Who can resist the carnival spirit of Purim . . . the only Jewish holiday that encourages drinking wine, dressing in colorful costumes and eating delicious food? Purim, which is this Sunday, celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the hands of the villain Haman through the intervention of Queen Esther Purim.
The Scroll of Esther tells us that Queen Esther was a vegetarian, and many interesting food customs that surround Purim are based on the eating of seeds, grains, garbanzo beans and fresh and dried fruits. Poppy seeds, which can be traced back to biblical days, are the favored seeds. The most beautiful poppy seeds, glossy blue-black ones, come from Holland today, but most food markets sell them in some form.
Purim customs include baking quantities of cakes, cookies and pastries and sharing them with family and friends. In ancient times, large trays of baked delicacies and dried fruits were attractively arranged on large trays and dropped off at homes in the neighborhood. Purim also is a time for sharing with the poor. Many families enlist all their members in a baking bonanza to share with the less fortunate. Children always enjoy helping and are encouraged to participate.
Since Purim is a happy holiday, filled with merriment and good will, I am planning a festive menu that will be enjoyed by several generations. The traditional poppy seeds appear in miniature round loaves of bread, in a rich cake named in honor of Queen Esther and in a salad dressing especially good with fruit salads.
Purim would not be the same without hamantaschen , the traditional triangle-shaped pastries that may be made with a wide variety of doughs and fillings. The recipe given here is a Sephardic one, with a filling of almonds and wine, accented with aromatic rose water. The dough is a simple one to make, and you might want to experiment with some of the other time-honored fillings: plum, cherry, apricot or prune preserves, or any of the interesting poppy-seed variations.
Other holiday foods are included in the menu. Lean, low-calorie skirt steak is marinated, threaded on wooden skewers, pan-broiled and served as "lollipops." Children love them, and the skirt steak, properly prepared, can be as tasty and tender as filet mignon. After removing the "lollipops" from the marinade, it only takes a few minutes from pan to table.
My guests will be greeted with steaming mugs of pea, bean and barley soup--a warm welcome if the day is chilly. The table will be decorated with cornucopias of fruit and grains, and grogers (noise-makers) will appear next to each plate.
Confetti Kasha and Varnishkas (bow-knot noodles) are enlivened with red, green and yellow peppers. The kasha is a welcome change from rice and a good choice for a holiday that emphasizes eating grains.
For dessert there will be a colorful array of fresh fruits of the season with a rosy hue due to the addition of some wine. Queen Esther's Seed Cake has a rich batter without the addition of egg yolks. A variation of the classic poundcake, it contains a combination of seeds: poppy seeds, caraway seeds and sesame seeds, which gives it an unusual nut-like flavor.
When making hamantaschen , remember that this is a job with which children and grandchildren can help. Even the youngest children can help roll, fold and shape the dough. Older children may spoon in the fillings of these delicious three-cornered pastries.
PURIM FESTIVAL MENU FOR 12
Hearty Pea, Bean and Barley Soup
Round Poppy Seed Loaves
Skirt Steak "Lollipops"
Confetti Kasha and Varnishkas
Fresh Fruit Salad With Poppy Seed Salad Dressing
Queen Esther's Seed Cake
( Sephardic Filled Pastries )
Hearty Red Wine
HEARTY PEA, BEAN AND BARLEY SOUP
1/2 cup barley
1 cup dried navy beans
1 cup dried split peas
2 pounds short ribs
2 onions, diced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
8 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 rutabaga, peeled and diced
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 (16-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
Cover barley, beans and split peas with 3 quarts water and soak at least 4 hours or overnight.
Place short ribs, onions, celery, carrots, parsnip and rutabaga in large pot. Add 10 to 12 cups water or enough to cover.
Drain barley, beans and peas and add to pot with bay leaves, thyme and marjoram. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add undrained tomatoes. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer gently until barley, beans and peas are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. If serving in mugs, remove meat from bones and serve pieces of meat with soup. Makes about 12 servings.
Note: Soup is better on the second day; it can be prepared a day before serving.
ROUND POPPY SEED LOAVES
1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
Combine yeast, 1/2 cup warm water and dash sugar and let stand 5 minutes until bubbly and light.