Dress up menus with Seven Species of biblical produce

NEW YORK — Perhaps the least observed of the major Jewish holidays, Shavuot began as an agricultural festival in which the ancient Israelites traveled to Jerusalem to make an offering at the Temple in thanks for the late spring harvest. In fact, the holiday — which begins Thursday at sundown — marked the end of one harvest and the beginning of another, a time when barley gave way to wheat. Falling at opposite ends of the growing season, Passover and Sukkot were pilgrimage celebrations too.

But it was during the Shavuot festival that ancient Israelites honored the season's glory by bringing samples of the first fruits of the Seven Species to the Temple: figs, dates, pomegranates, grapes, olives and, of course, barley and wheat. Not surprisingly, today these are the crops for which Israel is famous.

In the Bible, Shavuot was called Hag Hakatzir (Harvest Holiday) and Yom Habikkurim (Day of First Fruits). It falls seven weeks after Passover, at the time many centuries ago, when Moses had climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Accordingly, the holiday is given a third name, Feast of Weeks.

Because Shavuot is renowned for God's bestowing the Torah on the Children of Israel, the agricultural aspect of the holiday is often overlooked. Likened to the Torah, milk is a symbol of purity because of its color. The one holiday on the Jewish calendar linked with dairy products, Shavuot is more often identified with cheesecake than bushels of fruit.

Whether you observe Shavuot every year or this is your first time, I suggest incorporating as many of the Seven Species into fruit-filled recipes like the ones below. Leafy Lettuce and Fruit is a crunchy salad, calling for figs, olives and raisins.

Date-Filled Fish, Moroccan Style is a sweet and savory Rosh Hashanah dish, which also compliments Shavuot's fruit theme.

To augment the fruit motif, start the meal with grapes and a platter of cheese. Adorn the dining table with bowls of olives in various sizes, shapes and colors (picholine, cerignola and kalamata), and a bowl of mixed fruit. Serve two loaves of challah, or in the case of Sephardim, two breads of choice. Honoring grapes again, pour chilled white wine.

Among Shavuot's lovely aspects is the celebration of garden fresh produce, which floods farmers' markets around the world at this time of year, filling the air with the perfume of the season's first fruits.


Serves 8

1/8 cup sunflower seeds

16 leaves of romaine lettuce, rinsed, dried with paper towels and broken into bite-sized pieces.

32 olives of any kind, pitted

8 dried figs, cut into quarters

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup parsley, minced

Roast sunflower seeds in a toaster oven at 350 degrees for 1-2 minutes, watching constantly as seeds burn easily.

Place all ingredients in a salad bowl and toss with vinaigrette (below).

Red Wine Viniagrette:

4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

salt to taste

Whisk ingredients well.

Date-filled Fish


Serves 4


1/2 lb. dates, preferably Medjool

1/2 cup cooked rice

1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds

2 Tbsp. honey

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. white pepper

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. salt


2-1/2 lbs. whole red snapper, sea bass or grouper

salt to taste

white pepper to taste

2 Tbs. olive oil

nonstick vegetable spray

1 medium onion, sliced

2 lemons, sliced for garnish

For stuffing, pit dates. If using a variety tougher than Medjool, steam them for 1-2 minutes to soften. Cool.

Place dates in a medium-size bowl and mash a little. Add remaining ingredients and mix well, until a sticky consistency forms.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse fish under cold water inside and out. Dry with paper towels. Sprinkle inside of fish with salt and pepper. Fill cavity with stuffing and close with small metal skewers.

Drizzle 1 Tbs. olive oil on topside of fish and rub with fingertips until skin is evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn over and repeat.

Coat roasting pan with nonstick spray. Place circles of onions in a straight line across length of pan. Center fish on top of them.

Bake fish for 25-35 minutes. Skin should be brown and, when a sharp knife is inserted into the spine, flesh should be white, not pink.

Remove skewers gently. With wooden or plastic spatulas, carefully move fish to a platter. Surround with lemon slices. Discard onion.