Cook | Understudy dairy gets starring role on Shavuot stage

Soon we will be celebrating Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Torah and the end of the counting of the Omer. Among the customs and practices many Jews observe are the eating of dairy foods and conducting all-night Torah study sessions.

The holiday, which begins the evening of June 3, is a joyful one marked by festive meals, special readings, and the decorating of homes and sanctuaries with fresh greens.

Dairy foods are eaten for lunch or at morning Kiddush. There are several suggested origins for this tradition. One is that with the presentation of the Torah, Jews now had to obey the rules of kashrut; because their cooking utensils were not kosher, they had to eat dairy foods. Another is linked to King Solomon comparing the Torah to honey and milk in the Song of Songs. Another points to the numerical equivalent (gematria) of the word chalev (milk), 40, which corresponds to the 40 days and 40 nights Moses spent on Mount Sinai before bringing down the Torah.

The custom of staying up all night to study Torah dates from the 16th century and Rabbi Joseph Caro in Salonika, then controlled by the Ottomans. The popularity of this custom may have been fueled by the increasing coffee consumption in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere.

In keeping with the dairy tradition, the Cottage Cheese Bake below is a homey, tasty recipe that can be made ahead and served as a breakfast, brunch, lunch or light dinner entrée. The Parve Turkish Coffee Ice Cream is vegan and creamy, with a deep coffee taste and a spicy bite — the perfect capper to a meat meal if you are looking to stay up all night and study. Be sure to use regular canned coconut milk, not the light variety or the refrigerated beverage.


Cottage Cheese Bake

Serves 4

1 lb. cottage cheese

oil or oil spray

4 eggs, beaten

6 Tbs. plain yogurt

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup corn kernels

1 cup small cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half

1/4 cup chopped green onions (white and dark green parts)

4 oz. can diced, roasted green chilies, drained

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1/4 tsp. paprika

Put cottage cheese in strainer or in cheesecloth-lined colander and let drain. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8×8-inch baking pan. Put drained cottage cheese curds in bowl with eggs, yogurt, cheddar cheese, corn, tomatoes, green onions, chilies, salt, pepper, cumin and red pepper (if using). Mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle top with paprika. Bake for about 50 minutes until puffy and set. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Parve Turkish Coffee Ice Cream

Serves 4

2-13.5 oz. cans coconut milk

3 tsp. instant espresso powder (see note)

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

5 Tbs. sugar

Bring coconut milk to a simmer in a small pot over medium-low heat. Stir in espresso powder, simmering until dissolved. Stir in cinnamon, cardamom and cloves until dissolved. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Take off heat and taste. (Flavors should be a bit stronger and sweeter than desired since freezing will lessen their intensity.) If needed, bring back to simmer and add additional espresso, spices and/or sugar. Chill until cold or overnight. Place into ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately or freeze.

Note: If espresso powder is unavailable, grind regular dark roast instant coffee in a blender until powdery. Use 5 tsp., then taste. Additional sugar may also be needed.


Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Josie A.G. Shapiro. Faith blogs at Contact her at

Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. She blogs about her food at Contact Faith at