By Ethel G. Hofman
(JNS) Historically, Shavuot is the celebration of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. It 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 deemed the “Festival of the First Fruits” (also called the “Harvest Festival” and “Festival of Weeks”).
Since Shavuot takes place at a time when animals give birth and there’s an abundance of milk, the most familiar culinary custom are dishes made with dairy products. Growing up, my brothers and I ate bowlfuls of thick creamy rice pudding studded with plump raisins–and not just for a dairy meal dessert. We ate it for breakfast instead of the usual porridge and as a snack after school.
But let’s not forget the grains. This is the time of winter wheat harvest so, especially in Israel, grains are included in the traditional dairy dishes. I’ve included a vegan grain dish courtesy of my Israeli colleague Phyllis Glazer, a culinary media wizard.
Practically all milk and cheese items are available in low-fat versions. With the addition of fresh herbs, now in season, dishes can be boosted with bright flavor and a dose of added nutrients. I’ve incorporated these foods in recipes to inspire a contemporary Shavuot cuisine.
Wheatberry Salad With Grapes and Olives (Pareve)
Wheatberries are whole, unprocessed wheat kernels rich in vitamins and fiber. They are available in health food stores and many supermarkets.
*Cook the wheatberries 1 to 2 days ahead of time; refrigerate until needed.
*Mix the dressing ahead. Refrigerate but bring to room temperature before using or zap in microwave 15 to 20 seconds.
*No grapes? Substitute diced unpeeled apples or golden raisins.
½ cup wheatberries
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon warm honey
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup snipped fresh parsley
2 cups seedless green grapes, halved
⅓ 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 enough fresh cold water to cover 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 lettuce or baby spinach. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Ma’s Stovetop Rice Pudding (Dairy)
I prepare my mother’s super-easy recipe with low-fat milk, a few drops of orange extract and just a knob of butter.
*Best made in a double boiler or a heavy-bottomed saucepan to prevent scorching.
½ cup rice
4 cups low-fat milk
¼ cup sugar or to taste
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon orange extract
½ cup dark raisins
Place all ingredients in a saucepan or in a double boiler. If using a double boiler, water in lower pot should be kept simmering. Check often, adding more water as needed. Stir ingredients to mix. Cover and cook over lowest heat for 1½ hours, or until thick and creamy. Stir often. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cherry Pudding (Dairy)
A summer fruit pudding from my recipe files put together while living in Basel, Switzerland.
*Instead of fresh, use pitted canned cherries, well-drained.
*Challah should be used. Cut into chunks, arrange in one layer and leave out overnight.
*Top each portion with a scoop of frozen vanilla yogurt.
1½ cups hot low-fat milk
1½ cups small chunks of stale (day old) white bread, packed*
¼ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 cups pitted fresh cherries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 1½ 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 the prepared baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes or until set in center.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.
Main Photo: Grains are included in the traditional dairy dishes associated with the holiday of Shavuot. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.