On the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which begins on Thursday evening, May 25, the custom in our family and in many households is to eat cheesecake or other dishes made with cheese, cream and butter. No wonder Shavuot is the favorite holiday of many gourmands!
Some scholars think that the reason for this tradition is that in Biblical times, this was the season when cheese was produced. Another explanation relates to Shavuot as the celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The story goes that when the Israelites received the holy scriptures, they abstained from eating meat, and ate dairy foods instead.
In the Bible Shavuot is known as the Festival of First Fruits because this was the time to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the temple in Jerusalem as an offering. In honor of this ritual, we use fruits and vegetables liberally in our meals during the holiday.
We enjoy salads and vegetable dishes enhanced with Mediterranean cheeses such as feta, burrata and Nabulsi. As sweet treats we will bake a sour cream cake with berries and cherries and a buttery breakfast cake infused with tangerine juice.
This sour cream cake is topped with strawberries around the edge and blueberries and cherries in the center. (Photo by Yakir Levy)
Berries, Cherries and Sour Cream Cake
This cake reminds me of my mother’s sour cream coffee cake, with fruit added. The recipe is from “¡Viva Desserts!” by Nicole Presley.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
7 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)
8 strawberries, halved lengthwise
8 cherries, pitted
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 for a convection oven). Grease a square 8-inch metal cake pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Be sure to smear butter all along the pan’s edges as well. Dust pan with 2 tablespoons of the sugar; discard any excess sugar from the pan.
2. In a stand mixer beat remaining 6 tablespoons butter with 1 cup sugar together until mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. Add egg and sour cream and bean until mixture comes together and is smooth. Add vanilla and mix it in.
3. In a separate bowl, sift flour with baking powder and salt if using. Slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix until incorporated.
4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. With a rubber spatula, smooth the top evenly. Place strawberry halves along edge of cake. Place cherries and blueberries in the middle. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over fruit.
5. Bake for 15 minutes (or 10 minutes in a convection oven). Reduce heat to 325 (300 for a convection oven) and bake another 1 hour and 5 minutes (or 45 to 50 minutes in a convection oven), or until a toothpick inserted in cake (not in fruit) comes out clean.
6. Let cake cool for 1 or 2 hours before turning it out of pan. Serve at room temperature.
Sweetened tangerine juice adds flavor and moisture to this breakfast cake. (Photo by Yakir Levy)
Tangerine-Infused Breakfast Cake
Sweetened tangerine juice spooned over the just-baked cake adds flavor and moisture to this loaf. My cake is inspired by the recipe for lemon bread in “Good Bread” by Barbara Joan Hansen.
Yield: 7 or 8 servings
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated tangerine zest
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup tangerine juice
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons tangerine juice
1/4 cup sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. Line pan’s bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one by one. Beat in grated zest.
3. Sift or whisk flour with baking powder and salt. Lightly mix dry ingredients into butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 1/3 cup tangerine juice, then with the milk; begin and end with dry ingredients. Stir in walnuts.
4. Spoon batter into pan and tap it firmly on the work surface to settle the batter evenly.
5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester, toothpick or paring knife inserted in center comes out clean.
6/ While loaf is baking, make glaze: using a whisk, stir 3 tablespoons tangerine juice with 1/4 cup sugar until blended.
7. When loaf is done, remove pan from the oven and poke cake all over with a toothpick. Slowly spoon glaze over loaf, waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. After adding all the glaze, let loaf cool in its pan on a rack for at least 30 minutes.
8. Run a thin metal spatula around loaf. Remove loaf from the pan, leaving it on paper. Let it stand on the rack until completely cooled. Remove parchment paper.
This Mediterranean Salad is topped with with Nabulsi cheese, a Middle Eastern brined cheese and chili-flavored pecans. (Photo by Yakir Levy)
Mediterranean Salad with Nabulsi Cheese and Roasted Pecans
Nabulsi is a Middle Eastern brined cheese that’s easy to slice and often comes studded with nigella seeds. You can substitute feta or another Middle Eastern cheese called Ackawi.
Yield: 2 servings
3 or 4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
2 mini cucumbers or Persian cucumbers, diced
White part of 1 or 2 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large heirloom tomato, diced
10 to 12 slices Nabulsi cheese, drained well of any brine
10 to 12 chili pecans, other spiced pecans or toasted pecans
1. Divide romaine, cucumber slices and green onions between two bowls.
2. Make dressing: In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, small pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour it over the salads.
3. Top with diced tomato and toss lightly. Taste and adjust seasoning; go easy with the salt because the cheese is salty, and spiced pecans can be salty too.
4. Top each portion with cheese slices and spiced pecans.
Roasted red dabbage is topped with feta cheese and hazelnuts. (Photo by Yakir Levy)
Roasted Red Cabbage with Feta Cheese and Hazelnuts
Toasted hazelnuts, pungent cheese and a drizzle of honey enhance the roasted cabbage in this flavorful dish, inspired by a recipe in “The Modern Hippie” Table by Lauren Thomas.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 head red cabbage, cut in 4 to 6 slices (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
Honey, for drizzling
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
2. Toast the hazelnuts in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently, until golden and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
3. Place the slices of cabbage on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Brush olive oil evenly over the cabbage and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes (or 20 to 25 minutes in a convection oven), or until the cabbage is tender and the edges are golden.
5. Sprinkle the cabbage with feta. Return it to the oven and bake 2 or 3 more minutes to soften the cheese slightly. Transfer to a platter.
6. Serve sprinkled with hazelnuts and drizzled with honey.
Caprese Salad is made by arranging tomato slices on a plate, topping them with olive oil, salt, pepper and basil leaves and placing a ball of burrata cheese in the middle of the plate. (Photo by Yakir Levy))
Caprese Salad with Burrata Cheese
Caprese salad is usually made with fresh mozzarella cheese but we love it with burrata, a super-creamy Italian cheese made of fresh mozzarella stuffed with curds and cream. We like it with homemade bread.
Yield: 4 servings
1 ball of burrata cheese
14 to 16 tomato wedges, preferably of heirloom tomatoes of different colors
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
8 to 12 basil leaves
Crusty bread (for serving)
1. Drain any liquid from the burrata. Let the cheese come to room temperature.
2. Arrange tomato wedges on a serving plate. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Top with basil leaves. Set burrata in center of plate.
3. Cut the burrata when you’re ready to eat. You can either use a knife or pull it gently apart. It is very soft inside so the easiest way to eat it is to dip bread in its center.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
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