Two kinds of food are associated with Shavuot. The first group is predictable, somewhat heavy, dairy dishes: cheesecakes, knishes, noodle kugels, strudels, and, of course, blintzes. Most of us remember them from our childhood. They were laden with cream, butter and cheese, and may not seem as appealing now as they once did.
The second group is associated with the spring harvest of biblical times and includes wheat, barley, honey, olives and the traditional "first fruits," such as grapes, figs and dates. These may be more suitable for present-day dining tastes.
For instance, a typical Israeli salad: tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet red peppers, accented with the Mediterranean flavors of cumin, mint and lemon. Braided whole-wheat rolls with shredded carrots are a perfect accompaniment.
A risotto made with barley is delicious and carries out the harvest theme. The barley is sauteed, then simmered in broth for a short time and finished in the oven.
Whitefish most closely resembles the delicious "St. Peter's fish" from the sea of Galilee, which I remember from my travels in Israel. The fillets are quickly grilled over high heat to retain their moisture. Use a barbecue grill, or a specially designed cast-iron skillet with ridges on the bottom, available at cook stores. Or use any heavy skillet and forego the grill marks.
Serve a fresh green vegetable for added color on the plate. A variety of dry white wines from Israel are becoming more available and will go well with this dish.
One of the nicest ways to serve the "first fruits" is in a gratin. It's easier than you think. Select colorful fresh or dried fruits and berries, any variety your family likes. Layer them in individual custard cups or small oven-proof bowls; spread with a topping of yogurt and sweet crumbs and brown quickly under the broiler. The result is a combination of sweet and tart flavors that will appeal to young and old.
But let's be flexible. There's no harm in including an old favorite such as cheesecake, perhaps topped with fruit or berries.
SHAVUOT MENU FOR SIX
Israeli Spring Salad With Cumin Dressing Harvest Wheat Rolls Grilled White Fish With Lemon-Butter Barley Risotto Steamed Green Beans Fruit Gratin Dry White Israeli Wines ISRAELI SPRING SALAD WITH CUMIN DRESSING
2 cups diced peeled cucumbers
2 tomatoes, diced
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and diced
2 cups mixed salad greens
1 cup thinly sliced pitted green olives
Combine cucumbers, tomatoes and red pepper in bowl. Toss with enough dressing to moisten, about 1/4 cup. Arrange prepared greens in circle on individual salad plates. Mound salad in center. Garnish with olives. Makes 6 servings.
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tajine
1 teaspoon honey
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup olive oil
Blend garlic, lemon juice, tajine, honey and cumin in blender or food processor. Continue processing, adding oil in thin stream until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
HARVEST WHEAT ROLLS
2 cups whole-wheat flour
3 cups unbleached flour
1 package dry yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil or safflower
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup grated peeled carrots
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Combine flours. Place 2 cups flour mixture, yeast and salt in bowl of electric mixer. Heat warm water, olive oil and honey in saucepan until very warm, 115 to 120 degrees. Add water mixture to flour mixture, beating until well blended. Beat in 1 egg, carrots and 2 cups flour mixture to make soft dough.
Turn dough onto floured board and knead 5 to 10 minutes, adding remaining flour to make smooth and elastic dough. Place dough in oiled bowl and oil top. Cover with towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Line baking sheet with foil. Brush with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. To make rolls, break off about 30 small pieces of dough. Form each piece into long rope. Twist into knot and place on prepared baking sheet. Cover with towel and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
To make 3 Mini-Challah instead, divide dough into 9 equal parts. Shape each part into long rope. Working with 3 ropes, pinch together 1 end of ropes and braid. Pinch other ends together. Repeat with remaining 6 ropes. Place on prepared baking sheet, cover with towel and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Beat remaining egg and brush top of rolls or challah. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake at 350 degrees 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about 30 rolls or 3 Mini-Challah.
GRILLED WHITEFISH WITH LEMON BUTTER
6 (6-ounce) whitefish fillets
3 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat grill or heavy cast-iron skillet or heavy skillet. Brush with oil (or spray with non-stick coating before heating). Brush fillets with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place on grill or skillet and cook or grill until fillets are just cooked through but still moist, about 1 1/2 minutes per side (depending on thickness).
Place on heated serving plates and top each fillet with 1 tablespoon Lemon Butter. Serve with Barley Risotto and green beans. Makes 6 servings.
Note: If using cast-iron skillet with ridges, place fillets on ridges at angle, and halfway through cooking on each side, rotate fillets (90 degrees) to give them grill pattern.
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon minced parsley
Combine garlic, butter, lemon juice and zest in blender or food processor. Process until butter is smooth. Blend in parsley.
With rubber spatula, transfer to sheet of plastic wrap and shape into cube. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. Store in refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. Makes 3/4 cup.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 cup medium pearl barley
3 1/2 cups warm chicken or vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in large oven-proof skillet. Add onion and saute until tender. Add barley and stir to coat with onion mixture. Add 1 cup stock and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Stir in another 1 cup stock and simmer until absorbed. Add remaining stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bring mixture to boil, cover and bake at 350 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes for 30 minutes, or until barley is tender. Makes 6 servings.
6 cups assorted fruit (berries, orange segments, figs or dates)
1/2 cup sugar
1 (8-ounce) carton plain yogurt
1 cup macaroons or sponge cake crumbs
2 cups Streusel Topping
Slice fruit into bite-size pieces. Arrange fruit on bottom of 6 (1 1/2-cup) oven-proof custard cups or soup bowls.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over each serving. Spread thin layer of yogurt over fruit. Sprinkle with thin layer of crumbs and layer of streusel.
Place bowls on baking sheet and place baking sheet 6 inches from preheated broiler. Broil until streusel topping is golden brown and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds
Combine brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in large bowl of electric mixer. Add butter and blend until crumbly. Do not overmix. Blend in nuts. Cover and set aside. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.