Sunday, May 27, 2012

Say "Cheese" for Shavuot

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that has both agricultural and historical significance. Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple. Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Literally known as “Weeks,” the holiday is celebrated seven weeks after Passover, as it was assumed that it took the people of Israel seven weeks to make their journey through the desert, finally reaching Mount Sinai.
As is with most Jewish holidays, there is a culinary aspect associated with Shavuot.  Many Jews eat dairy on this holiday, and there are various interpretations as to why this is done. One such explanation is that because the Israelites had not yet received the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), they had prepared foods that were not in accordance with those laws. When they received the Torah, read the new laws, and realized their meat had not been made kosher according to God’s will, they opted to eat dairy dishes only. 
While eating cheesecake and cheese blintzes is common on this holiday, we had another dairy favorite in my mom’s home. Cheese Knaidlach, called Turogomboc in Hungarian, are quenelle-type dumplings. Light and pillowy, they must be handled ever so gently while both adding them to and removing them from their pot. When rolled in sugar and cinnamon laced brown butter crumbs, they make a delicious dessert. Placing them in a pool of 
strawberry coulis will make an even more decadent treat.

Another tradition that is practiced on Shavuot is the reading of the Book of Ruth. This is a wonderful story of sacrifice and true devotion involving Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. The two are righteous women, but it is Ruth who is the star.  She is the daughter-in-law of all daughters-in-law, and a heroine in her own right. I like to think of this holiday as honoring all of my favorites, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and strong women everywhere.
1 lb. farmer’s cheese
2 eggs, separated
1/4c. farina
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2c. dry bread crumbs
1 oz. butter
1/8c. canola oil
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. sugar
Make Knaidlach: With a wooden spoon, beat together the farmer’s cheese, egg yolks, sugar, salt, and farina. Whip egg whites until the soft peak stage, and gently fold them into cheese mixture.  Chill 30 minutes to one hour. Moisten hands and form mixture into 2-inch balls. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and gently lower knaidlach into the pot.  Cook for 20 minutes or until they rise to the top. Drain. 
Make Crumbs: Add butter and oil to a skillet and heat until butter melts. Add crumbs to skillet and cook until they are a rich reddish brown. Add sugar and cinnamon to browned crumbs. 
Once Knaidlach have cooked, drain and gently roll them in the browned crumbs.

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