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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Shavuot – when vegetarian cooks are in the limelight

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What’s not to love about Shavuot? No fasting, no month-long housecleaning that leaves you collapsed like a cheap umbrella in the wind, nothing essential to the celebration that can be spoiled by rain or snow.
Shavuot asks so little but gives so much in return, especially its twin customs that reflect the best in domestic pursuits: home decor and cooking. It’s easy to love a holiday where cheesecake stars at the table, and flowers or other greenery appear in our homes for a command performance, to reprise what is believed to have been their role at Mount Sinai when the Torah was handed down.
Shavuot is also the time when vegetarian cooks get to shine. The festival’s customary consumption of dairy foods is a showcase for our year-round culinary and dietary preferences.

DILLY LOX QUICHE

This dish pays homage to “necessity is the mother of invention.” On discovering key ingredients missing for a quiche an hour before guests were due, I made some fast substitutions that yielded this simple, delicious pie. It’s higher in fat and sodium than we usually eat, so this is served strictly for guests/holidays only.

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
6 large eggs (discard three yolks)
1/2 of a 100-gram package of lox or smoked salmon, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup chopped red or yellow onion
2 tbsp. milk
3 tbsp. soft herbed cream cheese
6 medium white button mushrooms, sliced thin
1 tbsp. (well-packed) snipped fresh dill (well-washed)  
pinch each black pepper and Italian seasoning
1 medium red potato, peeled, sliced thin and cooked until tender-crisp

Partially thaw the pie crust, prick the bottom in a few spots and bake at 325 until slightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
In a small skillet on low heat, briefly sauté the mushrooms in two teaspoons of water. Remove from heat and spread on bottom of pie crust.
In the same skillet, sauté onion on low heat in two tablespoons of water until softened, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking. Add fish pieces just before onion is done, stir for a minute and remove from heat.
Beat eggs, milk, cream cheese, pepper and Italian seasoning with a wire whisk in a mixing bowl until well blended. (If using a processor or blender, pour combined mixture into a bowl).  Stir in dill and onion/lox and pour into the pie crust. Arrange potato slices on top and dust very lightly with paprika for colour. Bake 40-45 minutes at 350, until firm and set.
Serve immediately with spinach salad and/or Israeli salad. Serves four.

PINDJUR CHICKPEA SALAD

I recently discovered the magic of pindjur, a tomato/eggplant relish available in jars. It can be high in sodium, so I use it sparingly, just a tablespoon or two in roasted eggplant spread, pasta sauce and even atop pizza. On a whim, I turned to pindjur to jazz up a chickpea salad, and it’s now a dinner table regular or cold appetizer for Shabbat lunch in summer. Among the kosher brands of pindjur available, I use Melis, available in 10.5-oz. jars.  

1 19-ounce can chickpeas
1 large tomato, diced, or 12 small cherry tomatos, halved
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup peeled and diced English or Kirby cucumber
1-1/2 tbsp. finely diced red onion
2 generous tbsp. pindjur
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
black pepper

Drain chickpeas in a colander, rinse well under cool running water and drain well. Place chickpeas, tomato, red pepper, cucumber, onion and pindjur in a serving bowl and toss lightly. Sprinkle spices, lemon juice and a generous pinch of black paper on the salad and toss again. Adjust seasonings to your taste. (I’m more generous with the pepper).
Refrigerate until ready to use, either cold or at room temperature. Enjoy with crusty bread, challah or pita, and slices of avocado and hearts of palm on the side. Serves four as an appetizer, two as a main course.
 

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