(March 7, 2023 / JNS) This should be a fun-filled, over-the-top Purim this year; after all, it’s exactly three years since the coronavirus turned our world upside-down. This year, the holiday begins on the evening of Monday, March 6 (the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar) and continues throughout the following day. For those who observe it, the fast of Esther takes place from dawn to dusk on Purim eve.
The celebration is linked to the survival of Jews in the Persian Empire in the fifth century BCE when they were marked to be put to death in one day. They were saved, somewhat hesitantly at first, by Esther, a young Jewish woman who eventually put her fears aside to stand out among … well, women. The story told in the book of Esther, read from the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther), is that in the face of destruction, violence and the Haman the Agagite’s dastardly plot, Jews not only survived but thrived. In glorious victory, they went from possible extermination to preservation.
And today, they go l’dor v’dor—“from generation to generation.”
On this holiday, almost anything goes. It’s like a carnival, Fastnacht (Carnival of Basel) in Switzerland, April Fool’s Day and the Philadelphia Mummers all rolled into one. Kids and adults alike dress up; you’ll see Queen Esther (a favorite with little girls), King Ahasuerus, Mordechai and even the evil Haman. Purim is the only Jewish festival where it’s actually encouraged to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.” This stems from a quotation in the Talmud attributed to Rava, a fourth-century rabbi. I prefer to think it means “devil may care” tipsy, not rip-roaring drunk.
In Israel, the holiday goes way beyond religious roots. Celebrations begin the day before. Dress up and go to work. In the streets, zombies, clowns, courtesans and bare-chested young men draped in fake fur jostle through the crowds. Pre-COVID, in the Machane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem, I saw kilted Scots dancing on top of cars, music blaring (a nod to the large Jewish immigration from Scotland to Jerusalem). Young and old, everyone has a ball!
Queen Esther is said to have eaten a vegetarian diet in order to keep kosher while living in King Ahasuerus’s palace. For Purim Seudah, the holiday feast, it’s traditional to serve dishes that incorporate pulses (crops harvested solely as dry grains) such as peas, beans and nuts. Dining at Dvash, a Mediterranean restaurant in Boca Raton, Fla., I was inspired to recreate a spectacular hummus dish topped with cubes of roasted eggplant. It’s very easy and certainly better (and cheaper) than the store-bought kind. The eggy, vegetable tagine I tasted in Tunisia is similar to a frittata and baked in a round dish. In fact, tagine comes from the Greek tagame, meaning “frying pan.”
Queen Esther’s Lentil Stew is what I call a forgiving recipe. A bit more or less still works well. Just season with cumin and oregano to taste, and substitute canned beans for cooked lentils. Lentils are a good plant-based source of protein, carbohydrates and fiber. Kids will have fun making Haman’s Flea cookies, my “go-to” simple shortbread sprinkled with poppy seeds. For the hamantaschen filling, be adventurous. Combine any crushed cereal with a nut butter such as Nutella. As for Rocky Poppy Buns, these are way fluffier and tastier than Hagrid’s variety served to Harry Potter.
Chag Purim Sameach!
Homemade Hummus (Pareve)
Makes 1½ – 1¾ cups
*Tahini is a Middle Eastern condiment—a smooth mixture of toasted, ground, hulled sesame seeds. Stir well before serving, as it tends to separate.
*Use fresh lemon juice, not bottled. One large lemon yields about 3 tablespoons of juice.
*Lemons at room temperature yield more juice.
*Drain canned chickpeas, but hold back 3 tablespoons to add to the mixture.
1 (15-ounce) can of chickpeas, drained (see tips)
¼ cup tahini
2 to 3 Tbsp. liquid from chickpeas
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. bottled minced garlic or to taste
¼ cup of extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
1½ tsp. cumin
paprika or snipped parsley to sprinkle
In a food processor, place chickpeas, tahini, 2 tablespoons chickpea liquid, lemon juice, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil and cumin. Pulse and process to a smooth paste.
To make a creamier mixture, add the remaining chickpea liquid and process.
To serve: Spoon into a shallow dish, sprinkle with paprika or parsley, and drizzle with olive oil.
Serving suggestion: Top with Crisp Roasted Eggplant Cubes.
Crisp Roasted Eggplant Cubes (Pareve)
Makes 4 cups
*Eggplant may be sliced or cubed
*Do not freeze; frozen eggplant breaks down and becomes mushy.
