Eating Jewish: Shavuot isn't all about cheese

Eggplant with Greek yogurt sauce.

Image by Katherine Romanow.

Lemon Lavender Yogurt Cake.
Courtesy of Katherine Romanow.

It's about yogurt, too!

A holiday that requires the consumption of dairy is a great thing. I love dairy. Its addition makes most dishes that much better, adding a richness that's hard to get from anything else.

Cheese dishes are usually the stars of the Shavuot table, but as I was thinking about what I wanted to make this year I began to think about yogurt. Yogurt is definitely underrated when it comes to this holiday, perhaps because it is a healthy food that isn’t generally associated with celebrations or indulgence. But just like cheese, yogurt has the power to make a simple dish luxurious. (It also happens to be something I can eat without feeling the ill effects of my lactose intolerance.) On top of that, yogurt has a fascinating Jewish story.

Although yogurt is one of the most well-known cultured dairy products in North America today--just look at the huge selection available in any grocery store--this wasn’t the case until relatively recently. It has much older roots elsewhere. For example, yogurt was an important part of the culinary culture of the Ottoman Turks, who in turn spread it throughout their territory. Though it was unknown throughout the majority of Europe, yogurt was a staple in areas from the Balkans to India. One of its first introductions into European society came when a Turkish Jewish doctor used it to cure the intestinal problems of King Francis of France.

As a matter of fact, a Sephardic Jewish family played a major role in bringing yogurt to Western Europe and North America. Isaac Carasso, a Jewish physician from Salonika, moved to Spain, where he subsequently realized that many of his patients suffered from digestive problems. In order to treat these cases he began producing yogurt. He created a business, which he named Danone (this was the nickname given to his young son Daniel). After studying in Paris, Daniel Carasso expanded the company to this city, and soon took over the business entirely. During WWII, Daniel and a family friend brought the company to the United States, where it became known as Dannon, and in turn popularized yogurt on this continent.

I wanted to highlight yogurt in both savory and sweet dishes for this post, and these two recipes are both absolute winners! The eggplant recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, a book of “vibrant vegetables recipes.” The recipes in this cookbook bring together flavors that make the ingredients shine, and the eggplant dish is just one of many examples. Each of the ingredients in this dish are delicious on their own but come together to create something that is unbelievably delicious. This recipe is a perfect mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors and happens to be just as beautiful to look at.

Simple yogurt cakes are one of the mainstays of my baking repertoire. They’re easy to make and a wonderful everyday cake to have around. Lemon is my favorite ingredient to flavor these cakes with, but I wanted to take it up a notch so I decided to add some lavender to the mix. These two flavors are a sublime combination; infusing lavender into the butter subtly suffuses the cake with its spicy, floral taste. The yogurt and the lemon syrup also make for a cake that stays wonderfully soft.

Whether you’re lactose intolerant like me or just want to try something new for Shavuot this year, these yogurt filled recipes won’t disappoint.

Eggplant with Greek Yogurt Sauce
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

4 small and long eggplants or 2 large and long eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tablespoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
1 teaspoon za’atar


2/3 cup Greek yogurt
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, grated on a microplane or finely chopped
A pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the eggplants in half, lengthwise, through the stem (you don’t want to eat the stem, it’s there for the look). Using a small sharp knife, make three or four incisions in the flesh of the eggplant without cutting through the skin. At a 45-degree angle, make another three or four incisions so that you end up with a diamond pattern.

  2. Place the eggplants, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Brush the flesh of the eggplants with olive oil, until all the oil has been absorbed. Spread the pomegranate molasses over the eggplants. Sprinkle the thymes leaves, along with the salt and pepper over the eggplants. Roast the eggplants for 40 minutes, until they are soft and browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

  3. While the eggplants are in the oven, make the sauce by mixing all the ingredients together. Taste for seasoning and refrigerate until needed.

  4. To serve, spoon the yogurt sauce over the flesh of the eggplant halves, sprinkle with za’atar and a lot of pomegranate seeds.

Lemon Lavender Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Darjeeling Dreams

½ cup of butter or 8 tablespoons
1 ½ tablespoons dried cooking lavender
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg
½ cup plain yogurt
Zest of one lemon


Juice from two lemons
¼ cup powdered sugar

  1. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, and set aside.

  2. Cut the butter into cubes and place in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the lavender. Once the butter has melted, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let the lavender infuse the butter for 8 minutes. Watch the butter because you don’t want it to brown. Remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Strain the melted butter through a fine-meshed sieved into a large bowl. Press down on the lavender to remove all the butter. Set aside.

  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  4. In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

  5. Mix the sugar, egg and oil with the butter. Add the yogurt and lemon zest, stir to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

  6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool.

  7. While the cake is baking, make the glaze by whisking together the lemon juice and the powdered sugar until smooth.

  8. When the cake is completely cooled, brush the glaze gently over the cake. It will soak in like a syrup.

Topics: Food, Recipes, Shavuot
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How to cite this page

Romanow, Katherine. "Eating Jewish: Shavuot isn't all about cheese." 23 May 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 19, 2024) <>.