Shavuot is the late spring festival that 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 the Festival of the First Fruits. Historically, it is the celebration of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai.
Shavuot is generally associated with dishes made with cheese and dairy products since the holiday takes place at a time when animals give birth, and there's an abundance of milk.
At our house, the creamy rice pudding studded with raisins my mother used to make is a Shavuot tradition. Growing up, my brothers and I ate bowls of it for breakfast, as well as for a snack after school or as a dairy-meal dessert. And this culinary tradition has been passed on to sons and grandchildren from coast to coast.
But heeding nutritional concerns, I now prepare my mother's super-easy recipe with low-fat milk, a few drops of orange extract and just a knob of butter. The votes are in. It's delicious.
Most milk and cheese items are now available in low-fat versions. And with the addition of fresh herbs, now in season, calories are reduced, and dishes are boosted with lots of flavor.
In Israel at this time of year, there's an abundance of wheat, grapes, honey and olives. I've incorporated these foods into some of the recipes below to inspire a contemporary Shavuot cuisine.
Wheatberry Salad With Grapes and Olives
Wheatberries are whole, unprocessed wheat kernels rich in vitamins and fiber. They're available in health-food stores and many supermarkets.
1/2 cup wheatberries
3 Tbsps. 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 cold water, covering 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 shredded lettuce or baby spinach.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 174; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 20 g; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 96 mg.
Golden Buck Rarebit
A typical English supper dish with all the Shavuot fixings; melt sharp cheese on toast, and top with a poached or fried egg. Milk may be substituted for beer.
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup beer
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
2 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
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 butter is melted.
Spoon onto toast, dividing equally. Top each portion with a poached or fried egg. Serve hot.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 421; protein, 23 g; carbohydrates, 16 g; fat, 29 g; cholesterol, 282 mg; sodium, 672 mg.
Ma's Stovetop Rice Pudding
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 tsps. 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, the water in the lower pot should be kept simmering. Check often, adding more water as needed.
Stir ingredients to mix. Cover and cook over lowest heat for 11/2 hours, or until thick and creamy. Stir often.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 222; protein, 7 g; carbohydrates, 39 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 17 mg; sodium, 91 mg.
Taratour With Toasted Oats
I first tasted this refreshing Balkan soup many years ago in Israel. It's packed with raw vegetables and fresh herbs, and is bright, crunchy and flavorful.
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats, (not instant)
3 cups plain, low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. hot sauce or to taste
2 kirby cucumbers, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
4 large radishes, quartered and thinly sliced
1/4 cup mint leaves, packed and snipped finely
2 Tbsps. chopped chives
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, sprinkle the toasted oats over top.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 156; protein, 7 g; carbohydrates, 12 g; fat, 9 g; cholesterol, 7 mg; sodium, 87 mg.
A summer fruit pudding from my recipe files, put together while living in Basel, Switzerland.
11/2 cups hot low-fat milk
11/2 cups small chunks of stale (day-old) white bread, packed
1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
2 cups pitted fresh cherries or pitted canned cherries, well drained
Preheat oven to 325°.
Spray a 11/2-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 baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes, or until set in center. Serve warm.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 232; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 27 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 97 mg; sodium, 135 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .