On the Jewish food scene: Never ending recipes by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

It’s dangerous to look up food related items on the web. I wanted to write something for Shavuot that didn’t talk about the same old dairy foods again. (Of course, if someone wants to make me blintzes or cheesecake for the holiday, I would graciously accept their gift.) Our main news source has not been getting us holiday articles in a timely manner and no public relations person has approached me with a sample of a new food for Shavuot, so I decided to search the Internet for inspiration. One listing tempted me to click through for a closer look.

What did https://jamiegeller.com offer that was different from other listings? Themed Shavuot meals! Yes, it has menus for a Mexican Shavuot meal and an Indian Shavuot one. What an interesting idea, or, at least, an idea I never before considered. For Mexican, think cheese quesadillas or chips, salsa, vegetarian refried beans with cheese melted over the top. (There are some good non-dairy cheese products that could also be used in these recipes.) I’m not as big a fan of Indian food, but the cuisine’s lentil and bean meals with dairy-based sauces would work. Cookbook author Jamie Geller also has an elegant menu for the holiday for those who want something fancier.

I’m not going to make those foods this year (or at least, not the full menus), but it left me thinking about next year when I hope we’ll be able to gather for the holiday. My synagogue holds potlucks after Shavuot morning services. What if we had a themed meal? Yes, one year could be Mexican and the next year Indian. I can easily see a Greek meal. (I love Greek salads with feta cheese and dairy versions of spanakopita would be great – although we might have to find a frozen one because I’m not sure anyone would want to make that from scratch.) Oh, and what about an Italian one with pasta and gooey cheeses? Different types of salads with cheese would also be wonderful. Once you start thinking, there are so many possibilities.

The potlucks feel important because many single people (whether never married, divorced or widowed) come to services. It makes the day feel more festive if, instead of each of us returning to our homes for a solitary meal, we stay and eat together. I haven’t minded being on my own during much of the pandemic. (My natural introverted nature has had a chance to shine.) But I have missed shared meals. There is a reason we feast on holidays and invite people to eat with us, or gather at our synagogues for a meal. Breaking bread brings us closer. We feel connected to people with whom we share food in a way we don’t feel with others. 

This year it’s unlikely any of our organizations will be holding a shared meal, but I think we can still appreciate Shavuot from a food point of view, and I don’t just mean eating dairy. Whether you celebrate the holiday with blintzes, cheesecake, ice cream or a fancy Geller-style dish, remember that our food customs connect us, even when we are physically apart.