Blintzes and beyond for Shavuot


The holiday of Shavuot marks the receiving of the Ten Commandments by Moses, but it’s also a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving, when farm bounty and grains — “first fruits” — were brought to the temple. These often included wheat, barley, grapes, figs and dates.

In modern times, Shavuot is a holiday that inspires the preparation of many delicious and traditional recipes that usually feature a variety of vegetarian and dairy foods. Milk, eggs and cheeses of all kinds are used in abundance. 

Blintzes are the most popular of the Shavuot foods. They may be served as a side dish, dessert or main course. They are thin pancakes or crepes that are filled with an assortment of dairy or vegetable mixtures. I have adapted a basic blintz recipe to include a spinach-ricotta combination; served with yogurt or sour cream, it adds a perfect dairy accent.

The Vegetarian Lentil Soup is a family favorite. All the ingredients can be sautéed, blended in a food processor and served immediately, or prepared and stored in the refrigerator for two to three days.

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls are another flexible choice for your Shavuot lunch, brunch or dinner. Thin slices of eggplant are rolled around a three-cheese filling that is combined with lightly beaten egg whites. The spicy, garlicky herbed tomato sauce is a perfect accompaniment.

And don’t forget about dessert. One of my special treats for the holiday is an Apricot Cheesecake, along with bowls of fruit, dates and nuts. Together, they are sure to please!

SHAVUOT BLINTZES

  • Ricotta and Spinach Filling (recipe follows) 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons melted, unsalted margarine
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Sour cream

 

Prepare Ricotta and Spinach Filling; refrigerate. 

In a large bowl, blend the eggs, milk and 1 tablespoon margarine. Add flour and salt, blending until smooth. (If any lumps remain, pour through a fine strainer, pressing any lumps of flour through; mix well.) Cover and set aside for 1 hour.

Lightly grease a 6-inch nonstick skillet. Place over medium heat until hot. Pour in about 1/8 cup batter at a time, tilting pan and swirling to make a thin pancake. When lightly browned, gently loosen edges and turn out of pan onto towel or plate. Repeat with remaining batter. Cool.

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of Ricotta and Spinach Filling in center of browned side of each blintz. Fold lower portion over filling. Tuck in ends then roll to form flat rectangle. Place on larger platter and cover with plastic wrap until ready to cook.

In a large skillet, place remaining 2 tablespoons melted margarine. Cook blintzes about 2 to 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Transfer to serving plates and serve with sour cream.

Makes about 20 blintzes.

RICOTTA AND SPINACH FILLING

  • 2 bunches fresh spinach
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Rinse spinach; remove and discard stems. Place leaves in boiling salted boiling water; boil 10 minutes. Drain and cool, then squeeze dry. Chop finely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, parsley and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Makes 5 to 6 cups.

VEGETARIAN LENTIL SOUP

  • 1 1/2 cups dried lentils
  • 2 1/2 cups warm vegetable broth or water
  • 2 bay leaves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup unsalted margarine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 4 large tomatoes, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Red wine vinegar to taste
  • Plain yogurt or grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

 

Soak lentils in 4 cups of water 6 hours or overnight. Drain and place in a large, heavy pot with vegetable broth and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that forms. Reduce heat, cover partially, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

In a large skillet, heat margarine and olive oil. Add garlic, carrots, parsnips, onion, celery and parsley. Sauté 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add rosemary and tomatoes, and simmer 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar. Remove 2 cups of the cooked lentils and 1/2 cup of the liquid; puree in a processor or blender. Return the puree and sautéed vegetable mixture to the soup pot. Mix well. Bring to boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until thick, 30 to 40 minutes. Ladle soup into warm bowls and garnish with yogurt or grated cheese. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

STUFFED EGGPLANT ROLLS

  • Tomato-Basil Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 pound ricotta or hoop cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh or dried basil
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • Flour
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish

 

Prepare Tomato-Basil Sauce; refrigerate. 

In a bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, parsley, basil and egg yolks.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into cheese mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill.

Slice mozzarella cheese into 2-inch-by-1/2-inch sticks. Set aside.

Trim stem end from eggplants and slice lengthwise 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Dredge in flour seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Shake off excess.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add eggplant slices and sauté on both sides until soft and lightly browned. Drain on paper towels. Cool.

