NEW YORK, April 22 (JTA) — Famous for dairy foods, Shavuot favors vegetarians. “It’s a big relief to browse around a table and know I can eat everything,” says a 20-something editorial assistant who hasn’t touched red meat in 10 years. At other holidays, her main course consists of side dishes. “Shavuot is the one occasion that’s guaranteed to be brisket-free.” While fish may be served, meat is rarely on the menu. Although it’s not clear why dairy dishes prevail on this holiday, for centuries several theories have circulated. Shavuot commemorates Moses receiving the Torah and Ten Commandments, and some scholars believe that the whiteness of milk is a symbol of the Torah’s purity. Others claim that the dairy tradition began because the Israelites abstained from meat on the day before they received the Torah. Practical-minded scholars speculate that after the Children of Israel returned from Sinai, they were too tired and hungry to prepare meat. Another explanation maintains that because the Israelites had just received the laws of kashrut, they had to make their utensils kosher before eating meat. As many vegetarians know, the laws of kashrut teach that meat was given as a concession, not as an ideal. On the holiday honoring the Torah, people should aspire to the ideal. While scholars debate the dairy issue, Shavuot always falls in May or June, seven weeks after Passover. In Israel, this is the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of wheat season. Because fields are lush for grazing in late spring, cows, goats and sheep produce more milk, resulting in abundant cheese. It’s possible that the Israelites began eating dairy foods at Shavuot because they had too much milk. Late spring is also when first fruits were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. As one of the year’s three harvest festivals, Shavuot not only celebrates barley and wheat, but grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Honoring Shavuot means indulging in dairy products, fresh produce and grains, which are easier to digest in warm weather than meat. The menu below bows to vegetarians, although people preferring a heartier main course can add poached salmon. “Do you know why I like Shavuot?” says the editorial assistant. “No one ever asks: Where’s the beef?”
(Recipes serve six)
Tomato & Olive Salad
4 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into wedges
1 onion, cut into rings
18 fresh olives, pitted
1 tsp. fresh basil, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. Lemon juice
Mix ingredients in a bowl. Marinate for 12 hours.
1 large bunch of kale, cleaned and trimmed
3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1. Steam kale for five minutes, or until wilted. Drain well.
2. Melt butter. Add mustard, whisking well.
3. Gently fold kale into mustard mixture, stirring until coated. Serve immediately.
Ziti & Feta Cheese
1 pound ziti
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pound Feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1. Cook ziti according to package directions, adding olive oil to the water. Drain.
2. Transfer to a large bowl, covering with cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. lemon rind, grated
3/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1/8 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Grease an 8-inch springform pan.
3. Cream first three ingredients.
4. Blend in flour, egg, juice and vanilla.
5. Spread in pan
6. Bake about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool.
Serve with: Whipped cream and two pints of mixed berries.
Place 8 ounces heavy cream, 1 tsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. vanilla in a bowl and beat two minutes or until stiff peaks form.