Best known for cheesecake, Shavuot is a little observed holiday with major impact on Jewish history. Falling seven weeks after Passover, Shavuot commemorates the children of Israel receiving the Torah from God at Mount Sinai.
While at other Jewish holidays, meat is considered festive fare, at Shavuot dairy dishes abound. Experts offer several theories to explain the holiday's dairy connection.
The whiteness of milk has often been compared to the purity of the Torah. “Honey and milk on your tongue” is a verse from Song of Songs believed to refer to the Torah.
However, there are practical reasons why dairy foods are a Shavuot tradition. After the children of Israel returned from Mount Sinai, they were probably too tired and hungry to prepare meat. They had just received the laws of kashrut and needed time to kosher their utensils, so they turned to the era’s fast food — milk.
Jump forward a few thousand years. Some people prefer to sprinkle cheese into every dish on the Shavuot menu, while others think of cholesterol and show some restraint.
Shavuot is a two-day holiday which begins at sundown on Tuesday, May 14. Because in America, Shavuot is often celebrated at brunch, it is an easy meal to host. Just serve bagels, lox, and cream cheese, along with some creamy side dishes.
Whatever you do — cheesecake is a must for dessert.
Cucumber Yogurt Soup
1 English cucumber
2 Tbsps. fresh dill, minced
1 tsp. fresh chives, minced
2 cups plain, low-fat yogurt
2 cups water
4 tsp. red wine vinegar
1⁄4 tsp. garlic powder
Cut away seeds from cucumber and dice. Place cucumber in a large bowl, along with the remaining ingredients. Stir until combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Stir again before serving. Ladle into soup bowls and serve immediately.
Honey Marinated Goat Cheese
4 oz. log of goat cheese (Chavrie is a kosher brand)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
1⁄4 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crumbled
1 tsp. lemon zest
Place the log of goat cheese in a small bowl. Drizzle the lemon juice on the top and bottom, followed by the honey. Sprinkle on the thyme.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours, gently turning once or twice.
Just before serving, place the goat cheese log on a small plate. Sprinkle the top with lemon zest. Cut into thin slices and serve on crackers.
Serves 4 as an hors d’oeuvres.
Mediterranean Chopped Salad
(Pareve or Dairy)
8 spears of Romaine lettuce
1 Kirby cucumber, seeds removed and diced fine
1 Tbsp. red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, minced
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. lemon juice or red wine vinegar
kosher salt to taste
1⁄2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (Sabra is a kosher brand) (optional)
Rinse lettuce spears under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Remove the center spines of the spears and discard.
Pile up the spears and cut vertically into ribbons; then dice the ribbons.
Place the lettuce into a salad bowl with the remaining ingredients, including the feta cheese, if using.
Using salad utensils, toss the ingredients until the oil and lemon juice are well incorporated. Serve immediately.
Classic New York Cheesecake
nonstick vegetable cooking spray
1 and 1⁄2 cups commercial Graham Cracker crumbs
5 Tbsps. butter
1 tsp. honey
1⁄4 cup sugar
5 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbsps. flour
1 Tbsp. Confectioner’s sugar
1 and 1⁄2 cups sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
1⁄2 tsp. orange liqueur
3⁄4 tsp. vanilla
2 egg yolks at room temperature
5 eggs at room temperature
Heavily coat a 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray.
To Prepare Crust: Place the crust ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine with hands until well blended and crumbs appear moist. Pour into the springform pan.
With fingers, spread evenly across the bottom and pat down firmly.
To Prepare Filling: Preheat oven to 400.˚
Place first five ingredients in large mixing bowl and beat on high until they are completely blended. Add orange liqueur, vanilla and the 2 egg yolks, and beat again. Add the 5 eggs, one at a time, beating well.
Pour over the crust in the springform pan. Batter will fill pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Top will be golden.
Lower oven temperature to 200˚ and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until top browns, cake feels bouncy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center tests clean.
Cool to room temperature.
Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Yields approximately 16 slices.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: [email protected] .