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A bagel is naked without a good schmear. The word schmear comes from the Yiddish word “to spread.” In the world of bagels and brunch a schmear has come to mean cream cheese or other, usually cream cheese-based, spreads for bagels.
This quartet of schmears has something for everyone: There’s a vegetarian, smoked salmon, egg & arugula and a sweet schmear. They are perfect to bring to a Shavuot brunch for a crowd or make one or two for a family meal. Dairy plays a central role on Shavuot because the holiday commemorates the revelation of the Torah. The Torah brings with it the rules of Kashrut (Kosher laws) and since it was given on Shabbat there could be no cattle slaughtered, so it would have been a dairy day. The Torah is also a symbol of nourishment like milk for a baby. Although dairy is the base for all four of these schmears, they are each very different, easy to whip up and full of flavor.
There are four schmears because each schmear is made with 1/2 block of cream cheese. You can also make three schmears and leave 1/2 a block of cream cheese plain for the picky eaters at the table.
Salted Lemon and Smoked Salmon Schmear
2. In a small bowl, put the room temperature cream cheese.
3. Slice the smoked salmon into long, thin strips and then slice them again into little cubes.
4. Add the lemon zest and salt to the cream cheese and mash it together with a fork.
5. Once the zest is thoroughly mixed into the cream cheese, carefully mix in the minced smoked salmon. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Vegetarian Tomato Schmear
This can be made vegan with vegan mayonnaise and vegan cream cheese.
2. Sprinkle Kosher salt over the minced tomato.
3. In a small bowl, add mayonnaise and with a rasp or smallest side of a box grater, grate garlic into the mayonnaise. You can also use a garlic press. Mix garlic into the mayonnaise.
4. Add the room temperature cream cheese into the garlic mayonnaise. Mash it all together with a fork until it is uniformly mixed.
5. Mince white onion, about the same size as the tomato. Mix the onion into the cream cheese and then carefully stir in the minced tomato and black pepper. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Eggs and Arugula Schmear
1. Hard boil two eggs. I like to use the J. Kenji Lopez-Alt method.
2. With a cheese grater, grate the 2 hard boiled eggs into a bowl. Add in salt, sour cream and mustard and mix together. With a fork, mash in the cream cheese. Toss in black pepper (freshly ground if possible).
3. Chop about 1 cup of baby arugula, for 3/4 cup of chopped arugula. I like to hold a small bunch of leaves and with kitchen shears, snip the arugula into the egg and cream cheese mixture. Stir together gently until combined. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Sweet Schmear with Ginger & Blueberries
The last 1/2 block of cream cheese can be left plain or you can play a little with it for something sweet. I chose to add sugar and ginger.
Mash the sugar into the cream cheese with a fork. Grate the ginger into the mixture and serve with a bowl of fresh blueberries.
Missing morning carb treats like doughnuts? No need to stress if you are following the culinary traditions for Passover. Burmolikos are light, soft puffs of egg and matzah that are fried in oil (and bear no resemblance to heavy matzah fritters). They are a wonderful treat eaten by Bulgarian Jews during Passover and year-round because they are so delicious! Be sure to roll them with cinnamon and sugar while they’re still warm, or eat them with jam or honey.
Burmolikos (Bulgarian Matzah Puffs)
2. Drain the matzah and squeeze handfuls until almost all of the water is removed. Place in a 2-quart bowl.
3. Add the eggs, egg yolk and salt to the clumps of matzah and combine well with a fork.
4. Heat the oil in a small saucepan or deep fryer to a depth of 2 inches—if you use a 1-quart saucepan you will use only about 1 cup oil and will only be able to make 2 puffs at a time. However, they cook quickly so it is up to you.
5. When the oil is hot, drop the mixture by oval soup spoon or ice cream scoop into the oil and fry on one side until golden, about 1-2 minutes. Turn over puff and fry on the other side until golden—another minute. Drain on crumpled paper towels (you use fewer towels and have more surface area to absorb the oil).
Coat with the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Burmolikos can also be served with jam or honey.
Some “Tina’s Tidbits”
Check out more delicious Passover recipes here!
Recipe courtesy of Marcia A. Friedman from Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life. Win a copy of her cookbook here!
Photos copyright Marcia A. Friedman
One of my favorite foods from my “adopted” Jewish heritage has to be potato latkes, particularly my husband’s. It’s a family recipe lovingly passed down and painstakingly recreated (down to the fingers bloodied from hand-grating the potatoes) for generations. The recipe is special not only because it produces exquisite little crispy pancakes but also because it connects us to family history. Although I enjoy experimenting with recipes—especially those that unite Jewish culinary traditions with those of my Italian background—I haven’t been able to bring myself to experiment with the beloved potato latkes.
But when I discovered that the very first latkes were cheese pancakes, well, that provided motivation for some new recipes. Those early latkes came to be when Italy’s Jews adopted ricotta pancakes as a Hanukkah dish. Those creamy cakes, sitting squarely at an intersection of Jewish and Italian cuisine, could be something to experiment with and make my own.
Finding these connections enhances how I enjoy this simple winter holiday, which I first got to know after converting to Judaism. In contrast to Christmas, Hanukkah takes a quieter approach, an aspect I’ve come to greatly appreciate. Each night offers a little moment of peace as we light an additional candle to commemorate the historic rededication of the Jewish temple—when a small vial of precious olive oil provided light for eight nights.
Each night also offers an opportunity for fantastic food, given that the traditions evolved to incorporate foods fried in oil. But as if eight nights of fried foods wasn’t enough, there’s also a tradition of dairy dishes. This comes by way of an associated holiday story in which Judith infiltrated the enemy camp, used salty cheese to make the enemy leader so thirsty he got drunk on wine, and then killed him when he passed out. So some say the miracle was done (or greatly helped) through milk.
