Say cheese Shavuot: The Jewish festival traditionally brings dairy dishes to the front. Now, cholesterol and fat don't have to spoil the holiday.

May 20, 1998|By Connie Dufner | Connie Dufner,Universal Press Syndicate

If matzo is the culinary star of Passover, then dairy products take center stage for the next Jewish holiday.

Shavuot (or Shavuos) is Hebrew for "weeks." It comes exactly seven weeks after Passover and has spiritual and agricultural roots. The holiday, which begins at sundown May 30, celebrates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai by the Israelites.

Shavuot is also referred to as the "feast of ,the first fruits," a reference to the tradition of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the first fruits of the summer wheat harvest.

"It's the culmination of Passover," says Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried. "We count the days from Passover until Shavuos. It's like someone's going to receive an amazing gift. God promised the Jewish people that if they prepared themselves properly, they weren't going to just leave Egypt, they were going to leave to go to a higher realm."

Even though grains and vegetables symbolic of the harvest are a part of Shavuot meals, the holiday is known for dairy products.

"Everyone in Israel swaps cheesecake recipes for a week before," notes Faye Levy, syndicated columnist and author of 19 cookbooks, including the recent "Low-Fat Jewish Cookbook" (Clarkson/Potter, $24.95).

"Most of the religious scholars explain that the ancient Hebrews didn't eat meat the day before Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah," Levy says.

If the ancient Hebrews weren't eating meat, they were most likely eating dairy, according to tradition, Levy says.

In ancient times, cholesterol and fat-gram counting weren't a national obsession. Today, dairy foods made with whole milk and cheeses often present a nutritional hurdle to enjoying the holiday.

It doesn't have to be this way, Levy says. Her cookbook offers a low-fat version that takes the guilt out of eating cheesecake.

Shavuot comes at an especially nice time of year for cooks. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful, making it easy to assemble meals that observe the holiday's dairy and harvest themes.

Another recipe from Levy's cookbook, Creamy Broccoli Noodle Kugel, fits the bill for an easy crowd-pleaser.

Low-Fat Lemon Cheesecake

Makes 9 servings

5 ounces (20 squares) graham crackers

2 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup sugar (divided use)

2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind (divided use)

3/4cup nonfat sour cream

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling pan

1 (15-ounce) container fat-free ricotta cheese

2 large eggs, separated

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place crackers in a food processor and reduce to fine crumbs. Measure 1 1/4 cups crumbs and mix with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon lemon rind. Add vegetable oil and mix well.

Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan. Using the back of a spoon, press crumb mixture in an even layer on the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake 8 minutes.

Let cool completely. Leave oven at 350 degrees.

To make filling, beat cheese with sour cream at low speed until smooth. Gradually beat in remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Then, in order, beat in egg yolks, flour, remaining lemon rind and juice.

Whip egg whites in small bowl until stiff. Fold egg whites into cheese mixture.

Carefully pour filling into cooled crust. Bake 55 minutes or until the top center is firm but shakes slightly when you gently move the pan; cracks will form in the top of the cake. Cool cake 15 minutes; the center will sink, making room for topping. With metal spatula, release any bits of cake from upper part of the pan.

Raise oven temperature to 425 degrees. Spoon topping evenly over cake, and carefully spread in an even layer, without letting it drip over edge of cake. Bake 10 minutes. Cool cake to room temperature. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight before serving.

Topping: In small bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups nonfat sour cream with 3 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon lemon rind, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Per serving: 321 calories (31 percent fat), 10 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 1 gram fiber, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 232 milligrams sodium, 50 grams carbohydrate, 207 milligrams calcium

Creamy Broccoli Noodle Kugel

Makes 6 side-dish servings

1 pound broccoli, divided into florets

8 ounces medium egg noodles or pasta bow ties

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (divided use)

1 large onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon paprika, plus extra for sprinkling

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup nonfat sour cream

1/2 cup fat-free cottage cheese

nonstick cooking spray

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