Place 2 tablespoons cheese filling across narrow end of each eggplant slice. Press stick of mozzarella into filling. Roll up eggplant tightly around filling. Place rolls, seam-side down, in greased baking dish. Cover with foil and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. (Do not freeze.)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Spoon some of Tomato-Basil Sauce over each roll. Bake for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbling. With metal spatula, carefully place one or two eggplant rolls on each plate. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve immediately. 

Makes about 16 rolls.

TOMATO-BASIL SAUCE

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped 
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh or dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a skillet, heat oil. Add garlic and onion, and sauté until onions are transparent. Add tomatoes, wine, basil, parsley and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until well blended. Transfer to bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. 

Makes about 4 cups.

APRICOT CHEESECAKE

 

  • 1 (6-ounce) package dried apricots
  • 1 1/2 cups apple juice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Crumbled Sugar-Cookie Crust (recipe follows)
  • Sour Cream Topping (recipe follows)
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small saucepan, combine apricots, apple juice and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Cool. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until pureed. Set aside. Reserve 1/2 cup apricot puree for cookie crust.

Prepare the Crumbled Sugar-Cookie Crust and Sour Cream Topping; set both aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and remaining 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in vanilla and 1/2 cup of the apricot puree. Beat 2 or 3 minutes until light. Pour into crust that has been spread with a thin layer of apricot puree. 

Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until center is set and top is golden. Remove from oven and spread with Sour Cream Topping. Return to oven 5 minutes. Cool. Remove from springform pan and garnish with remaining apricot puree. Chill before serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

CRUMBLED SUGAR-COOKIE CRUST

  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled sugar cookies
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine

 

In a large mixing bowl, food processor or blender, thoroughly blend the cookie crumbs and margarine. Spoon the mixture evenly into a 9-inch springform pan and press down firmly to make an even layer on bottom of pan. Spread with a thin layer of the apricot puree. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

SOUR CREAM TOPPING

  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 

In a small bowl, beat the sour cream, sugar and vanilla until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Makes 2 cups.


Judy Zeidler is a cooking instructor and the author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Recipes Add Spice to New Party Trend


Although today’s bar mitzvah parties are often as elaborate as yesterday’s weddings, there’s a new trend on the horizon — a, noisy, jubilant oneg Shabbat and lunch directly after the ceremony, and a quiet, intimate dinner at home for a few close friends and family at night.

The reasons are strictly practical.

Instead of watching their parents spend exorbitant amounts of money on an elaborate Saturday night party, many bar mitzvahs are imploring that they’d rather steer the funds in another direction.

Molly wants a horse. Sammy wants to spend a summer in Israel. Tiara has her eye on Yale and plans to deposit the funds into her college account.

It’s actually a win-win situation for everyone. The stress of planning the fancy party evaporates; those closest to the event have an intimate setting to revel in their pride and joy’s accomplishment; and, at 13, the celebrant gets the satisfaction of making the first big decision as an adult and enjoying the fruits of this sagacity.

And just because the cost isn’t astronomical, doesn’t mean the setting won’t be inviting and the meal delicious. For the occasion, we’ve come up with a creative, festive menu — easy to prepare in advance, healthful and energizing.

Many of these recipes are from dietitian and chef Cheryl Forberg, who always has an eye toward health, while preparing dishes that delight the senses. The delicious almond nut torte is from L.A. chef Toribio Prado.

Edamame Guacamole with Stone-ground Corn Chips

Adapted from “Stop the Clock Cooking” by Cheryl Forberg (Avery/Penguin Putnam, 2003).

1 cup shelled edamame (fresh, green soy beans)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 to 2 teaspoons chopped chipotle chili, with seeds

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, divided

2 large ripe avocados

1/4 cup stemmed, roughly chopped cilantro

1/2 cup finely chopped skinned tomatoes

2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion

Sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Corn Chips

One 9.5-ounce package stone-ground corn tortillas (12 count)

Olive oil cooking spray

Olive oil as needed

Salt to taste (optional)

Garnish

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

For guacamole, cook edamame in salted boiling water for five minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature.

Combine edamame, garlic, chili and 2 teaspoons lime juice in a food processor bowl. Process until mixture is very smooth, about three minutes. Set aside.

Peel and seed avocados; place in medium mixing bowl. Add remaining 1 teaspoon lime juice and mash with a fork, leaving small chunks. Fold in edamame mixture, cilantro, tomatoes and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro.

For chips, preheat oven to 400 F. Stack the 12 tortillas and cut them into eighths. Spread the tortilla chips in a single layer on baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, if desired.

