Food: Wholesome Shavuot appetizers

A light way to start your holiday

Dieter's Tartine 521 (photo credit: Courtesy: Alan Richardson)
Dieter's Tartine 521
(photo credit: Courtesy: Alan Richardson)
Around Shavuot, I incorporate more dairy dishes into my menus. For appetizers I pair cheeses, yogurt and labaneh with vegetables and serve them atop thin slices of bread to make small, open-faced sandwiches.
Even a rich dip, when spread lightly on good quality bread, can make a sandwich that is nutritious. Benny Saida, author of Food of the Balkans (in Hebrew), makes a spinach and yogurt dip from sheep’s milk yogurt mixed with garlic, salt, white pepper and cooled spinach that had been cooked with olive oil, and serves it with fresh bread. I use similar dips as spreads, allowing two or three slices of baguette per person.
Saida also makes a salad of deep-fried eggplant, peppers and zucchini mixed with rich yogurt, garlic, dill and olive oil. To save on calories, I roast the vegetables instead of frying them and serve them on small slices of bread that I spread with a thin layer of labaneh.
As an alternative to labaneh, I might use an herbed cheese spread that I learned to make in France from soft white cheese mixed with a little creme fraiche and flavored with olive oil, dry white wine, wine vinegar, garlic, chives and parsley. Thin slices of ripe tomato complete the simple appetizer.
Dorie Greenspan, author of Around my French Table, uses a variety of ingredients to make tartines, or French openfaced sandwiches that she calls “the French equivalent of Italian bruschetta... Because, unlike American sandwiches (open-faced or closed), tartines are slender, carrying just a thin layer or two of ingredients, you can use up... the one tomato left in the basket, the few spoonfuls of soft cheese, or the odd olives to construct a good-looking and very tasty tartine.”
I make such sandwiches from all kinds of bread, from French bread to pumpernickel to flatbread. “In France,” writes Greenspan, “most tartines are constructed on thinnish slices of country bread that’s been grilled more often than toasted, and usually on just one side... But you can use a piece of baguette – sliced into rounds or cut lengthwise – or, if you’re using delicate ingredients, you can base the tartine on a slice of brioche, challah, or white or whole wheat bread.”
Greenspan’s pretty dieter’s tartine, from a Parisian restaurant specializing in these little sandwiches, has a topping resembling Israeli salad on bread spread with white cheese.
(The recipe is below.) At the restaurant they find this tartine appeals to French women who want a non-fattening yet satisfying lunch. Greenspan also makes goat cheese and strawberry tartines, a recipe she came up with by chance when a baguette, a goat cheese and a bag of strawberries tumbled out of her market bag onto her kitchen counter. As a finishing touch, she sprinkles the topping with black pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Such a tartine is good on baguette, either fresh or toasted.
Janna Gur, author of The Book of New Israeli Food, makes an Israeli-style bruschetta topped with a salad of roasted eggplant, goat’s milk yogurt and garlic. For the base of the bruschetta, Gur brushes sliced baguette or ciabatta bread with olive oil, toasts it in the oven until brown and rubs it with garlic. For another topping, she blends roasted eggplant with goat cheese, flavors it with hot pepper sauce and folds in whipped cream.
Whether you call these little sandwiches tartines, bruschette, canapes or open-faced sandwiches, as long as the bread is fresh and the dairy spread is flavorful but thin, they will make a wholesome opening for a celebration of Shavuot foods.
Faye Levy is the author of the Fresh from France cookbook series and of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.
To make these delicious sandwiches, I prepare the roasted vegetables in advance. I like to keep these vegetables on hand for other uses as well as salad toppings, additions to pasta dishes and as side dishes.
Makes 8 to 12 appetizer sandwiches, about 4 servings
about 11⁄2 cups roasted eggplant with peppers and tomatoes (see recipe below)
8 to 12 slices French or Italian bread or wholewheat bread about 1⁄2 cup labaneh, or more if needed 1 Tbsp fresh coriander leaves or chopped parsley, chives or green of green onion
Dice the roasted eggplant mixture so it won’t fall off the sandwich.
Either leave the bread fresh or toast it lightly.
Just before serving, spread each bread slice with a thin layer of labaneh. Top with the roasted vegetables. Sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve.
If you like, add 3 or 4 chopped garlic cloves to the pan for the last 20 minutes of roasting.
Makes 11⁄2 to 2 cups
1 small eggplant (about 225 gr. or 1⁄2 pound) 1 onion, quartered and sliced 2 semi-hot green peppers or 1 sweet green pepper 4 to 5 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil salt and freshly ground pepper 2 or 3 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Preheat oven to 190ºC (375ºF). Cut eggplant into bite-size cubes. Combine with onion in a foil-lined roasting pan. Add tomato halves, cut side up. Sprinkle vegetables with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Add peppers to pan; leave them whole. Roast, stirring eggplant mixture and turning peppers over every 15 or 20 minutes (leaving tomatoes cut-side up), for a total of 45 minutes to 1 hour or until eggplant and tomatoes are cooked to your taste.
Enclose peppers with the foil and let cool about 15 minutes. Peel with the aid of a paring knife.
Remove seeds from sweet pepper; you can leave them in semi-hot pepper if you’d like them to be more pungent. Cut peppers in thin strips and add to eggplant mixture. Dice tomatoes and stir into mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning. Use warm or at room temperature.
This recipe is from Around my French Table.
Author Dorie Greenspan sometimes varies the topping by adding thin slices of radishes and green onions and notes that you can drizzle the finished tartines with fruity olive oil – “it will make it a little less dietetic and a little more flavorful.”
Greenspan recommends making the tartines with hearty farm bread, baguette sliced the long way, rye bread or thick-sliced firm white bread. “This is a casual dish, so go with what you’ve got.”
The fromage blanc used in France is like gvina levana (Israeli white cheese). If you like, you can substitute a mixture of cottage cheese and light sour cream or yogurt – about 6 tablespoons cottage cheese to 2 tablespoons sour cream; whisk them together vigorously to blend or pulse them in a mini-processor or with a hand-held blender.
The optional herbes de Provence in the topping is a mixture of dried Mediterranean herbs. If you don’t have it, you could use a pinch of dried thyme and oregano.
Makes 1 serving
1 large slice country bread, about 1 cm. (1⁄3 inch) thick 1⁄2 cup nonfat white cheese Salt and freshly ground white pepper 1⁄3 seedless cucumber, peeled and diced 1 small tomato, preferably peeled and seeded, diced Chopped fresh chives Herbes de Provence (optional)
Lightly grill one side of the bread or toast it on one side in a toaster oven. Place the bread toasted- side up on a large plate, spread with the cheese and season with salt and white pepper. Toss the cucumber and tomato cubes with salt and white pepper and spoon them over the tartine, paying no attention to what spills over onto the plate. Sprinkle with chives and a tiny pinch of herbes de Provence, if you’re using them. Leave the slice of bread whole or cut it in half; serve immediately.