking the Filled Blintzes:
- To fry the blintzes, heat butter, a mild oil, or a combination, in a heavy skillet over medium heat until sizzling. (The best medium for frying blintzes is probably clarified butter, since its higher smoke point means it won’t easily burn; yet it will still imbue the blintzes with that pure, butter taste.) Add the blintzes seam side down, without crowding the pan. Cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Adjust the heat, if necessary, and watch that the butter does not scorch.
- Or you can bake them for a slightly lighter taste. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Melt a generous quantity of butter or butter mixed with a little oil on a rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow baking pan. Add the blintzes and turn to coat well on all sides. Arrange the blintzes (seam side down) on the sheet so their sides are not touching. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp and golden brown on both sides. I usually find it is not necessary to turn them; if they seem slow to brown on top, however, I flip them over for a few minutes. When preparing a large number of blintzes for company, it is usually easier to bake them.
Faye Levy’s Feta-Filled Bourekas (Dairy)
Makes 15 bourekas
Most people purchase the dough to make bourekas. Flaky filo dough is preferred, but puff pastry and pie dough are also used. Triangles are the most common shape because they are the easiest to make with filo dough. For the filling, you can pair a pungent cheese such as feta or Parmesan with a mild one like cottage cheese. .
- ½ lb. filo dough (about 10 sheets)
- ¼ cup farmers’ cheese or ricotta cheese
- ½ cup finely crumbled feta cheese
- 1 large egg, beaten lightly
- 1/3 cup grated cheddar or Swiss cheese
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Small pinch of salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/3 to ½ cup melted butter, for brushing dough
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, for sprinkling
- If filo dough is frozen, thaw in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 2 hours before using, leaving it wrapped.
- To make the filling, mash farmers’ cheese with feta cheese in a medium bowl until blended. Add egg, cheddar cheese, oregano, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper and mix until combined.
- Butter 2 baking sheets. Remove filo sheets from their package and unroll them on a dry towel. With a sharp knife, cut the stack in half lengthwise, to make 2 stacks of 16×7-inch sheets. Cover immediately with waxed paper, then with a slightly damp towel. Work with only 1 sheet at a time, keeping remaining sheets covered with the waxed paper and towel so they don’t dry out.
- Remove 1 filo sheet and brush lightly with melted butter. Fold it in half lengthwise, to make a 16×3½-inch strip. Dab it lightly with butter. Spoon 2 teaspoons cheese filling at one end of the strip. Fold the end of the strip diagonally over filling to form a triangle, and dab it lightly with butter. Continue folding it over, keeping it in a neat triangle after each fold, until you reach the strip’s end. Place on a buttered baking sheet and brush lightly with butter. Shape more pastries with remaining filo sheets and filling.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush pastries again lightly with melted butter and sprinkle them with sesame seeds. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve them warm (not hot), or at room temperature.
Source: Jewish Cooking for Dummies by Faye Levy
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.