Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, celebrates the harvest season in Israel and the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Whether you knew that or not, I’m guessing the one thing you probably know is that it is customary to eat dairy on Shavuot.
But what’s a family like mine to do when half of us are intolerant to dairy and/or choose not to eat it for health reasons? Can I still manage to create memories for my family and maintain a meaningful connection to the holiday?
I have to admit that while I vaguely remember learning about Shavuot in Sunday school, I distinctly remember eating my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese, my mom’s cheese and blueberry blintzes and cheesecake from J’s Bakery in Florida. Of course, it’s the food that dominates my memories.
Over the years, I have tried different dairy dishes, but then settled on creating my own tradition of making a large spinach lasagna for everyone to enjoy on the eve of Shavuot. We all enjoyed it, and we all could eat it.
But life is different for us now—my husband switched from being a vegetarian to a vegan (therefore no cheese), my daughter’s frequent stomachaches disappeared when she eliminated dairy from her diet and I follow an autoimmune protocol that excludes all dairy, so ooey, gooey, cheesy lasagna doesn’t work for us anymore.
However, we all still crave that creamy, comforting feeling and of course want to honor the tradition of the holiday in a way that works with our bodies. So what could I make for this dairy-centric holiday that is memorable, delicious and healthy for us?
I decided to see how I could adjust my Shavuot menu to accommodate my family’s needs and keep it light and healthy. I settled on a vegetable lasagna casserole using cannellini beans, olive oil and nutritional yeast as the “cheese filling” and eggplant and squash as my “noodles” (to make it gluten-free as well). Many dairy-free fillings use soy or nuts as a base—this dish is a good alternative for those who avoid those foods or simply want another option.
I paired it with pesto pasta (made with basil, pine nuts and nutritional yeast blended together and served with gluten-free rice noodles) and a green salad. The meal has a dairy feel although none of the dishes actually have any dairy products in them. It’s healthy for us and comforting at the same time. Mission accomplished. Now I just have to figure out how to make a cheesecake without the cheese…