Bake chips until they are crisp and slightly golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer cooked chips to a basket lined with paper napkins.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Tomato-Ginger Bisque

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small minced onion

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 tablespoon peeled and sliced fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, crumbled

1 small bay leaf

1 1/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth

1/2 cup white wine

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Pinch of saffron threads

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut in chiffonade for garnish

(The chiffonade cut is done by rolling the leaves lengthwise and slicing crosswise into thin slivers.)

Heat olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, shallot, garlic and ginger. Sauté until translucent, stirring occasionally, about seven minutes.

Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf and saffron. Simmer until mixture begins to thicken, about four minutes more.

Add broth, wine and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Remove slices of ginger.

Puree soup in a food processor until smooth. Or, if you prefer, serve it chunky. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with basil.

This recipe can be prepared the day before. When re-heating it, make sure the flame is low so that liquid doesn’t evaporate.

Makes four servings.

Egyptian Eggplant Salad

The simple earthiness of this large salad melds the flavors of the East and the West.

Salad

2 large eggplants

1 1/2 heads romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into fine dice

1/2 medium green bell pepper, cut into fine dice

1 English cucumber, peeled and cut into fine dice

1 cup chopped green onions (green and white parts)

1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, without stems

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint, without stems

Dressing

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Position rack in middle of oven.

Rinse off eggplant. Cut off stem end. Pierce skin with a fork. Lightly coat a 10- to 15-inch baking sheet with olive oil spray. Place eggplant on baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, turning it three or four times to roast evenly.

Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard eggplant skin. Remove most of the seeds and cut into chunks.

Place lettuce into a large mixing bowl. Add peppers, cucumber, green onions, parsley, mint and eggplant.

For dressing, mash garlic with lemon juice until smooth. Add cumin, salt and red pepper flakes or cayenne. Whisk oil in a thin stream until incorporated. There will be about 3/4 cup of dressing.

Pour 1/4 cup of the dressing over salad and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Pass remaining dressing separately. This salad may be assembled the night before, including tossing it with the dressing, which gives it time for the flavors to meld.

Makes eight servings.

Grilled Chicken with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce

Note: Pomegranate syrup (also called pomegranate molasses or pomegranate concentrate) can be found in Middle Eastern markets and in some supermarkets.

Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1/2 teaspoon saffron or turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 cups fat-free chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup pomegranate syrup

1 tablespoon sorghum syrup or dark honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Grilled Chicken

6 (3-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, without stems

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

To prepare sauce, heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until light golden brown, about eight minutes. Add spices and cook until fragrant, about one minute.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat.

Place walnuts in food processor bowl and process until very finely ground. Add remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth, the pomegranate syrup and sorghum syrup.

Process until sauce is creamy and smooth. Carefully add the hot broth and onion mixture. Puree again until smooth.

Return sauce to sauté pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until consistency thickens, about three minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Preheat charcoal grill. Brush chicken lightly with olive oil. Arrange chicken on a rack set about six inches over glowing coals. Grill about four minutes on each side, or until just cooked through (or on a hot, ridged grill pan over medium-high heat). Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Serve each chicken breast with 2 tablespoons of sauce and garnish with chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds (if available.) Pass extra sauce separately.

Makes six servings.

Tezpishtl (Turkish almond nut torte)

From Los Angeles chef Toribio Prado

Syrup

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Cake

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup corn or sunflower oil

Juice and zest of 1 orange

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/4 cups fine matzah cake meal

1 1/4 cups finely chopped blanched almonds.

To make syrup, mix sugar and water together in a saucepan; bring to boil. Add lemon juice; simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Cool.

To make cake, beat eggs until frothy; add sugar and continue to beat until golden and well mixed. Add other ingredients, one at a time; stir into batter.

Pour into oiled and floured 13 x 9 x 2-inch cake pan; bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick.

Remove cake from oven; pour cooled syrup over it. Let cake stand for two hours before serving to allow syrup to be absorbed.

Makes one cake, about 18 pieces.

Honey and Marinated Fig Topping

1/2 pound dried white figs

1 bottle port wine

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup honey

Pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of cinnamon

Wash figs and dry well. Place figs and port wine in large bowl; marinate overnight. Drain figs; reserve wine.

In large saucepan add sugar, lemon juice, honey. Simmer, being careful not to burn sugar.

Raise flame to medium. Add reserved port wine, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reduce by half and add figs. Stir well. Serve with torte.

 

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