Dabble with Dairy Dishes


Shavuot — or “weeks” — is known by several names. It is called Pentecost and the “Feast of Weeks” because it falls on the 50th day after the second night of Passover. This located Shavuot in the midst of spring, when the earth is beginning to yield to the season’s warm proddings.

Shavuot is thus called Chag Habikurim, the “Feast of the First Fruits,” to bring to mind one of the three pilgrimages from Palestine to the Temple of Jerusalem, where the products of the harvest were presented in offering.

On Shavuot, we commemorate God’s covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai, as told in the book of Exodus. This makes Shavuot zeman matan toratenu, or the “Season of the Giving of the Torah,” and it is sometimes marked by children’s confirmation ceremonies or the registering of children in Hebrew class.

This commitment is reflected in the story of Ruth, which is read on Shavuot and contains the inspiriting words: “Whither thou goest, I will go; … thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.”

This joy-filled, festive two-day holiday (one day among Reform Jews and in Israel) is made even more festive by decorating with greenery and plants, and enjoying the good foods of the season.

Preparing dairy-based dishes is sometimes traced to the custom of serving morning refreshments to those who have studied the Torah all night on Shavuot. The prospect of cheese blintzes and latkes, noodle pudding and cheesecakes makes it a much anticipated celebration.


Cold Beet and Cucumber Soup

Diced cucumbers and beets make this soup a tasty introduction to this early summer holiday meal.

6 cups vegetable broth or water
5 medium beets, trimmed, peeled and quartered
1 large cucumber, preferably hothouse, peeled and seeded
1 cup sour cream or yogurt
3 Tbsps. finely chopped mint leaves
salt and pepper
6 sprigs of mint, for garnish
Bring the broth or water to a boil.

Add beets and simmer, partially covered, until they are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove 6 pieces of beet. Cut into small dice and set aside.

Purée the remaining beets with cooking liquid, along with half of the cucumber. Dice the remaining half and set aside.

Stir sour cream into purée until well-blended. Stir in diced beets and cucumbers.

Refrigerate until well-chilled, about 4 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, stir in the chopped mint, and taste for salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls.

Garnish each with a sprig of mint, and serve.

Serves 6.


Asparagus-and-Herbed Cheese Strudel

This flaky golden strudel may look complicated, but when the recipe is done — in stages — it become a simple assembly job. Besides, the delighted look on people’s faces as they take the first taste is worth the little fuss involved.

1 lb. thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 oz. mild goat cheese
4 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh tarragon or 1 tsp. dried tarragon

2 Tbsps. chopped chives
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

8 sheets phyllo dough, at room temperature
1/4 cup melted butter

Cook asparagus about 3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside to cool on a rack lined with paper towels.

Preheat oven to 375?.

Grease a baking sheet.

Combine cheeses with tarragon, chives, salt and pepper until smooth.

Stir in the cooked asparagus pieces.

Place a sheet of phyllo dough horizontally in front of you. Brush with butter. Continue until you have a stack of 4 sheets. Do not brush top sheet with butter. Using half the filling, spread an even, 3-inch-wide strip about one inch from the bottom and two inches from the sides.

Fold up the bottom, and fold in the sides of the dough and roll up like a jelly roll. Place the strudel, seam-side down, on the baking sheet. Brush top and sides with butter. With a sharp knife, cut several slits in the top of the strudel. Repeat with the remaining phyllo sheets and filling.

Bake until golden-brown and crispy, about 30 minutes.

Let cool about 15 minutes before serving.

Cut into 3-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife.

Serves 10.


Poached Salmon With Two Sauces

Everybody loves this elaborate-looking presentation, especially the cook since everything can be prepared one or two days in advance. Served at room temperature, it’s perfect for any warm-weather occasion.

2 cups dry white kosher wine
4 cups water
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
4 sprigs of parsley
1 bay leaf
1 scallion
8 salmon steaks, about 1-inch thick (about 6 oz. each)
Lemon-Mustard Sauce (recipe follows)
Roasted Tomato- and-Red Pepper Sauce (recipe follows)

Combine wine, water, lemon juice, salt, parsley, bay leaf and scallion in a skillet large enough to hold the salmon in one layer.

Bring to a boil over high heat and gently place the salmon in the liquid. Reduce heat so that the liquid is at a bare simmer. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and uncover. Let salmon cool in poaching liquid.

Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate this dish for up to one day and bring to room temperature before serving.

Pass along both sauces with the salmon.

Serves 8.


Lemon-Mustard Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
2 tsps. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper

Whisk together all ingredients until well-blended.

Taste for salt and pepper. May be made one day ahead and refrigerated.

Bring to room temperature before serving.


Roasted Tomato- and-Red Pepper Sauce

4 large tomatoes, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 clove garlic
1/2 sweet onion, peeled and cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsps. olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Place all ingredients except cilantro in a blender or food processor; blend until smooth.

Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in cilantro. May be made one day ahead and refrigerated.

Bring to room temperature before serving.


Very Berry Blintzes

This fresh dish is always a great choice for the “Shehecheyanu” — the blessing over the new fruits of the season.

Batter Ingredients:

2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
butter or oil, for frying

Filling Ingredients:

8 oz. regular milk or low-fat cottage cheese, draine
8 oz. cream cheese
pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 cup blueberries, raspberries or a combination of both
Berry Sauce (recipe follows)

Heat a small amount of butter or oil in a well-seasoned or nonstick 6- or 7-inch skillet (make sure that the pan is very hot).

Pour about 3 tablespoons of batter into the pan, tilting it so that the batter covers the bottom of the pan evenly.

Cook about 2 to 3 minutes. The uncooked side will have lost its shine and look dull when its ready.

Remove and repeat process until all the batter is used. Stack the blintz rounds one on top of the other. You should have at least 12.

With an electric beater, combine the cottage cheese and the cream cheese with salt, sugar, egg yolk and lemon zest. Fold in the berries by hand.

Place about 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the cooked side of a blintz. Fold two opposite sides over the filling, then overlap the other two sides. Repeat with remaining blintzes and filling.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat butter or oil.

Place filled blintzes in pan, seam-side down. Cook until golden-brown, about 3 minutes per side.

Serve 2 blintzes per person with a spoonful of berry sauce poured over top each.

Serves 8.


Berry Sauce

1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Purée ingredients in a blender or food processor.

Serve and enjoy!

From Jewish Holiday Feasts, by Louise Fiszer and Jeannette Ferrary.



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