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Shavuot – a good time to make blintzes

If you’ve never made homemade blintzes before, Shavuot is the perfect time to try it. Blintzes can be savoury or sweet, stuffed with fillings as wide ranging as potatoes and mushrooms, stewed fruit or even cooked spinach. But for Shavuot, it’s the curd-to-crepe blintz that’ll be the highlight of your meal.

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Religion

LIZ ALPERN

There are so many explanations for why we eat dairy on Shavuot, and the seasonal explanation is one that will strike a chord with Ashkenazi Jews in particular. In Eastern Europe, Jews ate dairy as a springtime treat, since cows would produce milk after the long, cold winter, just in time for the holiday.

When making blintzes, be sure to start with farmers’ cheese from scratch. It’s a process that’s much easier than you probably ever imagined and it results in fresh creamy farmers’ cheese you’ll want to eat warm right from the pot.

As Shavuot arrives and the seasons change, I can’t help but think about family. Both of my grandmothers were well known for their blintzes. And even though they lived hundreds of kilometres away from each other, they had similar recipes to one another, and both had learned to make blintzes from their own mothers, who had come to the US from Poland.

Unfortunately, by the time I was born, my grandmothers had stopped making blintzes from scratch and I was stuck with the frozen ones from a box! Now that I make my own blintzes, using a recipe close to my great-grandmothers’, I think about carrying on the tradition of the many generations of blintz-makers that came before me.

Now you can try it too.

Sweet or savoury blintzes to die for

I was only privy to homemade blintzes once in a blue moon when Grandma Ruth decided to make them. Hers were never too sweet and they revealed their contents on the sides since she delicately sliced off the edges of each blintz, leaving the scraps for the children as a special treat.

I feel every parent has to make at least one dish with ends to slice off for kids. It’s not fair to make them wait until everything is finished. Blintz ends are a pretty solid way to go.

If necessary, you can make the blintzes in advance and store them in the refrigerator or freezer until later. Just be sure to bring them up to room temperature before reheating so the insides don’t remain cold.

Note that the yield in this recipe is based on a 20,3 cm diameter frying pan. If you have a different size pan, the yield will differ. The crepe recipe is adapted from Mitchell Davis’ The Mensch Chef and works well with both our sweet cheese filling and savoury mushroom-potato filling.

Makes 16 blintzes 

For the crepes:
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus more for frying
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup cold water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
For the sweet cheese filling:
3 cups farmer’s cheese (about 1½ pounds or ,68 kg), store-bought or homemade
½ cup cream cheese (4 ounces, about 113 grams), softened, store-bought or homemade
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons loosely packed lemon zest
Sour cream, store-bought or homemade, for servingFresh or macerated berries (optional), for garnish 

Directions 
1. To make the crepes: In a large bowl, food processor, or blender, mix together the melted butter, eggs, milk, cold water, salt, and sugar. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing between each addition to remove as many lumps as possible.

2. In an 8-inch (20,3 cm) nonstick pan, melt a small pat of butter over medium heat. Pour about 1/3 cup of the batter into the cenrer of the hot pan. Lift and rotate the pan immediately so batter coats the bottom entirely, then place the pan back on the heat to cook. You’ll get the hang of it after a couple of tries.

At first, each crepe will take about 1 minute, but the process speeds up as the pan gets hotter, and each crepe should take 30 to 45 seconds. When the crepe is mostly cooked, the edges will lift up. With a spatula, check to make sure the crepe has splotches of brown on the bottom.

When one side is fully cooked, flip the crepe onto a nearby plate lined with parchment paper so that the side that has not cooked is facing down. Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking each crepe on top of the others. No need to butter the pan between crepes – only add more butter about every fifth crepe. Note that the first crepe never comes out well. Don’t despair.

3. To make the sweet cheese filling: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

4. To form the blintzes: Spoon about 1 cup of the filling onto the cooked side of a crepe, in the middle of the lower half. Spread out the filling from side to side in a horizontal line. Fold the bottom of the crepe up to cover the filling, and then fold each end into the centre to create a small package.

Roll up the crepe tightly to form a compact blintz. It will be about 4 inches (just over 10 cm) in length. Repeat with the remaining crepes and filling. At this point, you can fry them up now, or refrigerate or freeze the blintzes to eat later.

To refrigerate, wrap each blintz individually in parchment paper (so they don’t stick together) and store in an airtight plastic container for up to 5 days. To freeze, set the wrapped blintzes on a baking sheet in the freezer until they harden, then transfer to an airtight plastic container and freeze for up to 3 months.

5. If you prepared your blintzes in advance, be sure to bring them up to room temperature before frying them (so the filling doesn’t remain cold). Place a small pat of butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat and place the blintzes in the pan, seam side down.

If your blintz is cylindrical, flatten it slightly with a spatula for even cooking. Do not crowd the pan. Cook the blintzes until golden on the bottom, then flip to the other side and cook until golden brown and the sides are soft, 3 to 4 minutes in total. You may need to flip each blintz multiple times to avoid them getting too brown.

6. Serve the blintzes hot. Garnish with sour cream and berries. Keep just-fried blintzes warm in the oven at 250 degrees F (121 degrees C) until ready to serve.  

Excerpted from the book The Gefilte Manifesto by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern. Copyright © 2016 by Gefilte Manifesto LLC. Photography by Lauren Volo.

  • Liz Alpern travels the globe as a cook, recipe tester, educator and entrepreneur. She was featured in Forbes’ 30 under30. She will be speaking at Limmud between 4 – 6 August in Johannesburg.

