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It’s Purim, let the revelry commence

Posted on 25 February 2010 by admin

By Linda Morel

NEW YORK (JTA) — Purim is a busy holiday. It starts with an evening reading of the Megillah of Esther, followed the next morning by the second reading of a story that rivals the pace of a best-selling novel. The plot features a brave and beautiful heroine, a despotic king, a clever uncle and a villain who is destroyed by his own evil plans.

After the morning reading, many people visit family and friends to distribute mishloach manot, packages filled with two baked goods and a drink. They also give matanot l’evyonim, donations to the needy.
Finally comes the highlight of any Jewish holiday — a delicious meal. But unlike most Jewish celebrations, where dining occurs at night, the Seudat Purim is a feast served midday, often lingering until evening.

The idea of consuming a meal during daylight hours was decided in the fourth century by the scholar Rava, who thought the timing would prevent Purim from becoming a regular workday.

Bearing out Rava’s worst fears, the lavish luncheon now passes under the radar screen of many, and it is mostly observant Jews who throw Seudat Purims. However, because Purim falls on a Sunday this year, Feb. 28, it’s an opportunity for the celebration to reach a larger audience.

But how do you get started?

“There’s no such thing as a traditional Seudat Purim,” says Janet Andron Hoffman, a social worker from Teaneck, N.J.

Hoffman finds that most families develop their own style of hosting the celebratory lunch. However, the meal begins like other Jewish holidays — by breaking bread and reciting blessings.

If you’re thinking of guidelines, the Seudat Purim must start after midday and end at sundown. Most important, the luncheon should be joyous because it commemorates the Jews of ancient Persia defeating their enemies.
Drinking plays heavily in the Purim story, which opens when King Ahasuerus of Persia gets drunk at a party and asks his first wife to show off her good looks. She refuses, so the king banishes her.

Ahasuerus then holds a contest to select a new wife. From hundreds of applicants he chooses a nice Jewish girl named Esther. She’s the niece of Mordechai, a prominent Jew who suggested that Esther enter the contest. He warns her not to reveal her religion at court.

In the next scene, Mordechai overhears that the King’s vizier, Haman, is plotting to annihilate the Jews. Mordechai implores Esther to save the Jewish people by intervening with her husband. She organizes a three-day event at which everyone gets drunk.

Ahasuerus becomes enraged when people he has not summoned request an audience, but Esther gathers her courage and approaches him.

Risking her life, she drops two bombshells: She reveals her religion and exposes Haman’s evil plot. Upon hearing the news, the king becomes so outraged, he hangs Haman on the gallows that the vizier had prepared to murder the Jews.

An ecstatic Mordechai and Esther host a huge celebration. From then on, they want Jews to observe Purim by exchanging packages of food and drink, and by making charitable donations.

“This is what I love about my religion,” Hoffman says. “Even in the act of rejoicing, we’re still thinking about people in need. It’s built into the holiday.”

The foods eaten at Seudat Purim luncheons are rife with symbolism. Seeds and nuts are customarily cooked into holiday foods. The Talmud relates that Esther as queen ate only seeds and nuts in the palace of King Ahasuerus because she had no access to kosher food. Some experts believe she subsisted on chickpeas, too.
Many families buy an especially long, braided challah, commemorating the rope used to hang Haman. As turkey is generally known as a stupid animal and Ahasuerus was a foolish king, turkey is often the entrée of choice on Seudat Purim menus.

Hamantaschen are the most well-known Purim food because their shape is reminiscent of Haman’s triangular hat. While hamantaschen are often filled with preserves and chocolate, poppy seeds were the traditional filling.
The drinking of alcoholic beverages is not only suggested but encouraged. In the Talmud, Rava said that people should drink on Purim to the point of not remembering whether it is Mordechai or Haman they are praising or cursing. If that degree of drunkenness is not appealing, a Seudat Purim is an occasion to serve your best wines.
Among all Jewish celebrations, this special meal is a time to express joyous revelry and release.
The bottom line is, a Seudat Purim is great fun.

Hoffman has a large house and more than 20 in her extended family, so she has hosted the festive lunch many times. With her three children now in their 20s, her Purim celebrations have evolved as her children have grown.

