At sundown on Saturday, June 11, Jews around the world will begin the two-day holiday of Shavuot (celebrated only one day in Israel). Shavuot means weeks — because the holiday marks the completion of the counting of the Omer period. Shavuot is also a time in which we celebrate and renew our acceptance of the Torah, which was given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3300 years ago. It is customary to eat dairy foods on the first day of Shavuot. One reason: With the giving of the Torah the Jews became obligated to observe the laws of kashrut. As the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle could be slaughtered nor could utensils be koshered; thus, on that day they ate dairy. Another reason: The Torah is likened to nourishing milk.
Gluten-free cheese blintzes: All of the love, none of the guilt
By Dawn Lerman/JNS.org
In her recently published book, My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes, New York Times wellness blogger and board-certified nutritionist Dawn Lerman shares her food journey and that of her father, a copywriter from the “Mad Men” era of advertising. The recipes include some of her grandmother’s traditional Jewish dishes; but also healthier interpretations of them. In keeping with the dairy-oriented Shavuot holiday, here is an excerpt from My Fat Dad, in addition to a recipe for gluten-free cheese blintzes.
On Shavuot, my dad looked forward to little packages of love—aka cheese blintzes. I had made them from scratch several times with my maternal grandmother Beauty before we moved from Chicago to New York City, but never by myself. When I called my grandmother for guidance, she said that since I was almost 10, which was her age when she started making the blintzes for her family and the boarders who lived in her home, she knew I could do it. But my grandmother always thought I could do everything perfectly, which was not always the case—especially when it came to singing and dancing, which were my 4-year-old little sister’s forte.
“The trick to not being overwhelmed making the blintzes is to do it in two parts,” said Beauty. “In the evening, make the crepes for the shell and fill them so they would have time to set overnight and be ready for frying in the morning.”
Beauty said the smell of the blintzes frying in butter could arouse even the deepest of sleepers. With my grandmother’s encouragement, I began gathering the cheese for the filling, and the yogurt and berries for the topping. I wanted my blintzes to be as delicious as the traditional Jewish ones that my dad loved—but these ones needed to be a little lighter on calories. My dad was now a top creative director at a major ad agency, and appearances were very important to his clients—especially since his clients included many major fast food and beverage products.
According to Beauty, the secret to making the perfect blintzes was to get the shell paper-thin. “It’s all in the wrist,” she would say. I remember, when I was little, watching her effortlessly tilt the hot pan as she poured in the silky batter. She would carefully swirl the liquid mixture to evenly coat the bottom of the cast-iron skillet. After about 30 seconds, she would run a knife around the edge of the crepe to prevent it from sticking. I had seen my grandmother prepare the blintzes so many times that I was confident that I could replicate them, even though I was swapping my father’s diet protein powder for flour—making sure they met the requirements of his new low-carbohydrate diet.
Beauty’s cheese blintzes – with a twist
4 to 6 servings
My grandmother used to call these “little packages of love.” They consist of thin dough around sweetened cheese, topped with fresh fruit. They’re perfect for brunch or anytime you want to make loved ones feel special. What follows is a diet-friendly version of my grandmother’s original recipe.
Ingredients: For the crepe batter:
3 mashed bananas
3 tablespoons milk or skim milk
6 scoops protein powder of your choice
1 1/2 cup egg whites, beaten until stiff
Cooking spray for pan
For the cheese filling:
12 ounces farmer’s cheese
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar (optional)
2 cups berries, sliced thin
Dollop of yogurt
Directions: To make the batter:
Prepare batter. Mash the bananas and add the milk. Then stir in the protein powder and egg whites. Make sure you beat the egg whites separately until stiff, and then fold in. Note: The blintzes have a better texture if the batter rests for half an hour at room temperature. You can also let the filling chill for half an hour in the refrigerator. If the batter gets too thick while it is sitting, you can thin it with a little bit of cold water. Make the filling. Combine all of the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth.
To make the crepes:
Grease a 6- or 7-inch skillet until it is hot, but not smoking. Put a ladle full of batter into the skillet. Tilt pan to swirl the batter so it covers the bottom of the skillet. Fry on one side until golden-brown bubbles form and the top is set. Loosen edges of the crepe and slip it out of the skillet onto a plate. Repeat the above procedure until all the batter is used. Grease skillet each time before pouring batter. After all the crepes are made, begin filling them. The brown side should be facing up. Place 3 tablespoons of filling on one edge. Roll once to cover filling. Fold the sides into the center and continue rolling until completely closed. After all the blintzes are assembled, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet and place each crepe, seam side down, in the skillet. Fry 2 minutes on each side, turning once. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, garnish with fresh berries, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
By Danielle Oron
(The Nosher via JTA) — I’m a cheese and dairy fanatic. So for obvious reasons my favorite holiday is Shavuot. This is when spring has sprung and my family makes a whole spread of cheese and dairy-filled foods and desserts. This year I’m also making bourekas – puff pastry or a simple butter pie dough filled with cheese and either potato, mushrooms or spinach. They’ll be filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese and macerated strawberries, since they are in season. No fresh strawberries around? Try using jam instead. You can also make these ahead and freeze them. The beauty of bourekas is that you can bake them even if they are frozen.
1 sheet of puff pastry, cut into 3 1/2- to 4-inch squares
3/4 cup finely diced strawberries
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup ricotta
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
Mix the diced strawberries and sugar (1/2 teaspoon) in a small bowl and allow to sit for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta with the sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons) and the vanilla bean paste. Prepare an egg wash by whisking the egg with a splash of water. Line a sheet pan with tin foil and coat with a bit of cooking spray. Fill each square with about 2 teaspoons of ricotta filling and about a teaspoon of strawberries, leaving at least a 1/4-inch border. Brush some egg wash along the edges of the puff pastry and seal them into triangles. Use a fork to press down along the edges. Brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with lots of coarse sugar. Transfer the bourekas to the prepared sheet pan and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. At this point you can transfer them to storage bags and keep frozen until you’re ready to bake them.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and bake until golden brown and flaky, about 18-20 minutes. Enjoy!
Danielle Oron is a chef, photographer and blogger (“I Will Not Eat Oysters”), the owner of a milk and cookies bakery in Toronto, and now a cookbook author. She is Israeli, Moroccan, Canadian and American and was classically trained at the French Culinary Institute.
The Nosher food blog offers an array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.