Historically, Shavuot — which begins this year on Sunday night, May 16 — is the celebration of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. It begins seven weeks after the first day of Passover. Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, thus deemed the “Festival of the First Fruits” (also called the “Harvest Festival” and “Festival of Weeks”).
Since Shavuot takes place at a time when animals give birth and there’s an abundance of milk, the most familiar culinary custom are dishes made with dairy products. Growing up, my brothers and I ate bowlfuls of thick creamy rice pudding studded with plump raisins — and not just for a dairy meal dessert. We ate it for breakfast instead of the usual porridge and as a snack after school.
But let’s not forget the grains. This is the time of winter wheat harvest so, especially in Israel, grains are included in the traditional dairy dishes. I’ve included a vegan grain dish courtesy of my Israeli colleague Phyllis Glazer, a culinary media wizard.
Practically all milk and cheese items are available in low-fat versions. With the addition of fresh herbs, now in season, dishes can be boosted with bright flavor and a dose of added nutrients. I’ve incorporated these foods in recipes to inspire a contemporary Shavuot cuisine.
Wheatberry Salad with Grapes and Olives (Pareve)
Wheatberries are whole, unprocessed wheat kernels rich in vitamins and fiber. They are available in health food stores and many supermarkets. Serves 4 to 6.
Cook’s Tips: •Cook the wheatberries 1 to 2 days ahead of time; refrigerate until needed. •Mix the dressing ahead. Refrigerate but bring to room temperature before using or zap in microwave 15 to 20 seconds. •No grapes? Substitute diced unpeeled apples or golden raisins.
1/2 cup wheatberries
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. warm honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup snipped fresh parsley
2 cups seedless green grapes, halved
1/3 cup pitted black olives, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Shredded lettuce or baby spinach
Place the wheatberries in a bowl. Add enough cold water to cover by about 1 inch. Refrigerate and soak overnight. Drain.
Place in a saucepan with enough fresh cold water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook until chewy, about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally. Drain.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, honey and olive oil. Add the wheatberries, parsley, grapes and olives. Stir gently to mix.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon over lettuce or baby spinach. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Golden Buck Rarebit (Dairy)
A typical English supper dish with all the Shavuot fixin’s; melted sharp cheese on toast and topped with a poached or fried egg. Milk may be substituted for beer. Serves 6.
Cook’s Tips: •Buy already grated cheddar cheese. •For a perfect poached egg, add a splash of vinegar to simmering water. Do not let water boil. •Leftover flat beer is fine. Don’t use with fizz.
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup beer
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch of nutmeg
6 slices whole-grain bread, toasted
6 poached or fried eggs
In a medium saucepan, stir cheese and beer together over medium low heat until cheese is melted and mixture is smooth. Add the butter, mustard and nutmeg.
Cook, stirring, until the butter is melted. Spoon onto toast, dividing equally.
Top each portion with a poached or fried egg. Serve hot.
Spring Barley Croquettes with Tahini and Fresh Herb Sauce (Dairy)
Courtesy of Israeli food writer Phyllis Glazer
“So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law with her, from the field of Moab — and they came to Bet-lehem in the beginning of the barley harvest.” Book of Ruth 1:22
Serve medium-sized croquettes as a vegetarian main dish or make mini-croquettes and serve as hors d’oeuvres. Makes about 10 medium-sized or 16 mini-croquettes (serves 4 to 6).
Cook’s Tips: •Use kitchen shears to finely shred fresh herbs. •Prepare tahini sauce ahead using bottled minced garlic.
1 cup pearled barley
2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp. honey
3/4 cup finely grated carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
Extra flour for dusting
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. butter or clarified butter
2/3 cup tahina
1/2 cup boiling water
2 to 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 gloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint (optional)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Put barley in a pot and cover with water. Swish with your hand and spill out the water. Repeat until the water runs clear.
Drain well and place in a pot with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, skim off the foam, partially cover and cook over low heat about 15 to 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed.
Check periodically to make sure the barley does not burn, and add a little water, if necessary. Barley should be tender, but not mushy. Let cool until easy enough to handle.
Transfer barley to a mixing bowl and add the salt and flour. In another bowl, mix the garlic, honey and vegetables, and add to the flour mixture.
Mix and knead with moistened hands, adding a little water, if necessary, until the mixture is well-combined and sticks together.
Oil hands lightly and shape the mixture into about 10 palm-sized patties, or 15 to 16 mini-croquettes, if preferred. Dip on both sides in a light coating of flour and shake off excess.
Heat the oil. Fry the patties on one side until browned. Turn and fry the other side. Cover and set aside.
Place the tahina in a small bowl. (Stir the contents of the can or jar before measuring; the tahina usually separates).
Add the hot water gradually while mixing with a spoon till smooth. Add lemon juice, garlic and herbs.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Serve with warmed croquettes.
Taratour with Toasted Oats (Dairy)
I first tasted this refreshing Balkan soup many years ago in Israel. Packed with raw vegetables and fresh herbs, it’s bright, crunchy and flavorful — just right for the season. Serves 4 to 6
Cook’s Tips: •Substitute slivered almonds for toasted oats. •Toast oats in toaster oven but watch carefully, takes seconds. •About 1/3 English cucumber or 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced, may be substituted for the Kirby cucumbers.
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
3 cups plain, low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. hot sauce or to taste
2 Kirby cucumbers, unpeeled and coarsely chopped (those small ones used for pickling)
4 large radishes, quartered and thinly sliced
1/4 cup mint leaves, packed and snipped finely
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
Salt to taste
Place the oats in a small skillet.
Stir over a medium-high heat until toasted to golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.
Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Season with salt to taste. Cover and chill.
To serve: Sprinkle the toasted oats over top.
Ma’s Stovetop Rice Pudding (Dairy)
I prepare my mother’s super-easy recipe with low-fat milk, a few drops of orange extract and just a knob of butter. Serves 4 to 6.
Cook’s Tips: •Best made in a double boiler or a heavy-bottomed saucepan to prevent scorching.
1/2 cup rice
4 cups low-fat milk
1/4 cup sugar or to taste
2 tsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1/2 cup dark raisins
Place all ingredients in a saucepan or in a double boiler. If using a double boiler, water in lower pot should be kept simmering. Check often, adding more water as needed.
Stir ingredients to mix.
Cover and cook over lowest heat for 1-1/2 hours, or until thick and creamy. Stir often.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cherry Pudding (Dairy)
A summer fruit pudding from my recipe files put together while living in Basel, Switzerland. Serves 6
Cook’s Tips: •Instead of fresh, use pitted canned cherries, well-drained. •Challah should be used. Cut into chunks, arrange in one layer and leave out overnight. •Top each portion with a scoop of frozen vanilla yogurt.
1-1/2 cups hot low-fat milk
1-1/2 cups small chunks of stale (day old) white bread, packed*
1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temp
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
2 cups pitted fresh cherries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 1-1/2 quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Pour the milk into a bowl. Add the bread. Stir to soak the bread, then whisk until smooth. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar together.
Beat in the eggs to blend thoroughly. Stir in the bread mixture and lemon rind. Fold in the cherries. Pour into the prepared baking dish.
Bake for 35 minutes or until set in center. Serve warm.