1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsp. olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ tsp. fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick baking spray.
Add the cubed eggplant. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Spread on a baking sheet in one layer. Roast in a preheated oven, on the center rack, for 25 to 30 minutes. Toss after 15 minutes.
Eggplant is ready when it’s nicely browned and soft when pierced with a sharp knife.
Serve hot or warm on a bed of hummus.
Potato, Pepper and Parsley Tagine (Pareve)
*Do not add butter or milk to mashed potatoes for a pareve dish.
*Use white or brown bread. Pulse bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 cup (packed) snipped fresh parsley
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 cup soft coarse white breadcrumbs
6 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. bottled minced garlic
¼ tsp. dried pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a deep 8- or 9-inch round baking dish or 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick baking spray.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add the onion and red pepper.
Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until the onion is softened. Stir in the parsley. Set aside
In a bowl, combine the potatoes, breadcrumbs, eggs, garlic, pepper flakes and salt. Add the onion mixture and stir gently. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown and the center is firm to the touch. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.
Queen Esther’s Fruited Lentil Stew (Pareve)
*Any combination of canned beans or corn (not creamed corn) may be used.
*One cup of dry lentils yields 3 cups when cooked.
*Substitute Bloody Mary mix or vegetable juice for tomato juice.
*For a hearty soup, add more tomato juice to desired consistency.
*Steamed, ready-to-eat lentils are available in some supermarkets.
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1 can (15.5 ounces) of white beans, undrained
3 cups cooked green or brown lentils*
1 cup pitted dry apricots, halved
2½ cups tomato juice
2 Tbsp. honey
1 rounded tsp. of bottled chopped garlic
3 tsp. cumin
1½ tsp. dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook until the onion is beginning to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer.
Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more tomato juice if the mixture is too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
*To cook 1 cup of lentils: Rinse in a wire sieve and remove any debris. Place in a large pot with 3 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes until tender, not mushy. Drain well and use as needed.
Note: Cooked lentils may be stored for 3 to 4 days in a tightly lidded container in the fridge. Use a large pot, as lentils tend to double or triple in size.
Haman’s Flea Cookies (Dairy)
Makes 20-24 cookies
*Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.
*An electric hand mixer may be used for almost anything. No need for a countertop mixer.
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 to 3 Tbsp. poppy seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick baking spray.
In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the flour, ½ cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Turn onto a lightly floured board.
Roll into a log, about 10 inches long. Cut half-inch-thick slices. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown at the edges.
Cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Quick Crunchy Hamantaschen (Dairy)
Makes 6 hamantaschen
*In a hurry? A prepared 10-inch pie crust works just fine.
*Use the rim of a glass to cut pastry rounds.
*Spread any leftover pastry thinly with jam, sprinkle with cinnamon and roll up as for a jelly roll.
For the Filling:
1 Tbsp. crushed cereal
1 Tbsp. Nutella or nut butter
For a simple short-crust pastry:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 stick (½ cup) salted butter, chilled and cut into 8 slices
5 to 6 tablespoons of ice water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Prepare filling: Mix the cereal and Nutella till combined. Set aside.
Prepare pastry: Place flour and butter into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is about the size of baby peas. While pulsing, slowly drizzle water into the mixture until it begins to come together in clumps. If needed, add another tablespoon of water. Turn onto a floured board. Knead into a ball. Roll out to ⅛-inch thick.
To assemble: Cut out pastry rounds using a 3-inch cookie cutter. Place a rounded teaspoon filling in the center of each round. Brush edges with water and bring edges together to form 3 corners.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the edges are golden brown.
Rocky Poppy Buns (Dairy)
Makes 12 buns
*Keep thin latex gloves on hand for items like rubbing butter into flour. When done, just peel and discard.
*Substitute raisins or candied citrus peel for currants.
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
3½ tsp. baking powder
¼ cup sugar
1½ Tbsp. poppy seeds
½ cup currants
1 egg, lightly beaten
about ¾ cup milk
sugar to sprinkle
¾ teaspoon orange or vanilla extract (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour to resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the baking powder, sugar, poppy seed and currants. Stir to mix.
Make a well in the center. Stir in the egg, orange or vanilla extract and enough milk to make a soft sticky dough.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheet, 1-inch apart. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.
Bake in a preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.
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