What’s going on in your kitchen this weekend? Are you marinating ribs for a Memorial Day barbecue or making blintzes to celebrate Shavuot? This being the Bay Area, land of the multi-layered, self-created identity, you might very well be doing both. But since the world, both online and off, already bounds in recipes and opinions about ribs, let’s talk about foods for Shavuot.
The go-to food, of course, is anything dairy-based. Most Jewish holidays have a one-word description of the foods associated with them. Hanukkah? Latkes. Purim? Hamantashen. Passover? Matzoh. Rosh Hashanah? Honey. With Shavuot, it’s dairy. Whether or not you follow Jewish dietary laws forbidding the mixing of meat and milk at the same meal, it’s traditional to make the celebratory meal of this late-spring holiday be a dairy-focused, meatless one. Blintzes, bagels with cream cheese and lox, pastries filled with sweetened farmer’s cheese, cheese platters, cucumber-and-radish salads mixed with sour cream or yogurt, cheesecake: they all have a place on the table, and the milk used could be cow, sheep, or goat.
Shavuot is both a religious and a seasonal, agricultural holiday. Most importantly, it celebrates the giving of the holy books, or Torah, to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, which is commemorated with all-night study sessions of Torah. But it’s also a spring festival, celebrating the harvest of the season’s first fruits, which were taken by farmers in joyous procession to the Temple as a tithe or offering.
This past week, I helped kosher catering company 12 Tribes feed a group of Jewish-studies scholars during a two-day academic conference. Company founder and rabbi Rebecca Joseph created a dessert salad which she dubbed First Fruits Salad in honor of the upcoming holiday. As she wrote to me later, “Besides being easy to make and using all Biblical ingredients [all the items in the salad are mentioned at least once in the Bible], I like that this salad also has an echo of Passover haroset. We count the days from Passover to Shavuot [in a daily ritual known as the Counting of the Omer] as a way of remembering the first fruits brought to the Temple–barley at the beginning of the period, fruits on Shavuot.”
The recipe is very simple, and works equally well as a light, refreshing dessert (we served it with biscotti) or a tasty addition to a brunch table. It’s delicious alongside a dairy-based dessert, or, for those who can’t have dairy in their diets, with a delectable alternative like this tofu-based Parve at Sinai Cake, which resembles an Italian-style, ricotta-based cheesecake, rather than the denser, richer New York type.
Keeping in mind the significance of barley at this time, I might also serve a grain-and-vegetable salad, like Wheat Berry Sunshine Salad or Wheat Berry Salad with Green Onions and Feta, substituting cooked barley for the wheat berries. For best results, soak your barley in water to cover for several hours. Drain, then cook like rice, using a one-to-three ratio of barley to water (for example, one cup barley to three cups water). Bring water and barley to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, until barley is tender-chewy.
But back to the First Fruits Salad. Making this salad is a snap. Peel, core, and cube several of your favorite tart eating apples; I would suggest Honeycrisp or Granny Smith. Toss with chopped dates, toasted slivered almonds, and currants. In a small bowl, stir together equal parts pomegranate molasses and honey. (Joseph uses Gipson’s Golden blackberry honey.) Adjust the proportions to your taste, then drizzle the pomegranate dressing over the salad and toss to coat. The idea is to add a little flavor and tanginess; the fruits shouldn’t be heavily coated. Enjoy!