Not Your Bubbe’s Recipe: Cheese and Spinach Blintzes
If you’re like me and you lost the Omer-counting game, you might not be fully aware that Shavuot is coming up this weekend.
Shavuot, like most Jewish holidays, comes replete with special treats and dishes. The most well-known is the tradition of eating dairy. There are nearly infinite reasons given for this, including a seasonal abundance of milk since calves and lambs were born around this time of year, as well as the idea that the Israelites were like innocent newborns who needed milk. Others say the custom to eat dairy stems from the fact that, after receiving the laws of kashrut, the Israelites weren’t able to consume the meat they had prepared earlier that day.
Yet another legend claims the Israelites waited at Sinai for so long their milk curdled and became cheese. In Sephardic communities in Greece, they have a custom of eating spanakopita-like side dishes called horotopia. The Jews of Turkey, the Balkans, Syria, and Egypt make a rich milk pudding called Sutlage or Muhallabeya. Whatever the source of the tradition, Shavuot has lodged itself in the minds of many as the holiday of cheesecake and blintzes.
Before the rise of Christianity, blintzes’ yeasted cousins, blini, were traditionally prepared at the end of winter to celebrate the rebirth of the new sun with a round food. The Eastern Orthodox Church adopted this tradition and blini are eaten on Pancake Day, better known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday. But Jews can take credit for one thing—we popularized blintzes in the United States. As Jewish immigrants started frying them up for Hanukkah and stuffing them with sweetened ricotta or farmer’s cheese for Shavuot, people began taking notice, mass producing them for freezer aisles across the country.
Most of my associations with blintzes aren’t as positive. I usually just envision the frozen ones that come in white and blue boxes at the grocery store or get served with a dollop of canned pie filling. To be completely honest, I’ve spent most of my life avoiding blintzes, thinking they’d be bland, overly sweet, or—worst of all—mushy.
Here’s the thing about blintzes: A blintz, by definition, is a thin, unleavened pancake, cooked on one side, folded around a filling, and pan fried. So where did the sugar come from? Our Eastern European ancestors had remarkably little access to sweeteners, and even oranges were delicacies. They certainly weren’t made with white flour. And if we’re going to make our blintzes sweet, why are they served as an entree? I put this in the category of squash pie and cranberry crunch—things that should be desserts, but somehow became side dishes. After consulting my own bubbe and a number of friends on the matter, it became clear that sweet blintzes just weren’t going to cut it.
So, my twist on a blintz? Make it savory! Think of it as a rolled up crepe and go crazy! It’s an opportunity for creativity and flavor.
Not Your Bubbe’s Blintzes
Makes 20-25 blintzes
1 cup all purpose flour
3 large eggs
2-3 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra for greasing the pan
2 cups ricotta
1 cup cooked spinach
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
1 nonstick pan
1. In a mixing bowl, sift the flour and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the center. Break the eggs into the well and whisk until thoroughly mixed.
2. Immediately add 2 cups of milk and melted butter. Whisk until well mixed.
3. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove lumps. Add more milk to make the batter like a thin cream.
4. Refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes.
5. Over medium-high heat, warm a crepe pan or non-stick saute pan. Ladle a scant ¼ cup of batter into the pan with one hand, using the other to quickly tilt the batter until it covers the surface of the pan. Allow it to bubble slightly. Once the crepe is firm, gently loosen it from the pan and place on a plate. Watch this video for a demonstration.
6. Spoon about a tablespoon of the filling onto one side of the crepe. Gently roll the crepe, stopping just short of the opposite edge. Fold in the sides and finish rolling.
7. Melt a pat of butter in the pan. Place blintzes, folded side down, until the bottom becomes golden brown.