April 21, 2024

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Dairy Sephardi recipes for Shavuot


The festival of Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, begins this Tuesday night. It is customary to eat dairy foods. There are several reasons why: As the revelation at Sinai occurred on Shabbat, when slaughter and cooking are prohibited, the Jews used milk which they already had available before Shabbat. Here are two recipes from Egyptian-born cookery writer Claudia Roden at Jewish Heritage online which are a welcome change from the usual cheesecake or blintzes.

Les Fila au Fromage
Small Cheese Triangles or Cigars
(makes about 60)

Shopping basket
These ever-so-light little pies, also known as filikas, ojaldres, and feuilletes, were always among the most popular items on the buffet and tea tables of Oriental Jews. Today people mix all kinds of cheeses for the filling — most often feta with Gruyere or cottage cheese and Parmesan. ( I made 240 of these cheese triangles for my daughter Anna’s 30th birthday party while watching four programs over 2 weeks. I put them in the freezer — uncooked and without brushing them with egg glaze — and baked them on the day straight from the freezer.)
½ lb (250 g) Edam, grated
½ lb (250 g) Gouda, grated
½ lb (250 g) Cheddar, grated
½ lb (250 g) cottage cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 lb (500 g) filo
6 oz (175 g) butter, melted
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 egg yolks, to brush the tops
Mix the cheese with the eggs. Cut the filo dough, brushing the pastry strips with a mixture of melted butter and oil and the tops with egg yolk mixed with 1-2 teaspoons water.
• Add 3 tablespoons finely chopped dill or mint to the filling and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
• Sprinkle with 1/2 cup sesame seeds before baking.
• For an alternative filling, mix 1 lb (500 g) cottage cheese with 1 lb (500 g) feta cheese (both drained of their liquid) and 4 eggs.
• In Turkey, where the pastries are called filikas and ojaldres de keso, they mix feta cheese with Gruyere and fry the pies in oil.
Fragrant Milk Pudding (basic recipe with variations)
(serves 6)
flowing milk
Milk puddings with ground rice are ubiquitous in the Middle East. For the Jews they are the all-purpose dessert of the dairy table and the traditional sweet of Shavuot and Purim. In Turkey and the Balkans such a dish was called “sutlage;” in Syria and Egypt, as in the rest of the Arab world, it was “muhallabeya.” Every community has its own traditional flavorings and presentation. Use the basic recipe, and add the flavorings from one of the variations that follow. Each one transforms the pudding into something special.
3/4 cup (150 g) rice flour
5 1/2 cups (1 1/4 liters) cold milk
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar

For the flavorings and garnishes, see the variations

In a little bowl, mix the rice flour with a cup of the cold milk, adding it gradually and mixing thoroughly to avoid lumps. Bring the rest of the milk to the boil in a pan. Pour the rice flour-and-milk mixture in, stirring vigorously, then cook on very low heat, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. If you don’t stir every so often, the milk will thicken unevenly and form lumps.
Let the cream cook gently for a few minutes more (in all, 15-20 minutes). Stir in the sugar and cook until dissolved. Stir with a wooden spoon, being careful not to scrape the bottom of the pan, because the cream always sticks and burns at the bottom, and you want to leave that part behind, untouched. The cream might seem too light, but it does thicken when it cools. Pour into a large bowl or into small individual ones and serve cold.

From The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York (with more than 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi recipes) by Claudia Roden (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997).

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