For Shavuot: A Gourmet Blintz? Yes.

By Danielle Crittenden Frum

Next week, Jews will be celebrating the festival of Shavuot, the anniversary of the day God gave the Commandments to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The most observant Jews will stay up all night on the first night of the holiday, Saturday, May 23, dedicating themselves to reading the Torah in gratitude for the Divine gift. Then, for reasons that aren’t Talmudically explained, they’ll be rewarded for their efforts with a fat, fried crepe stuffed with sweetened ricotta and cream cheese, topped by sticky fruit syrup.

Ah, yes: the blintz.

Even those who aren’t planning on pulling an all-nighter can’t escape the pervasiveness of the blintz at this time of year. I know that makes some (many) of you happy.  “I LOVE blintzes!” you say.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with them that I find even just the description of the common blintz disgusting. Let me get this straight: You take a perfectly innocent crepe, then stuff it with two types of cheeses that don’t go together in any culinary way, sweeten them, and then fry the whole concoction in a pan? And somehow pouring jam on this makes it tastier?

And what do blintzes have to do with the giving of the Commandments anyway? If we’re going to celebrate with a type of pancake, what’s wrong with blini? Certainly it goes better with champagne … (FWIW, blintze is a Yiddish derivative of the Old Slavic “blin” and “blinyet,” the words from which “blini” also derives.)

Blintzes or no blintzes, it remains traditional to celebrate the two-day festival of Shavuot by eating dairy foods. There are, as always, multiple explanations for why we do this. Some say it symbolizes passages of scripture. Others insist the habit  “commemorates the fact that upon receiving the Torah, including the kosher laws, the Jewish people could not cook meat in their pots, which had yet to be rendered kosher.”

I have no opinion on these origins. I’m only concerned with results. My goal this year was to come up with a better blintz. Mercifully, none of the Commandments ordain that a blintz must be stuffed with cream cheese and ricotta. For Eastern European Jews, blintzes traditionally can be made in a dozen different ways: rolled, baked, stuffed – – each with a variety of tasty fillings.

For Fig Tree & Vine readers, I thought it would be fun to offer a choice of three “nouvelle blintz” recipes: one savory; one rolled; and one a gourmet spin on the traditional ricotta filling.  The first recipe, which you can find here, was inspired by the sight of piles of rainbow Swiss chard at last Sunday’s farmer’s market: “Buckwheat Blintz with Creamy Rainbow Chard and Gruyere.” Stay tuned for the other two, which I’ll post in the coming days: a Blueberry, Ricotta, Lemon & Ginger Blintz — the creation of a Swedish friend of mine — and “Nalenski,” a traditional rolled Polish pancake with plum jam, from the cookbook I co-authored with Anne Applebaum, “From a Polish Country House Kitchen.”