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 onlinewhich 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.

Variations

• 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.

Sutlage—Muhallabeya

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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