Conversations at Levana's Shavuot

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Tamar Genger MA, RD
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watercress-soup

What do you like about the holiday of Shavuot?

Several fun things:

It coincides with great weather, lots of spring fruit and produce in season.

Fun foods, sort of like a "Brunch à Toute Heure!"

It gives us a license to cook and serve all those dairy dishes we love to hate, although to be perfectly honest, I try to balance it by making dairy-free versions of several dairy dishes, just because I have a heart: My dairy-free cheesecake is so fabulous I never go back to the dairy version!

Do you stay up all night to learn? and Do you have any good food tips to help keep people awake and interested throughout the night?

hmmm, food tips to stay awake? Coffee and lemonade will do the trick.

Eating at night is my nemesis.  So forgive me if I don't recommend anything. I will only say that the Shavouot night of learning is very big in our Sephardi tradition.  We used to host it every year, and it was always packed to the rafters, not only because my father Z"L was a great Chazan, but because my mother is a magnificent cook and baker, and she used to bake up a storm, sending the men home with a spectacular doggie bag for their wives! Who wouldn't stay up for THAT?

At your cooking demo for your Shavuot menu, included below, you teach how to make polenta as a casserole with sauce, what are other ways to use polenta?

The first rule is to please ignore those insipid cooked polenta rolls you find in the supermarket: Making the polenta base takes minutes!

You will love to explore all the various ways to enjoy polenta, as it is not only delicious but very nutritious, and gluten-free to boot. You can:

  • Eat the polenta as is, hot and un-assembled (in other words, only the first step of the recipe) as the grain for a main course.
  • Thin it with a little water, garlic and minced basil, maybe a couple diced tomatoes for a great soup
  • Cut the cooled polenta in cubes or triangles and put it right under your broiler flame
  • Make other fillings: Roasted diced vegetables (mushrooms, eggplant, red pepper, fennel, artichoke hearts, etc…..
  • Make it dairy-free. Cook it in water or dairy-free milk, and/or substitute some white wine for some of the water or milk.

You tell people not to throw the kitchen sink into their salads, that less is more, why do you feel that way?

A dish should tell a story, just like in everyone's respective field, every presentation should tell a story. A story with too many details just isn't a story: It's tiresome!

By making the selection short and sweet, you give an opportunity to showcase your ingredients, and let one, two or three, be the stars. It will also give you the chance to vary: Variety is important, and won't happen if you throw everything in.

Below, taken from my cookbook:

"Pick only a few ingredients and a few colors, leaving plenty of room for variety on other salad days. You can even select one ingredient and do perfectly well: all romaine or all watercress and so on. If you are choosing salad as
a main course, you can make the selection a little, not much, longer. How short can the selection get?

Here are just a few suggestions that seem so ridiculously simple you might not think of them by yourself, each starring just one salad ingredient:

  • a whole bunch of celery, all ribs peeled and very thinly sliced, oil and lemon, salt and pepper to taste
  • a whole head of fennel, ditto (no peeling); lots of red radishes, very thinly sliced, with brown rice vinegar and salt

Enjoy these recipes for your Shavuot Menu or any time:

Cream of Watercress

Mushroom Stuffed Tilapia Rolls

Polenta Casserole au Gratin

Endive, Apple and Walnut Salad

Tiramisu