On Shavuot, we stood on Mount Sinai and received the Torah. Our sages taught that it is essential to keep our bodies healthy in order to learn Torah and perform mitzvot on the highest physical and spiritual level.
"Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God – for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if one is ill – therefore you must avoid that which harms the body and accustom yourself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger." (Rambam, Hilchot Deot 4:1)
As Jews, we are also taught to approach eating in a dignified, thoughtful manner. Our dining table is referred to as an altar. We wash ritually and make a blessing before eating, and end our meal with Birkat Hamazon. All of our behavior relating to food is meant to remind us that we are living according to God's laws and that our goal is to constantly strive for holiness.
And most of our holidays include a festive meal. But with so many of us struggling to maintain a healthy weight, how can we balance holiday meals with healthy nutrition?
Do you think of luscious blintzes, creamy cheesecake and other high-calorie dairy delights on Shavuot? Most of us do.
Not that dairy is necessarily bad. Many dairy products are high in calcium, which is essential for good bone health. But high-fat dairy products contain excess calories and saturated fat that most of us don't need.
This Shavuot, substitute low-fat or non-fat dairy products in your favorite recipes. Serve plenty of seasonal vegetables and fruits and whole grains. Keep portion sizes small and enjoy a brisk walk during the holiday.
ZUCCHINI PANCAKES (DAIRY)
Make these pancakes small and let your children eat them with their fingers – they probably won't even realize they're eating vegetables.
1 1/2 pounds zucchini
6 scallions, thinly sliced or ½ small onion, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill
8 ounces low-fat feta or Bulgarian cheese
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 eggs, beaten
Olive oil for frying
Grate the zucchini coarsely. (A food processor works well.) Add the scallions, dill, cheese, paprika, flour and eggs.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. (I use a non-stick pan.) Drop the zucchini mixture by large tablespoons and spread them out to make thin patties. Cook until crisp and brown on both sides.
Makes approximately 24 pancakes
RICOTTA CASSATA (DAIRY)
Low-fat ricotta cheese is one of my favorite ingredients for both sweet and savory dishes. Its delicate taste and smooth texture works well in blintzes, quiche, lasagna and cheesecake. I always try to have some in the refrigerator for quick last-minute desserts like the following two recipes.
With a package of Italian-style ladyfinger cookies in your pantry and ricotta cheese in the refrigerator, you can whip this dessert up in a few minutes. Experiment with flavors – orange, Amaretto and grated chocolate are delicious, but you can try coffee or fruit liqueurs as well.
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur or ½ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons finely grated bittersweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon instant coffee
12 packaged ladyfinger cookies
Grated chocolate, cocoa powder or powdered sugar for decoration
In a bowl, whisk together the ricotta cheese, sugar, orange zest, liqueur or extract until smooth. Mix in the grated chocolate.
Mix the warm water with the coffee to dissolve. Brush the bottoms of six ladyfinger cookies with half of the coffee. Place these ladyfingers, rounded side down, in the bottom of a shallow rectangular serving dish.
Spread the ricotta mixture over the ladyfingers.
Brush the remaining ladyfingers with coffee. Place them in a layer, rounded side up, on top of the cheese mixture.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Before serving, sprinkle with grated chocolate, sifted cocoa or powdered sugar if desired.
RICOTTA CHEESE WITH HONEY (DAIRY)
Nothing could be easier than this fruit and nut-garnished dairy dessert. Simple to make, healthy ingredients and great taste - what dessert could beat that!
1/2 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or pecans
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese, whisked until smooth
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup diced dried fruit (one type or a mixture)
Toast the nuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.
Divide the cheese into four portions on dessert plates or bowls. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over each portion of cheese. Sprinkle with dried fruit and nuts and serve.
ITALIAN-STYLE RICOTTA CHEESECAKE (DAIRY)
Here is another of our favorite ricotta cheese desserts. It is light, delicate and less sweet than most cheesecakes.
Crust 1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup low-sugar cereal, such as bran flakes, Grape-Nuts or Cheerios
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons canola oil
Filling 1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup orange juice
1 3/4 cup (16 ounces) low-fat ricotta cheese
6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup low-fat or non-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat an 8" spring-form pan lightly with oil or cooking spray.
Combine walnuts, cereal and cinnamon in a food processor and process until finely ground. While the processor is running, slowly add the oil through the feed-tube until the crumb mixture holds together. Pat the mixture evenly into the bottom of the baking pan and set aside.
In a small, heat-proof bowl, combine the raisins and orange juice. Warm in the microwave for 30-60 seconds, mix together and set aside to plump the raisins. (You can do this in a small saucepan as well.)
Rinse the bowl and blade of the food processor. Process the ricotta cheese, cream cheese and yogurt together until very smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the mixture is completely smooth.
Drain the raisins and stir them into the cheese mixture. Pour the batter over the crust in the baking pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the edges are puffy but the middle is slightly soft. Turn off the heat and leave the cake in the oven, with the door closed, for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and cool it completely on a wire rack.
Cover and refrigerate until cold.