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How to Eat Like Esther

The heroine of the Purim story was a strict vegetarian.

February 20, 2002|JUDY ZEIDLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim tale, was quite a woman. Not only did she outwit the evil Haman and save the entire Jewish population of Persia, she did it all as a vegetarian. Or, by today's standards, a vegan.

According to tradition, when Esther married King Ahasuerus and moved into the palace, she ate only fruits, beans and grains. Legend has it that poppy and caraway seed pastries were her favorites.

In keeping with this, when we celebrate Purim this year (it begins Monday evening) I will be serving Chickpea Pizza, a spring salad of fennel and lima beans, Mushroom-Barley Soup and a Caraway Bundt Cake.

Chickpea Pizza is based on the Provencal dish socca, which is usually eaten as a midmorning snack. Along the Italian Riviera it is called farinata, and it is served at lunch topped with chopped tomatoes and capers. Made with only ground chickpea flour and water, it takes just minutes to make and can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.

It is also delicious served plain or topped with spices, cheese, vegetables and olives--but always include a liberal sprinkling of fresh ground pepper. While it is traditionally baked in a brick oven in pizza pans, my method calls for stove-top cooking, then finishing under the broiler.

Beans--fresh, frozen or dried--are always included in our Purim menu. With the beginning of spring, I take advantage of the arrival of the fresh beans at the local outdoor farmers' market. Lima beans are now coming into season, and when combined with diced fennel and extra-virgin olive oil they make a perfect Purim salad served over finely sliced lettuce.

The Mushroom-Barley Soup that I prepare for Purim is made without chicken or meat broth. What gives this soup texture and depth of flavor is fresh shiitake mushrooms. Remember to cook the soup vegetables briefly before adding the barley and water. This is a satisfying soup that is hearty enough to be a main course.

Almost everyone associates caraway seeds with rye bread, but you will be amazed at the way their aromatic, distinctive flavor highlights this Caraway Bundt Cake. It is made with egg whites, and although it contains no egg yolks, the texture resembles a pound cake. As a holiday Purim dessert, it is a perfect accompaniment to the wine that is such an important part of the celebration.

Make mini-cakes using the same recipe, and the family can give them as gifts to those less fortunate. These are known as shalachmones, and giving them is the custom during the Purim holiday.

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Zeidler is the author of "The 30-Minute Kosher Cook" (William Morrow, $22).

Cake pedestal and place mat from Williams-Sonoma stores.

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Chickpea Pizza

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus 30 minutes standing * Vegetarian

Chickpea flour is sold at Indian markets and health food stores.

1 cup chickpea flour

Salt

1 cup water

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 large tomato or 2 small, diced

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the broiler.

Sift the chickpea flour with 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a bowl. Slowly add the water, whisking constantly to form a paste. Beat with a wire whisk until smooth. Let the batter stand, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In a 10-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir the batter and pour 1/2 the batter into the skillet, tipping and swirling it to evenly coat the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the bottom is golden and crisp and the top is almost set, 2 to 3 minutes. Burst any large air bubbles with the tip of a knife. Sprinkle 1/2 of the tomato and green onions along with pepper to taste on top.

Place the pan under the broiler and cook until golden and crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Slide the pizza onto a work surface. Sprinkle with salt to taste and half the Parmesan cheese. Cut the pizza into wedges and serve hot. Repeat with the remaining batter.

2 pizzas. Each of 8 servings: 136 calories; 163 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.56 grams fiber.

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Mushroom-Barley Soup

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes * Vegetarian

Leftover soup can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, or it can be frozen.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced carrots

1 onion, diced

3/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups vegetable stock or water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/3 cup pearl barley

1 tablespoon dry Sherry

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Cook the celery and carrots, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened, 5 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

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