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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tasty, easy, nutritious Shavuot menu

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of teaching a Shavuot-themed class to the lovely ladies of Westchester Day. Shavuot is my favorite Jewish holiday, as it's basically the only one that is not part of the "they tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat," category.
It's a holiday of joy, with no threats, no fears. It's the celebration of the greatest gifts the Jewish people ever received: the Torah. Shavuot takes place in the peak of spring, which is not only exciting for the sun, light, warmth and flower tapestries everywhere, but also because culinary speaking, the season's bounty allows for creating delicious and fresh food with plenty of produce, many colors and textures.
Since it's a tradition to eat dairy products during the holiday, the class I taught had plenty of them (although I personally don't deal that great with dairy). I want to share the recipes with you, as well as an extra one for a salad, and don't hesitate to comment, ask or send feedback, they are all greately appreciated!

MENU
  • Almond gazpacho with grapes
  • Arugula and asparagus salad with goat cheese
  • Baked eggs with spinach, tomato, herbs and sheep’s milk cheese
  • Herbed salmon with turmeric and white wine
  • Homemade ricotta and strawberry parfait with rhubarb and chia seed compote
RECIPES
ALMOND GAZPACHO

This is not your traditional gazpacho! It doesn't even have tomatoes. It's one of my favorite recipes, and everyone always finds it "interesting."  It's a very sophisticated dish with complex flavors.
 
4 ounces (about 2/3 cup) almonds, soaked in water overnight, rinsed and drained
2 to 3 medium cloves garlic
2 teaspoons sea salt, to taste
Four (1-inch) cubes of honeydew melon
½ baked potato (flesh only)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar, to taste
4 cups iced water
A few drops of pure almond extract, optional
Halved grapes, for serving

Place almonds, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Beat until nuts are as finely ground as possible. Add melon and potato, blending until pureed. Drizzle in oil a bit at a time, and once it’s all incorporated, add in the vinegars. Gradually pour in the water. Strain if desired, but I love mine with texture! Taste for seasoning and add more salt and/or vinegar if needed. Add in 2 or 3 drops of almond extract, if desired. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary. Chill well, preferably for a couple of hours or overnight. The flavors will develop further. Adjust seasoning before serving. Serve in bowls topped with a few grape halves.
Serves 6
ARUGULA AND ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE

This salad has crunch, smoothness, sweetness, saltiness a slight tang, and just screams of spring! It repeats some of the ingredients used in other recipes in this menu, so you don't have to shop for extras! 


1 bunch asparagus, washed and bottoms trimmed
1 (8-ounce) package organic strawberries, rinsed, hulled and halved
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, separated
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, separated
2  tablespoons balsamic vinegar, separated
Coarse sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
2 ¼ ounces baby arugula, washed
6 large fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup seedless grapes
1 bunch (about 20) salted and roasted pistachios, shelled
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
½ teaspoon dried culinary lavender
Preheat oven to 400 F. And proceed to wash and cut vegetables as indicated above while oven warms up.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place on it the asparagus and strawberries. Drizzle them with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons maple syrup and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Mix well making sure both, asparagus and strawberries are evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt and generously with pepper.
Roast for about 20 minutes, until strawberries melt and their juices bubble (make sure they don’t burn) and asparagus brown a bit.
While roasting is taking place, prepare dressing: in a small bowl, whish with a fork minced garlic, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoons pure maple syrup and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve arugula in a salad bowl. Top with grapes, pistachios and the warm strawberries and asparagus with their juices. Place goat cheese on top of warm fruit, so it melts a bit ,and with your fingers crumble lavender on the very top.
Serve immediately!
Serves 4

BAKED EGGS WITH SPINACH, TOMATO, HERBS AND SHEEP’S MILK CHEESE

Based on my grandmother's recipe, but with many simplified steps, this is a favorite dish of mine for brunch. By all means use fresh, sauteed spinach if you prefer, but a pack of the frozen greens can save you some work and time. 
 