“The Seudat Purim is an opportunity to be with my family,” Hoffman says. “We love each other and have fun together; we’re lucky in that way.

“We celebrate with food, wine and merrymaking. We’re all together. What could be better than that?”

Below are some recipes for a Seudat Purim menu.

DRUNKEN TURKEY (Meat)

Because the liqueur in this recipe is cooked through, the alcohol has lost its potency and thus is safe for children to eat.

Turkey ingredients:
  • No-stick vegetable spray
  • 3- to 3-1/2-lb. turkey breast
  • 1/4 c. orange liqueur
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • Orange sauce ingredients:
  • 1/4 c. orange liqueur
  • 1-1/2 c. orange juice
  • 3/4 c. orange marmalade
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 6 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Turkey preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a roasting pan and rack with nonstick spray. Place rack inside of roasting pan.
Rinse turkey breast under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Place breast skin side down on a plate. Douse with 1/8 cup orange liqueur. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and 1/8 tsp. garlic powder. Place breast skin side up on rack and repeat, seasoning with remaining orange liqueur, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, avoiding any bones. Slide roasting pan inside the oven.

Meanwhile, place orange sauce ingredients into a medium-sized pot. Stir well to blend. Bring to a boil on a medium flame. Reduce flame and simmer sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If sauce returns to a boil, reduce heat again. Cool to warm and reserve.

After breast has roasted for 1-1/2 hours, remove it from oven. With a ladle, drizzle orange sauce on breast, reserving the remainder. Then return turkey to the oven.

Breast is ready when temperature on the thermometer reaches 170°, which takes about 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

Remove from oven and wait 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with orange sauce. Yield: 6 servings

POPPY SEED NOODLES (Dairy or Parve)

This recipe from Hungary reminds us of Queen Esther’s plight in King Ahasuerus’ court.

Ingredients:
  • 1 (16-oz.) package of extra-wide egg noodles
  • A few drops of cooking oil
  • 2 shallots
  • 6 Tbsp. butter or margarine
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • White pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, garnish
Preparation:

Prepare noodles according to package directions, adding cooking oil to the boiling water. While noodles boil, chop shallots finely and sauté in butter or margarine until translucent, about 2 minutes. Reserve.
When noodles reach the desired tenderness, drain them well in a colander. Place noodles in a large mixing bowl. Pour shallot butter (or margarine) over them. Add salt, pepper and poppy seeds; stir until blended. Move noodles to an attractive serving bowl and sprinkle parsley over the top. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings (as a side dish)

CHICK PEA SALAD (Parve)

This recipe tastes best when made 24 hours in advance.

Ingredients:
  • 2 (19-oz.) cans chick peas
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 c. pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-sized red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
Preparation:

Drain chick peas in a colander. Place chick peas and remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Toss again before serving, adding more olive oil and vinegar, if necessary. Yield: 6–8 servings

ALMOND TRIANGLES (Parve)

Like hamantaschen, this pastry reminds us of Haman’s three-cornered hat.

Ingredients:
  • Nonstick vegetable spray
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. dark brown sugar (hard lumps removed)
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom
  • 1 c. blanched, slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, with a wooden spoon, hand-mix the egg, brown sugar and almond extract. (Don’t use an electric mixer in any step of this recipe.) Fold in flour, baking soda, salt and cardamom, mixing well. Add almonds and stir until well blended.

Place batter in prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 18–20 minutes, or until edges brown and top surface is slightly firm to the touch but soft and spongy underneath.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature on a wire rack. With a knife, cut across the pan, making 3 horizontal but equal strips. Then cut down the length of the pan, making 3 equal vertical strips. You’ll have 9 squares.

Remove these squares from the pan and cut them in half diagonally, creating triangles. Recipe freezes well. Yield: 18 triangles

Make some Hamantaschen

Purim begins on Saturday night, Feb. 27, with a grand feast the following day. You’ll eat until you’re stuffed with wonderful foods, including the triangular-shaped ones that remind us of Haman’s three-cornered hat, or his
bribe-filled pockets. When we eat his hat (or his pockets), we annihilate him (symbolically, that is).

