According to tradition, Shavuot—the two-day holiday that begins on the eve of the evening of May 25, the sixth day of the Jewish month of Sivan—marks the Israelites’ receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. These days, some Jews pull an all-nighter to study the Torah. Staying awake is said to be a response to a biblical commentary that says the Israelites slept so deeply the night before the Torah was revealed at Mount Sinai that they had to be awakened with thunder and lightning.
Like Passover and Sukkot, Shavuot is rooted in the agricultural season. Originally, it was the beginning of the wheat harvest. Before the fall of the Temple, thousands of Jews traveled to Jerusalem with thanksgiving offerings. The High Priest placed twin loaves baked from newly harvested wheat on the alter. Milk was said to be “cleansing,” so one of the oldest customs is that dairy dishes are served on Shavuot. Other explanations are that at this time of the year, animals give birth and there are new grasses to feed on. And white, as in milk and milk products, symbolize the purity and sanctity of the Torah.
For me, Shavuot brings back tasty memories. There were no kosher markets in the remote Shetland Islands where I grew up. And who heard of cream cheese? My mother improvised with dairy ingredients that we had at hand, and that were cheap and plentiful. Milk would quickly turn sour since we had no refrigeration. One well-thumbed recipe I still have, written in her own hand, is for “drippy cheese.” A muslin bag, filled with sour milk, hung over the kitchen sink faucet to drip all the liquid into the sink. In the morning, she scraped the creamy mass into a bowl, lightly seasoned it with salt and white pepper, and we dubbed it Shavuot “drippy cheese.”
The recipes below are dairy-rich, beyond the basic cheesecake, blintzes and bourekas.
The Tahini Milkshake was inspired by my niece Susan, who raved about tasting it at a neighborhood eatery. Tarator, a Bulgarian summer favorite documented as far back as 1876, is an herb salad with yogurt. Thick and refreshing, each spoonful bursts with crunchy springtime flavors. Golden Apricot Jam, prepared with dried apricots, was a staple in our island home where fresh fruits were unavailable year-round. Slather Drippy Cream Cheese on toast and crown with a dollop of the jam. (I serve it on toasted bagels.) A typical English supper with all the Shavuot fixings is Boozy Buck Rarebit. Top the cheesy mixture on toast with a fried or poached egg, add salad greens, and you have a filling lunch or supper. Don’t dismiss Buttermilk Pie by saying you don’t like buttermilk. Buttermilk only adds creaminess to the pie filling; there are no traces of tartness. Finish off this dessert with sliced strawberries, ice-cream or a spoonful of Golden Apricot Jam.
Balkan Tarator with Toasted Oats
Ma’s “Drippy” Cream Cheese
Golden Apricot Jam
Boozy Cheddar Rarebit With an Egg
Butter Crumb Macaroni
Tahini Milk Shake (Dairy)
*Substitute ⅛ teaspoon each of cinnamon, allspice, cardamom and pinch of nutmeg for Moroccan Blend spices.
*Spice blends are available from Pereg online. They pre-mix several spices in one.
*Tahini, or blended sesame seeds, separates. Mix well to a smooth paste before use.
*Low-fat milk may be used.
1½ ripe bananas, sliced
1½ cups milk
¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons, tahini
¾ teaspoon Moroccan Blend spice
2 teaspoons honey or to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender jar or food processor. Process on high until mixture is smooth.
Serve at room temperature or pour over shaved ice.
Balkan Tarator With Toasted Oats (Dairy)
*Substitute granola for toasted oats.
⅓ cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
3 cups plain yogurt
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon garlic powder
4-6 drops of hot sauce or to taste
3 Kirby cucumbers, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
¼ cup mint leaves, packed and snipped finely
¼ cup fresh dill, snipped finely
salt to taste
Place the oats in a small skillet. Stir over 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: Spoon into bowls. Sprinkle the toasted oats over top.
Ma’s ‘Drippy’ Cream Cheese (Dairy)
Makes ½ cup
*Milk or buttermilk may be “soured” by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons white vinegar. Do not stir. Let stand at room temperature overnight or until thickly curdled.
*May use buttermilk.
*Season with finely chopped green onion, parsley or cilantro.
*Cheesecloth square should measure approximately 15×15 inches.
3 cups sour milk
salt and white pepper to taste
Drape a cheesecloth square over a medium bowl so that the edges hang over the sides.
Pour in the sour milk.
Pull the corners together and tie tightly leaving a loop. Remove from the bowl and hang over the kitchen faucet so that liquids can drip into the sink. Leave overnight.
The contents will have solidified. Turn into a small dish, scraping all the cheese from the cheesecloth.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill.
Best served at room temperature.
Golden Apricot Jam (Pareve)
Makes about 3 pints
*Add 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger.
*If apricots are dry, cover them with hot water and steep for 10 minutes to soften.
12 ounces dried apricots, quartered
¾ cup sugar
⅓ cup golden raisins
1 medium seedless orange, unpeeled and chopped
1 cup water
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Stir to dissolve sugar.
Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for 45 to 60 minutes until thickened.
Pour into a heatproof bowl or warm jelly jars. Refrigerate when cool.
Keeps in the fridge for up to three weeks.
Boozy Cheddar Rarebit (Dairy)
*Use any sharp cheese, though a good cheddar is best.
*Fold chopped lox or flaked tuna into the mixture.
*May substitute milk for beer.
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
¾ cup beer
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
6 thick slices of whole-grain bread, toasted
6 fried or poached eggs
In a medium saucepan, stir cheese and beer together over low heat until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Add the butter, mustard and nutmeg. Cook stirring until the butter is melted.
Cool slightly. Spoon onto toast, dividing equally. Top each portion with an egg.
Butter Crumbed Macaroni (Dairy)
*Use cooked hot noodles instead of macaroni.
*Substitute soft whole wheat or multigrain bread for white bread.
3 tablespoons butter
1½ cups coarse soft white breadcrumbs
2 cups cottage cheese
2 scallions thinly snipped
4 cups hot cooked macaroni
salt and white pepper to taste
In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Raise the heat to high and add the breadcrumbs.
Cook, stirring often, until crumbs are golden brown and crisp. Set aside.
In a large bowl, stir the cottage cheese and scallions into the macaroni. Fold in the browned butter crumbs.
Season with salt and pepper. Eat while warm.
Buttermilk Pie (Dairy)
*Use a deep dish ready-made pie crust. Thaw before use.
*Eggs at room temperature mix better with a batter and rise more easily.
*Pie weights are reusable small ceramic balls to prebake a pie crust to prevent it from rising.
*Top each serving with a dollop of Golden Apricot Jam or sliced strawberries.
9-inch pie crust
¼ cup currants
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup full-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place a sheet of wax paper on the bottom of the pie crust. Cover with dried beans or pie weights. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and wax paper.
Sprinkle currants over the bottom of the crust. Set aside to cool. Reduce heat to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar 1 to 2 minutes until blended. Mixture will be grainy.
Add eggs, one at a time, whisking with a little flour to avoid curdling.
Add the remaining flour, buttermilk, allspice and lemon juice. Whisk until smooth. Pour into the prepared pie crust.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until the top is just set. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Slice and serve.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.