It is customary on Shavuot to serve dairy foods. For those for whom meat is not a mitzvah d’oraita every Shabbat and holiday, Shavuot is a breath of fresh air and a nice break from chicken, brisket, and kishke.
What’s the reason for the custom? Before I looked it up, I had heard that the Jews didn’t learn the laws of meat and dairy until Shavuot. In that case, I thought, we should grill cheeseburgers (at least on erev Shavuot). But no, that wasn’t it. Then I heard it was because the laws of shechita (kosher slaughtering) had not yet been handed down. Then, I thought, let’s all go to the treif butcher at the supermarket and order a nice Porterhouse, pay one-quarter the price of kosher beef, and let it drip from our chins. Well, it’s true that after the laws of shechita were given, the Jews had to throw away their pots and pans and kasher their tents, but we’re still not allowed to eat treifah.
Then I looked it up. Here are six reasons from Aish.com for why it’s customary to eat dairy on Shavuot. Note that Aish’s Reason #4 calls for having one of the meals be dairy and the other meat to symbolize our dedication to separating the two. I think that’s a good plan. And since no one needs my help to plan a festive meat meal (most Jews I know can plan one in their sleep), I will offer my own idea for a dairy meal below.
(Note: I know there are problems with this custom of eating dairy, of course. People who are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies want to go hide under a rock during this holiday. Tomorrow I will offer a suggested menu for a hearty parve meal to enjoy on the holiday.)
Salmon with lemon and capers
Lasagna di trei Colori (do I have the Italian right?)
Ruins of the Lord’s Castle cake (for a new take on this cake, see my later post)
For the strawberry soup, thaw about a cup of frozen strawberries per person. When soft and juicy (but still cold), dump the strawberries into a blender with their juice. Add about half a cup of red juice (strawberry, cherry, cranberry, or pomegranate) per cup of strawberries, and blend. Taste for sweetness, adding a little sugar if necessary to take out the tartness. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Since this is a dairy meal, feel free to garnish with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and some mint leaves.
I do salmon very simply: buy a filet large enough for about 150-200g per person. Place the whole salmon filet in an oiled baking dish or on a baking sheet, salt and pepper the top, place thin slices of lemon all over, and sprinkle capers over that. Bake until salmon flakes with a fork in the thickest part, about 25 to 35 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius).
Red lace, cream sauce, pesto. Can’t decide which kind of pasta sauce you like best? Why choose? A version of this lasagna recipe was given to me by a friend in Portland, Oregon, who, with his friends, had an annual lasagna bake-off. This was the defending champion for several years. My friend’s version had dollops of each kind of sauce scattered all over the middle layer; I’ve simplified mine with separate layers of each kind of sauce. Just build a lasagna in the usual way, starting with a layer of red sauce on the bottom of the pan, adding a layer of uncooked standard curly-edged noodles (not the quick-cook kind), ricotta cheese, an optional layer of finely chopped spinach, cream sauce, noodles, ricotta cheese, pesto sauce, noodles, about a cup of hot water, and a top layer of red sauce. Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) for about 1 hour 15 minutes. Test for doneness by poking through the layers with a sharp knife. When noodles are tender, turn up heat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Uncover lasagna and sprinkle with a layer of mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Serve immediately, or let cool completely before covering with foil and refrigerating.
My recent post about salmonella notwithstanding, my mother never trusted raw eggs in food. Therefore, her recipe for Caesar salad calls for chopped hard-boiled egg rather than raw egg in the dressing. Here it is:
2 medium heads Romaine lettuce
1/3 cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 finely chopped hard-boiled eggs
6+ tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 cup croutons (homemade are best)
Break lettuce into large pieces in a large salad bowl. Drizzle oil over lettuce; toss. Sprinkle a couple of dashes of garlic salt, 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, eggs, and parmesan cheese. Toss well. Add croutons and toss again. Serve.
Most of the energy that goes into this meal is the dessert; it’s a real potchkee. That means, of course, that making a cake look like castle ruins is probably a fun activity to do either with kids or other adults; the messier it looks, the better. The recipe comes from a Russian exchange student my parents hosted many years ago. My recommendation is to have two families split the labor in making the stuff for it, and then assemble and eat it together. Otherwise, just make some decadent chocolate chip cookies with butter (and, if you’re like the Cap’n, throw in some butterscotch chips too), or just buy a cheesecake.
1 egg white, beaten
1 cup sugar, divided
1 egg yolk
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar
2+ tablespoons cocoa
½ cup chopped nuts, moistened with water
Dried fruit, diced (the Cap’n doesn’t eat dried fruit; I would substitute chunks of white, milk, and dark chocolate, or leave it out)
Assorted nuts, chopped
3 egg whites, beaten
1 – 1½ cups sugar
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoon flour
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 – 2 tablespoon brandy or whisky
½ cup butter
To make cake, add 1/3 cup sugar to beaten egg white. Add yolk, then remaining sugar. Mix together sour cream, cornstarch, flour, soda, salt, cocoa, nuts and cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
Combine egg whites and sugar for meringues (castle tops). Drop onto greased baking sheet by mounds. Bake just a few minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make cream filling by cooking ingredients (minus butter) over low heat, stirring constantly. When it starts to simmer and thicken, remove. Add butter and stir well; cool.
Make chocolate glaze by mixing ingredients (minus butter) over low heat. Add butter; cool. If too thick to drizzle, add milk in small amounts and stirring until the right consistency.
To assemble, spread bottom layer of cake with cream filling, then add top layer. Coat bottoms of meringues and arrange on top cake layer, then glaze. Between meringue mounds, sprinkle diced dried fruit and chopped nuts. Drizzle cream filling between meringues and coat sides of cake. More nuts and fruit bits, then drizzle glaze all over.
This menu is extremely rich, and pretty intemperate for those counting their calories. However, Shavuot comes but once a year, and if I’d just had a mountain turned upside-down over my head with the offer to drop it on me if I didn’t take on the Torah and its 613 commandments (as the midrash says Hashem did to the Israelites), I’d be less than concerned about a few calories here and there. Live it up, people!
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