Most people associate the upcoming Shavuot holiday with buttery blintzes and dense delicious cheesecakes. The custom to eat dairy is an ancient one. It speaks to the event marked by Shavuot: the giving of the Law, the Torah.
The story goes that before the Jewish people received the Torah at Sinai; the laws of Kashrut would have been unfamiliar to them. Once they received the Torah, however, the people became aware of the vast body of law related to meat, for instance, ritual slaughter, how to identify kosher animals, kashering techniques, and the need to separate milk and meat.
Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) realized it had a lot to learn. Rather than err in their observance of these new laws, the Jewish people decided to stick to eating dairy foods, a much less complicated affair, until such time as they could bone up on the laws associated with meat and its preparation. Fable or fact, this is the story behind the custom of eating milk products on Shavuot.
At the same time, there remains a strong custom for observant Jews to eat meat at holiday meals. This custom goes back to the idea that eating meat and imbibing wine gives simcha (happiness), a necessary emotion at holiday time! In order to cover their bases, many observant Jews will have at least one meat meal over the Shavuot holiday, and one dairy meal. In my home, we have meat at first meal, which would, according to the Shavuot story, fall during the time before the giving of the Torah, which occurred at sunrise the next morning.
I make the same main course dish every year for the first evening meal of Shavuot, meat lasagna interspersed with layers of mock tofu “cheese.” I think of this as my personal Shavuot joke, since the dish appears to be a forbidden mixture of dairy and meat. According to my personal narrative, we wouldn’t have known better than to mix meat and milk because it’s nighttime and we haven’t yet received the Torah! My lasagna joke morphs into a great talking point for teaching my children the story of Shavuot.
This is a great dish that gets better and better each time it is reheated. It can take lots of standing time on a warming plate or in a low oven. It can also be assembled in advance, which is a boon to me as a mother of 12 and a fulltime writer at kars for kids. Being strapped for time, I’m always grateful to count on recipes that can be made ahead.
Make my Meat Lasagna and surprise everyone at your table this year.
Photo credit: Natan Epstein