Olive oil, for pan
1 (10 oz) package frozen spinach (preferably organic), thawed overnight in refrigerator
1 dozen large eggs, preferably pastured
3 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably organic), more to taste
Assorted chopped herbs, fresh or dried, such as oregano, thyme, parsley, etc
8 ounces sheep’s milk cheese such as Pecorino Romano or kashkaval, or feta, cut, sliced, crumbled, or shredded
Red pepper flakes, to taste (start with ¼ teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line an 8x8-in baking pan (or equal capacity) with parchment paper, if using an aluminum pan, and oil it.
Place thawed spinach in a kitchen towel (or a couple of paper towels), squeeze the spinach in the towel and drain as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and tomato paste. Add in drained spinach, herbs and chili flakes into the bowl with the egg-tomato mixture. Mix to distribute evenly and pour onto prepared pan. Sprinkle with cheese pieces and bake, uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until mixture doesn’t wobble when pan is shaken.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6.

HERBED SALMON WITH TURMERIC AND WHITE WINE

The superfood turmeric adds its superpowers to this dish, plus a beautiful golden hue. Since curcumin, the active substance in turmeric, is best absorbed with black pepper and oil, this recipe is a perfect vehicle for flavor and health. 
1 (2 to 2 1/2 lb) skinless salmon fillet (preferably wild Alaskan)
Sea salt, black pepper and turmeric, to taste
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 lemon
½ to ¾ cup chopped fresh herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, scallions, mint, dill, etc)
¼ cup white wine

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Line a roasting pan with parchment, if using aluminum. Place salmon in the roasting pan and season with salt, pepper and turmeric on both sides. Drizzle oil and squeeze lemon juice all over the fish. Scatter the herbs over the fish. Pour wine around the fillet. Roast uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the desired doneness. Insert the tip of a paring knife to see if it’s cooked through (although many people like salmon slightly undercooked). Let cool for a couple of minutes, and serve.
Serves 6.

HOMEMADE RICOTTA AND STRAWBERRY PARFAIT WITH RHUBARB AND CHIA SEED COMPOTE

I get it! you might not want to make your own ricotta cheese. Feel free to substitute for store bought or even for Greek yogurt, but I do recommend that if you have 15 extra minutes, you take the time to make the ricotta yourself, and even better, with your kids. It's the perfect way of seeing how cheese is made from milk and just that is an amazing experience!


RICOTTA:
4 cups whole milk, preferably grass fed and organic (goat milk works too)
2 cups heavy cream, preferably organic
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Set a large sieve over a large mixing bowl. Moisten 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with it. The dampness will keep the cloth in place.
Heat the milk and the salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil (large bubbles breaking on the surface), and remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and let mixture stand for 1 to 2 minutes, until curdles form. The mixture will separate into curds and whey, which is the liquid part. Scoop curds from pan and transfer to cheesecloth-lined sieve. Let drain for 25 minutes. The longer the curds drain, the thicker the ricotta will be.  Transfer the cheese to a bowl, and discard the cheesecloth. Use the whey in smoothies, no need to discard it! Use immediately or cover and chill for up to 4 days.
Makes about 2 cups.
PARFAIT:
2 rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons raw honey, separated, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 pint strawberries (preferably organic)
1 lemon, juice and zest optional
1 cup roasted and salted pistachios, chopped, optional
Mint leaves, for serving

Cook the rhubarb in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons water, covered for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft, but don’t overcook, or the color will be unpleasant. Puree with an immersion blender and let cool. Add 2 tablespoons raw honey and 2 tablespoons chia seeds. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, vanilla bean seeds and 4 teaspoons raw honey. Taste and adjust seasoning (add more honey, if needed).

Slice the strawberries and if they are not sweet enough, add a drizzle of honey. Add some lemon juice and zest, if using and allow to macerate.

ASSAMBLY
Place half of the sliced strawberries in the bottom of a see-through vessel. Add half of the ricotta mixture and top with rhubarb-chia gel. Repeat by topping it with strawberries, ricotta and rhubarb. Sprinkle pistachios on the surface and decorate with mint. Serve.

Serves 6 to 8


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