 

 

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Religion

In the brave steps of Abraham

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In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, we read about the first Jew, Avraham, who resisted the tide of paganism, idolatry, and immorality. Society had moved away from monotheism and Avraham’s beliefs were ridiculed. However, Avraham stayed the course and in spite of great personal risk and at the cost of ostracism from his family, he spread the belief in one G-d.

The portion opens with G-d giving Avraham a direct command to travel out of his homeland and away from his family in order to spread his newfound message. G-d’s command to Avraham in this verse can additionally be seen as a command to us to leave the comfort of our insular lives and venture out to the world at large to transform it into a G-dly place.

While we may be satisfied by staying within the safe confines of the Judaism that we have grown up with, it’s no recipe for growth. G-d therefore tells us that if we enter the real world, our full inner potential will be realised, and our true, best selves will come to the fore.

Fighting the prevailing attitudes of the day has never been easy, but as Jews, we can be reassured that our forefathers have travelled this path before us. The Midrash teaches that “the actions of the fathers are a signpost for the children”. Another translation of the word siman or “signpost” is “empowerment”, and the Midrash teaches us that by risking their lives to spread the belief in one G-d, our forefathers made it easier for us to follow their example.

At this time of year, when we have hopefully been inspired by a month of festivals and are thinking about moving forward in our Judaism, we can be confident that we are following the advice of tried and tested authorities all the way back to Avraham.

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Religion

My kind of hero

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The world loves a hero. Every season, Hollywood invents new superheroes to fill the box-office coffers. Today, we even have a Jewish girl as the latest superhero. Now, superheroes are fantastic, but you’ve got to admit, they’re over the top, rather otherworldly and, realistically speaking, out of touch and out of reach. We can fantasise about flying through the skies in our capes, climbing skyscrapers with our webs, saving the world, or rescuing damsels in distress, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing more than wistful daydreaming. What bearing does it have on me and my life, me and my problems? Not much.

That’s why Noah always appealed to me. He comes across as a real-life hero, real in the sense of being human rather than superhuman and therefore realistically possible to emulate.

Rashi describes Noah as a man of small faith who had doubts whether the flood would really happen. He didn’t enter the Ark until the rains started and the floodwaters pushed him in. That explains why some people look down on Noah, especially when they compare him to other Biblical giants, like Abraham or Moses.

Personally, this is what makes Noah my kind of hero. He’s real. He’s human. He has doubts, just like you and me. Noah is a regular guy, plagued by doubts, and struggles with his faith. Which is precisely what makes him a hero. Because the fact is that, at the end of the day, his personal uncertainties notwithstanding, Noah does the job. He has faults and foibles, but he builds the Ark, shleps in all the animals, saves civilisation, and goes on to rebuild a shattered world. Doubts, shmouts, he did what had to be done!

Noah could easily be the guy next door. He is one of us. His greatness is, therefore, achievable. It’s not “pie in the sky”. His heroism can be emulated. If Abraham and Moses seem the superhero types too far-fetched for us ordinary mortals to see as practical role models, then Noah resonates with realism. After all, he had his doubts too, just like you and me.

There is an old Yiddish proverb that nobody died from an unanswered question. We can live with unanswered questions. It’s not the end of the world. The main thing isn’t to allow ourselves to become paralysed by our doubts. We can still do what must be done, in spite of our doubts.

Noah, the reluctant hero, reminds us that you don’t have to be fearless to get involved. You don’t have to be a tzaddik to do a mitzvah. You don’t have to be holy to keep kosher, nor do you have to be a professor to come to a shiur.

His faith may have been shaky. Perhaps he was a bit wobbly in the knees. But the bottom line is, he got the job done. My hero.

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Religion

Learning to fall teaches us to fly

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“As an eagle that stirs up its nest, hovering over its young”

Rashi, one of our greatest commentators, explains that Hashem is compared to an eagle since eagles are so different to other birds. He says that they are the kings of all birds, and soar very high. Afraid only of man’s bow and arrow, the eagle carries its young on its back. Other birds are afraid of the eagle, and have no choice but to choose the lesser of two evils and carry their babies underneath them in their talons.

This Rashi is problematic:

Humans carry their babies in their arms. A monkey holds its young in much the same way. And a dog or cat picks up its offspring with its mouth. But what about birds? Do they ever carry their young on their backs?

Surprisingly, some birds do carry their offspring from one place to another, either to get them away from danger or to move them about as part of their daily care. Aquatic birds let their chicks ride on their backs while they are swimming. Sometimes when the parent dives, the little one is carried underwater. And when the parent flies, the chick gets its first taste of being airborne without even using its own wings.

But, eagles? They just don’t do this. So what’s Rashi talking about?

Maybe our translation of nesher is incorrect. There’s the opinion that a nesher is a vulture, but no vultures carry their young on their backs either, so what’s going on? With respect to previous generations in Torah thought, we are never so arrogant as to say that we have superior knowledge. The further we move away from the Sinai experience, the more humble we become regarding the Torah knowledge of previous generations. Rashi lived almost a thousand years ago, and was a giant of Torah. So the best we can do is humbly admit that we don’t understand this Rashi.

One possible answer is brought by Rabbi Slifkin, who explains that when an eagle is teaching its eaglets to fly, it throws them from the nest and dives below to catch them on its back, ensuring that it breaks their fall before it breaks their neck. Perhaps this is what Rashi witnessed and wanted to use to describe Hashem’s relationship with each one of us.

Not only did Hashem take us out of Egypt on the “wings of eagles”, and not only will we be taken to the land of Israel when Moshiach comes on the “wings of eagles”. But every single day, Hashem gentle nudges us out of our comfort zone and while we are flailing and wondering how we’ll cope, Hashem is ready to swoop down and catch us. It’s that fall that teaches us how to soar!

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