It’s not Purim without hamantaschen. The sugary, equilateral triangles stuffed with pureed dried fruits, poppy seeds or chocolate are the menu item. In Hebrew, hamantaschen are called “oznay Haman” — Haman’s ears. And now, some foods for the feast!

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Pine Nut Brittle
(Pignoccate)
  • 1 c. pine nuts
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tsp. fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 5–10 minutes until light golden. Set aside to cool.

Line a large sheet pan with a silicone mat or with foil. If using foil, spread a light layer of vegetable oil over the foil.

Cook sugar and water in heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture begins to color. Stir in the pine nuts and salt and cook until the sugar syrup becomes golden (if using a candy thermometer, the temperature should reach about 300°). Pour the mixture onto the prepared pan and tilt the pan to spread the mixture. Cool completely before breaking up the brittle. Makes about 12 or more servings.

Kreplach

Kreplach can contain any filling: chicken, cooked chopped brisket, mashed potatoes, cooked mushrooms — anything. This recipe uses simple ground beef for the filling.

Dough:
  • 2 c. flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil or melted chicken or goose fat
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Filling:
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 c. finely chopped onion
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic (optional)
  • 8 oz. lean ground beef
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare filling:

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until softened. Add the meat and cook until browned and dry. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
Make dough: Place flour on a clean surface (such as a counter or cutting board) and make a well in the center. Place eggs, oil and salt in the well. Use your hands to work the flour, little by little, into the well. When all the flour is incorporated, knead the soft dough for several minutes until it is elastic (when you pull a piece of the dough it should stretch a bit).
Assemble the kreplach: Flour a dry surface and roll the dough into a very thin sheet (if the dough is not thin enough, it will not yield enough for the filling and will be too thick and gummy when cooked). Cut the dough into 3-inch squares. Place a tablespoon of filling on each square and fold them over to form triangles. Use a bit of water on the edges and pinch them to seal the triangles — they should be well sealed so as not to open during cooking. Makes about 24 kreplach.

Hamantaschen (Parve)
  • 5-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1 to 2 c. good-quality fruit preserves or spread, any flavor (not jelly, and the preserves must be mostly fruit) or Solo-type filling or nut spread, such as Nutella

Preheat oven to 350°. Line two or more baking sheets with parchment or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk well. Set aside.
Beat together eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the oil and orange juice and mix well. Add the flour mixture and mix well.

Place half the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll with a floured rolling pin to a 1/4-inch thickness (if the dough is too soft, knead in more flour).

Use a cookie cutter (my mother uses a drinking glass) to cut 4-inch circles (or smaller if desired to make smaller hamantaschen) of the dough. Place a spoonful of filling into the center of the circle and raise and pinch the circle to form three triangles (pinch well so that the cookie doesn’t open during baking). This takes a little practice.

Place the hamantaschen on the baking sheet and repeat. Bake about 12 minutes (or more, depending on your oven), until the cookies are golden. Allow to cool before removing from the baking sheet. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Hamantaschen (Dairy)
  • 4 c. flour
  • 2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. butter or margarine
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 to 2 c. good-quality fruit preserves or spread, any flavor (not jelly, and the preserves must be mostly fruit) or Solo-type filling or nut spread, such as Nutella

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk well. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°. Line two or more baking sheets with parchment or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, mix until creamy. Add the eggs and beat until uniform. Mix in the milk and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and beat until a dough is formed. Divide the dough into three equal pieces.

Place one piece on a lightly floured surface and roll with a floured rolling pin to a 1/4-inch thickness (if the dough is too soft, knead in more flour).

Use a cookie cutter (my mother uses a drinking glass) to cut 4-inch circles (or smaller if desired to make smaller hamantaschen) of the dough. Place a spoonful of filling into the center of the circle and raise and pinch the circle to form three triangles (pinch well so that the cookie doesn’t open during baking). This takes a little practice. Place the hamentaschen on the baking sheet and repeat. Bake about 12 minutes (or more, depending on your oven), until the cookies are golden. Allow to cool before removing from the baking sheet. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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