Just don't say cheese

The dairy product industry has started to gear up for Shavuot. But what healthy options are available for people who are lactose intolerant?

feta cheese 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
feta cheese 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's starting. Even though the Shavuot festival is weeks away, major dairy manufacturers and boutique dairies all over the country are already gearing up for massive sales. And no wonder. With eating dairy products the prevalent culinary custom for Shavuot, millions are spent on advertising new products - they know that the sale of dairy products will hit their annual high before and during the holiday, just as they do every year. But if you or someone close to you is lactose-intolerant or allergic to milk protein, as many adults and children are, celebrating Shavuot is often harder to bear than dealing with the restriction all year-round. For drinking and in many recipes, soy milk is one alternative to regular milk, and there are various brands available (though I confess to using only Alpro calcium-enriched soy milk because it tastes best and is made with whole soybeans rather than some "fresh" types made with soy protein isolate). Other possibilities are coconut milk, rice milk, oatmeal milk and quinoa milk (though after tasting I personally wouldn't buy any of the last three). For coffee and baking, many people are happy to use parve cream (happy because they either aren't aware of all the chemicals in it, or don't care), or products like "Better than Cream Cheese" (which considering all the fat and stabilizers it contains, doesn't seem any better to me). There are also several types of virtual cheese, individually wrapped slices sold primarily in health food stores. And for dessert, it's easy to find non-dairy ice creams in every supermarket (non-dairy, but chemical rich). Ichh. But if you're allergic to milk, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to put up with chemical additives; especially when it's so easy and good to make things like virtual "feta" or "ricotta" out of wholesome ingredients like tofu. And if you're looking for a non-dairy dish to serve with a meat meal, and you care about your health, there are almost infinite imaginative possibilities without reverting to chemical-laced products. Here are two suggestions in the meantime, but don't feel obliged to wait till Shavuot! "FETA" CHEESE IN 7-INGREDIENT OLIVE OIL MARINADE Serve the marinated tofu feta cheese for entertaining, a sandwich, a quick snack, or as part of a lunch or dinner. I like to make it just as guests arrive, so the marinade is still hot. Alternately, make it a few hours ahead of time, and let the tofu marinate for several hours to absorb flavors. Store in an airtight mason-type jar in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. NOTE: The leftover marinade is delicious as a salad dressing for potato or green salads. Serves 4-6 300 gr. tofu (I like "Wilder" or "Shizen" brands) For the 7-Ingredient marinade: 4 11⁄2 cups extra virgin olive oil 4 6 whole peppercorns, lightly cracked 4 2 bay leaves 4 2 sprigs fresh thyme, each broken in half 4 1 sprig fresh rosemary, broken into pieces 4 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved 4 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves or 1/2 cup fresh sage leaves (or a combination) 1. Cut the tofu in half lengthwise and then crosswise into cubes or slices. Place in a serving dish. 2. Heat all the ingredients except the basil until very hot. Remove from heat, add the basil leaves, and pour over the cheese. If available add pomegranate seeds or red peppercorns as a garnish. Recipe adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer. VEGETABLES STUFFED WITH NON-DAIRY RICOTTA CHEESE An inexpensive crowd pleaser, the filling can be used to stuff 48 large cherry tomatoes (filled with one and a half teaspoons of filling), dried or fresh apricot halves, celery sticks, mushroom caps and little multi-colored stuffed "Tinkerbell" peppers. Delicious snack or party food. For 11⁄2 cups of cheese 4 250 gr. fresh tofu, organic if possible 4 1-2 tsp. fresh lemon juice 4 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 1⁄4 tsp. salt 4 half tsp. garlic powder 4 3-5 basil leaves (or mixed basil and oregano) finely minced 4 2 tbsp soy milk (Alpro plain enriched with calcium recommended) 4 48 cherry tomatoes (or mixed vegetables as above) 1. Grate the tofu block using the tines of a turned-over fork and place in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients except the soy milk and mix well. 2. Add the soy milk gradually, mixing with a fork until the texture looks just like regular ricotta cheese (small curds), and stuff the desired vegetables.n Phyllis Glazer is a food writer, consultant and cooking teacher, and the author of several cookbooks in English and Hebrew. Questions or comments? [email protected]