Dairy meal options for Shavuot are plentiful

Zucchini and Sweet Potato Quiche in Whole Wheat Pastry. Photo:  Michael Kahn

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah and is one of three harvest festivals on the Jewish calendar along with Sukkot and Passover. The menus for this holiday feature foods made from the harvests of the first fruits, including grains such as barley and wheat.

 One traditional Shavuot holiday meal is dairy. An intriguing explanation offered by the scholars makes a connection between the timing of the giving of the Torah and the late spring harvest. According to this explanation, because the Jews were not yet familiar with the laws of kashrut included in the Torah, they chose to omit meat from their festive meal. And thus this decision, made about 3,300 years ago, became a holiday tradition.

 Here in the United States, we typically honor this tradition by serving cheese-filled kreplach, cheese blintzes, noodle kugels or cheesecake. These are culinary traditions that came to America by way of our Ashkenazi great-grandparents. And while there is certainly meaning in perpetuating family traditions, there is nothing sacred about these particular dairy dishes.

 Indeed, traditional Shavuot foods vary across the globe and are influenced by the region from which your ancestors came. If your family is of Czech or Hungarian descent, your holiday menu might include a fruit soup, such as cherry soup, which is one of the first fruits of spring. For Jews of Ukranian descent, it is traditional to bake challahs in the shape of ladders. If your family is of Spanish or Portuguese descent, your holiday meal might be highlighted by siete cielos, a stunning challah or baklava-type pastry referred to as Seventh Heaven. In other words, eating cheesecake on Shavuot is not the equivalent of eating matzah on Passover.

In keeping with the tradition of eating a dairy meal on Shavuot, think about foods that are popular with your family, and perhaps dishes you may not prepare on a regular basis. If, for example, you have been craving a luscious and rich macaroni and cheese casserole, this would be the time to make it. You might want to prepare a lovely risotto with spring greens and Parmesan cheese, or a layered vegetable, potato and Gruyere cheese gratin. All of these dairy dishes would be appropriate for Shavuot.

 I am proposing a quiche, pie or galette. The pastry doughs for these stunning and delicious one-dish meals can be made well in advance and frozen for up to one month until needed. (If you’re really strapped for time you could substitute premade pastry dough.) Each dish can be assembled and baked a day in advance and reheated before serving, if so desired.

 In creating the recipes on this page, I used ingredients from my pantry and refrigerator. Feel free to substitute other vegetables or cheeses to tailor the dish to your family’s tastes. Any of the fillings can also be baked in any of the three pastry crusts.

 Enjoy the holiday and your Shavuot dairy meal.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].