These food themes merge delightfully with Italian ricotta pancakes, fried ever so lightly on the griddle. And besides pulling from Italian and Jewish traditions, the recipe adopts the style of modern American pancakes or hotcakes. But it tastes so much better thanks to ricotta and lemon zest and the airiness of whipped egg whites.
My lemon-ricotta pancakes blend the frying and the dairy themes, but more important to me, they represent a marriage of evolving Italian, Jewish, and American food traditions that works in its own unique way to connect us to Hanukkahs past and present. By its nature, the dish welcomes all to the table, and, in so doing, I’d like to think makes all our holidays a little brighter. And it leaves plenty of room for those potato latkes.
These luscious pancakes made with ricotta, a cheese of Italian origin, should be made ahead—really. Reheating in the oven mellows the cheese and lemon flavor and perfects the texture so that a slightly crispy exterior gives way to a creamy interior. I love serving these as a “sandwich” with cream spiked with limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur originating from the Amalfi Coast and Sicily. The short stack makes a beautiful and appetizing presentation—especially for dairy-focused celebrations such as Hanukkah or Shavuot.
Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Limoncello Cream
The hot pancakes work beautifully as a short stack with a dollop of limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur) whipped cream in the middle. A few blueberries scattered about add flavor and that blue color so festive for the holiday. If you are cooking with children, omit the limoncello from the whipped cream, and let kids help make the pancake “sandwiches” and decorate with the berries. These beautiful stacks can be breakfast but I prefer them as dessert. No matter what, just be sure to serve them right away.
Makes 20 to 22 small pancakes, or 10 or 11 pancake sandwiches (1 to 2 sandwiches per serving)
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
3 large eggs, separated
1½ cups buttermilk
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Cooking spray or extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the griddle or pan
2 cups heavy whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. limoncello
1½ Tbsp. sugar
Fresh blueberries or other berries (optional)
This recipe, I discovered by happy accident, also improves when made in advance. Make the pancakes up to a couple of weeks ahead, freeze them, and then reheat them in the oven and make the whipped cream just before serving. The flavors meld and the exteriors become slightly crispy while their interiors stay creamy and rich. In the true spirit of the holiday, the cook can actually sit down and enjoy this recipe together with everyone.
1. Lightly whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in a bowl or on a sheet of wax paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks, buttermilk, ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until they hold stiff peaks, about 1 minute.
3. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the ricotta mixture and stir until just incorporated (will still be a bit lumpy). Fold in the egg whites until just a few stray streaks of white remain. The batter will be fluffy and lumpy.
4. Heat a griddle to medium-high and brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray. Drop ¼ cupfuls of batter onto griddle; spread gently with the back of a spoon to make an approximate 3½-inch circle. Cook until golden brown on both sides and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining batter.
5. Either serve immediately following the steps below, or when pancakes are completely cool, wrap and freeze.
6. To serve, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets, placing an ovenproof wire rack on each one. Place frozen pancakes in a single layer on the wire racks and bake until warmed and slightly crispy, rotating pans and turning pancakes halfway through, 16 to 22 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, combine the heavy cream, vanilla and limoncello. Beat on high speed. As the cream gains a little volume, sprinkle sugar over, and continue beating until the cream holds soft peaks.
8. When pancakes are done, place a generous dollop of whipped cream between two pancakes and top with another spoonful of cream. Scatter fresh berries over top and sides. The cream will start to melt, which is lovely. Serve right away.
Learn about Marcia’s other Italian-Jewish cooking ideas with her cookbook, Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Enter to win a free copy!
In New England, beets give red flannel hash its sweetness and beautiful pink color. The sweet beets contrast with the salty meat (usually leftover corned beef). This recipe uses apples and honey for sweetness. Instead of the traditional Irish corned beef, the meat in this recipe is a Jewish deli staple: Pastrami. Apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah are usually enjoyed at the end of a meal in a sweet treat like honey cake, or served simply for dipping apples into honey. This twist lets you start your day with some apples and honey for a hearty breakfast.
Apples and Honey Pastrami Hash
1. Start by prepping the ingredients. You will want a bowl with salt and water for the diced potatoes and a bowl with juice of 1/2 the lemon and water for the apples. Peel the potatoes and then slice and dice them into a small dice until you have 2 cups of potatoes. Place the diced potatoes into the salted water.
2. Peel and slice your apples the same way. Put the apples into the acidulated water (the lemon water). In a pan, heat 1 Tbsp. of the canola oil. While the oil heats up, drain the potatoes and dry them on a kitchen towel. Toss the potatoes into the pan and stir to coat with oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until browned.
3. While the potatoes brown, dice 1/2 of the onion. Once the potatoes are browned, set them aside in a bowl. Add a little more oil to the pan (2-3 tsp.) and toss in the diced onions. Cook over medium-low heat.
4. Drain the apples. Once the onions start to become transluscent, add the apples. Cook for a few minutes together, then add 1 generous tablespoon of honey. Stir and cook together until the apples are soft but keep their shape. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set the apple, honey and onion mixture aside in a bowl and wash the pan or wipe it down so you don’t burn the honey that is left behind.
5. Dice the pastrami to a small dice, the same size as the potatoes and apples. Add 2-3 tsp. of oil to your pan. Brown the diced pastrami. Once the pastrami has browned on all sides (or close enough), toss in the potatoes and the apple mixture. Season the entire hash with some salt and pepper. You can also add a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne if you want another level of spice.
6. If you have been using a cast iron pan, you can put the entire pan in the oven to keep it warm while you fry up the eggs. I think sunny side up eggs are the best way to top the hash, but it can be topped with an egg any way your family likes them. Put the hash on four plates, then top with an egg, sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the egg, and serve.
Have a sweet new year!