Carbs, Cheese and Shavuout (Cantor Ashkenazy)

Cantor Mariel AshkenazyCarbohydrates and cheese- the dynamic duo of comfort foods. There’s something about their combination that always hits the spot. Any day of the year you can find me eating a bagel with cream cheese, but on Shavuot, I indulge in a special treat, blintzes. On Shavuot, we celebrate the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai to the Jewish people. Shavuot literally means “weeks,” and is a reference to the seven weeks the Israelites journeyed in the desert to reach Mount Sinai. Shavuot is a holiday long associated with dairy foods, and there are several reasons for the connection. The simplest explanation is that milk is a symbol of the Torah, which nourishes the Jewish people, much like milk for a baby. Textual references to Israel being the land of milk and honey (Exodus 3:8) provide one explanation, and Song of Songs 4:11 which says Torah is like “milk and honey under your tongue” provide another. A third example can be found in Numbers 28:26 where the sacrificial meal offering of Shavuot is described. The four Hebrew words spell out “mei halav,” which means “from milk.” Extrapolating upon this, sages believed this to mean that dairy food was the appropriate meal for the holiday. Even further, the gematria (numerical value) of the word “halav” (milk in Hebrew,) equals forty, the number of days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments.

For all of these reasons, dairy foods are prominent on Shavuot. My favorite, blintzes, of Eastern European origin (their name is fittingly Yiddish, adopted from the Russian word for little pancakes, blinyets) are a traditional food eaten on the holiday, which I believe has to do with the mass immigration of many Eastern European Jews to America. Other popular dairy foods besides blintzes eaten on Shavuot include cheesecake, kugels and the Sephardic equivalent to blintzes, cheese bourekas. I had always been nervous to make blintzes myself, but last year I decided to take the plunge and it was well worth it!

In case you want to skip the freezer bought blintzes this year, try this recipe: To make the pancakes: Combine 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, 1.5 cups of milk, 4 large eggs and 3 tablespoons of melted butter together. Using a hand mixer, blender or stand mixer, puree the mixture until it is smooth. Then let it sit at room temperature for half an hour. (At this point make your filling.) To cook the pancakes, heat a 10 inch nonstick skillet or frying pan on medium heat, lightly coat with butter and add ¼ cup of batter, swirling it to make sure it covers the bottom of the pan. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and then using a spatula, loosen the edge of the pancake. Using your fingertips, flip it over to cook the other side for 1 minute. Slide it out of the pan and continue the process until all the batter is used. You will likely need to add more butter to coat the pan between pancakes. To make the filling: Traditional blintzes use farmer’s cheese which can be difficult to locate, so I use 4 oz of softened cream cheese and 1.5 cups of ricotta cheese. In a mixing bowl, combine the cheeses and add 1 egg yolk, ¼ cup of granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and lemon zest. Stir together until smooth and well combined. (¼ teaspoon of cinnamon optional.) How to assemble: On a flat surface, lay a pancake out. About 1 inch above the bottom of the pancake, put in 2-3 tablespoons of filling. Fold the bottom edge over the filling and then take both sides and fold them in. Roll from the bottom up keeping the sides tucked in. Place the blintzes in the freezer for 10 minutes. After they firm up in the freezer, the last step is to fry the blintzes until golden brown using butter or coconut oil in a skillet. Place them in the skillet in a single layer and fry each side (usually around 4 minutes.) When ready to remove, put on a paper towel lined plate or cookie sheet to absorb the excess butter or oil. Serve your blintzes with fresh berries, powdered sugar, sour cream or fruit compote.