by Rachel Harkham
More than three thousand years ago, as the story goes, the Israelites received the Torah from God on top of Mt. Sinai. Shavuot, which begins tonight and lasts two days, celebrates the acceptance of that enduring tradition. At this time it is customary to eat a roster of rich dairy dishes for several reasons: the plentiful milk of late springtime, the lines in the Bible describing Israel as the land of “milk and honey” and the dairy dishes that followed the acceptance of the laws of kashrut before Jews could cook kosher meat.
Fast-forward from the slopes of Mt. Sinai to New York in the late-aughties. I was trying to come up with an original dish to serve to my guests for Shavuot, finding myself completely uninspired by the usual suspects—sweet cheese blintzes and cheesecake—as well as the Shavuot-appropriated Italian-American dishes of eggplant parmesan and lasagne. I wanted to serve my guests something exciting, something that would blow their minds then tickle their tastebuds—but still honor the Shavuot culinary tradition of springtime dairy.
Suddenly, I was struck by a thought: why does cheesecake have to be sweet? Its base is made from cream cheese, sour cream and eggs—all ingredients that could go either sweet or savory. The crust is changeable, too; I could easily swap out graham crackers for Ritz. I recalled the rich Hungarian Liptauer cheese spread that I would slather thickly on my everything bagel to make a deluxe brunch-wich, usually involving a few slivers of smoked fish. Hey, why not? I thought. It could be crazy enough to work.
This dish reverses the idea of cheesecake as dessert into a savory, robustly flavored appetizer or main course. One of my guests described it as tasting “like extra-rich and creamy bagels, lox, and cream cheese.” It combines smoked fish with the usual base of cream cheese, sour cream and borrows from Hungarian Liptauer cheese flavors of smoked paprika, caraway seeds, red onion and prepared horseradish. The tangy-sweet strips of crunchy pickled red onions and salty pops of capers offer a nice contrasting garnish to this rich, terrine-like dish. Anding a sprinkling of the everything-bagel mix will tie this dish together flavorfully. Best of all, you won’t have to stay up all night to make it!
Smoked Trout Cheesecake
- 32 Ritz-type crackers (1 sleeve), or 1 ½ cups, crushed
- 4 tablespoon melted butter
- 1-2 teaspoons canola or safflower oil
- 1 medium red onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
- 16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons of prepared white horseradish
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)
- 16 oz. flaked and skinned smoked trout (smoked salmon or whitefish work fine too)
- Preheat oven to 350F. Mix melted butter with crushed cracker crumbs and press onto the bottom and ½ inch up the sides of a springform pan. Place in oven for 12-15 minutes or until cracker crust becomes golden around edges.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté chopped red onion until translucent and golden around edges, approximately 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside momentarily.
- Place cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time.
- Mix in sour cream, horseradish, smoked paprika and caraway seeds if using. Fold in sautéed onions and flaked trout.
- Spoon cream cheese mixture evenly into cracker crust. Place in oven and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the cheesecake is set and a toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly dry.
Yields 16-18 appetizer-sized servings.
For the Pickled Red Onions & Capers:
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 large red onion, sliced in half and cut into thin half moons.
- 2-3 tablespoons capers, drained of liquid
- In a small bowl combine red wine vinegar and sugar and mix until sugar is incorporated. Add sliced red onion and drained capers. Ensuring most of the vegetables are submerged in liquid. Allow to sit for at least 1 hour.
Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend
- 2 tablespoons dried onion or shallot flakes
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons poppyseeds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- tablespoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1. Preheat oven to 350F, and combine all ingredients on a rimmed baking sheet, giving it a few vigorous shakes in order to evenly distribute all ingredients.
2. Place in oven and toast for 4-5 minutes, or until golden around edges.
Yields ½ cup