Of all the confounding mysteries of Jewish tradition, why Jews eat dairy foods on the holiday of Shavuot certainly isn’t the biggest or most important. But I have always wondered how Shavuot became the cheese holiday.
- Cheesecake for Breakfast — and Soon, for Shavuot
- 15 Fabulous Vegetarian Dairy Recipes for Shavuot
- How I Turned Blintzes on Shavuot Into Little Packages of Love for Dad
It turns out, there are a few different theories about this custom. My favorite is that one of the psalms refers to Mount Sinai as Har Gav’nunim. The name means something like “mountain of great peaks,” but sounds similar to the Hebrew word for cheese, gevinah. For a cheese fiend like me, a block of gouda the size of Mount Sinai offers plenty of reason to celebrate.
Regardless, Ashkenazi Jews tend to go a little wild on the dairy for Shavuot — perhaps making up for the rest of the culinary year, which tends to highlight meat dishes. Traditional Shavuot fare includes cheese blintzes, cheesecake and noodle kugel. More recently in America, other dairy-friendly dishes from beyond the Jewish sphere (like lasagna and quiche) have been added to the canon.
This year, I would like to add breakfast to the Shavuot conversation. The morning meal is, of course, a natural favorite for dairy foods. But for a holiday honoring both the early harvest and God’s revealing of the Torah to the Israelites, a simple bowl of yogurt did not feel quite festive enough.
Inspired by the ruby strawberries showing up at the farmer’s market, and some gorgeous Rainier cherries I found at my local produce shop, I went for simple, fresh and stunning: toast piled with downy ricotta and fresh fruit. Scattered with chopped pistachios and drizzled with honey, it is a breakfast that marks the holiday and welcomes in summer.
Ricotta Toast With Cherries, Strawberries and Pistachios
¼ cup ricotta
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon honey, plus more for drizzling
2 slices of sourdough or multigrain bread, toasted
Sliced cherries, sliced strawberries and chopped salted pistachios for topping
1) Stir together the ricotta, lemon zest, vanilla, and 1 tsp honey in a small bowl.
2) Divide the ricotta mixture and spread half on each piece of toasted bread. Top with sliced cherries, strawberries, pistachios, a drizzle of additional honey.
Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).