No Need to Make Purim a Whole Megillah!
Pictured Above: First chapter of a hand-written scroll of the Book of Esther, with reader's pointer, March 11, 2009. Credit: Chefallen via Wikimedia Commons.
By Ethel G. Hofman
(JNS) Purim is quite a holiday. During the chanting of the Megillah, the noise level can be deafening. Young and old shout aloud—hissing, pounding tables, stamping feet, whirling groggers and boo-ing when Haman is mentioned, behavior never permitted in synagogue on any other day. The riotous celebration marks the triumph of Persian Jews over their nefarious enemy, who was planning to exterminate the Jewish population.
On this wild holiday, which begins at sundown on March 20 and lasts through the evening of March 21, almost anything goes. The atmosphere is carnival-like. Kids and adults dress up and parade as the dedicated and loyal Queen Esther and Mordecai, or King Ahaseurus and even the despicable Haman. Of course, any costume will do. And it’s OK to play good-natured tricks, jokes and just be plain silly. Young and old love it.
Purim is the only Jewish festival where it is traditionally encouraged to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between the names of Haman and Mordecai. Note: If you’re going to indulge, don’t drive! In Eastern Europe, there was no such problem. Everyone lived within walking distance of the synagogue and could stagger home well into the early hours of the morning.
Of course, the holiday doesn’t come without its obligations.
Purim is associated with four main mitzvahs: the reading and/or listening of the Megillah, or Scroll of Esther; eating a festive meal (Seudat Purim); sending gifts of food (shalach manot); and giving to the poor (matanot l’evyonim).
As far as food goes, there are dozens of culinary customs connected to Purim. Hamantaschen, the triangular poppy-seed filled pastries, resemble Haman’s tri-cornered hat or his pockets. Though hamantaschen may be filled with fruit preserves, dried fruits and sometimes halvah, poppy seeds were the traditional filling since it’s said that Queen Esther chose a vegetarian diet, rather than eat nonkosher food in the king’s palace. The custom of exchanging shalach manot (gifts of food to friends and neighbors) comes from the Megillah, which says that “Purim is a day of feasting and of sending portions to one another, and gifts to the poor.” Home-baked pastries, cookies and sweets are arranged attractively on platters for the children to give out. Many shuls have lists of congregants that receive treats, as do Jewish day schools and Hebrew schools. Some Jews in Denmark and Norway will bake gingerbread men using raisins to make Haman’s ugly face. Moroccan Jews inserted entire hard-boiled eggs in their Purim challah to resemble Haman’s eyes.
Instead of high-calorie tidbits, try these six suggestions (plus a bonus cake for a little sweetness) for petite savory treats. Serve at home or fill shalach manot platters. Even for the essential hamantaschen, veggies such as carrots dappled with za’atar spice, instead of sweet prune filling or preserves, may be substituted. All symbolize the story of Purim, from an intent to exterminate to joyous victory.
Hasty Hamantaschen (Dairy)
*Buy grated carrots for a savory version.
*Lekvar, poppy-seed and/or fruit fillings are available in jars.
*For more texture, sprinkle with sesame seeds.
*Recipe may be doubled. Pie crusts come 2 per package.
1½ tablespoons prepared prune or poppy-seed filling (lekvar) or filling of your choice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 9-inch pie crust
Confectioners’ sugar or poppy seeds to sprinkle
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the prune filling with the lemon peel and cinnamon.
Turn pie crust onto a board. Press lightly to flatten. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter to cut out 7 to 8 rounds from pie crust. Place scant 1/4 teaspoon filling in center of each round.
Dampen the edges with water. Fold the dough up over the filling to form a flat three-sided pyramid. Place on a prepared cookie sheet.
Bake in a preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until pastry is firm. Hamantaschen will be pale. Do not overbake. Dust with confectioners’ sugar or sprinkle poppy seeds over top.
Variation: In a small bowl, drizzle ¾ cups grated carrots with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Zap in microwave for 15 seconds. Sprinkle lightly with za’atar seasoning. Prepare as above.
Salmon-Dill Tartlets (Pareve)
*Substitute any other cooked or canned fish for salmon.
*For milder flavor, substitute bottled sandwich spread or mayonnaise for horseradish sauce.
*Use phyllo shells in supermarket freezer section or dry cups found boxed in some markets.
*For a gourmet touch, garnish with a teaspoon of red caviar.
*Buy red caviar, which is much less expensive than black from sturgeon.
*Sprinkle dry breadcrumbs or panko in bottom of each shell to keep crisp.
1 cup canned salmon, drained and dark skin removed
2 tablespoons bottled horseradish sauce
1 box (1.9 oz.) phyllo shells
dill sprigs/tomato, cucumber to garnish
In a small bowl, blend the salmon and horseradish sauce.
Fill phyllo shells with salmon mixture.
Garnish with dill sprigs or kosher caviar.
Dizengoff Eggs (Pareve)
Makes 12 pieces
At a Dizengoff sidewalk cafe, I discovered this lively variation of deviled eggs. Include pita bread cut into triangles.
*Cut a very thin slice from bottom of each egg-white half so that they stand firmly on a platter. *Chop the slices finely and add to filling mixture.
*Chopped black olives are available in a small can.
6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons hummus
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
1 rounded tablespoon chopped black olives
½ teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
paprika to sprinkle
Cut eggs lengthwise in half. Slip the yolks out into a bowl. Mash with a fork.
Stir in the mayonnaise, hummus, celery, olives and cumin. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill the egg whites with the mixture, heaping lightly. Sprinkle with paprika. Refrigerate before arranging on platters.
Deliver as soon as possible. Do not allow to remain at room temperature longer than about 30 minutes.
Spiced Crunchy Chickpeas (Pareve)
Makes 1½ cups
*Use canned chickpeas. Dump in a colander to drain well.
*To loosen chickpea skins, roll in kitchen towel to dry thoroughly, then in double layer of
*Get kids involved. They can pull off chickpea skins and discard.
*Za’atar seasoning is now available in supermarkets.
1 can (approx. 15 oz.) chickpeas
1½ tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons za’atar seasoning
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Rinse chickpeas under cold running water, drain well. Roll in kitchen towel and then paper towels to dry thoroughly.
Remove skins. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil, za’atar and pepper. With your hands, toss chickpeas in olive oil and spices to cover completely. Spread out in one layer on the baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated oven for 35 minutes or until nicely browned. Using a spatula, turn after 20 minutes. Cool.
Dish up in paper cups.
Parmesan Broccoli Bites (Dairy)
Makes 3 cups
*Buy prepackaged fresh broccoli or cauliflower florets.
*To make your own panko, whirl crumbled white or brown bread in food processor. Leave on counter overnight to crisp.
*Substitute 1 teaspoon curry powder and ¾ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or 1 teaspoon 21-spice seasoning for Old Bay Seasoning.
3 cups broccoli florets
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons hummus
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1½ teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spray with nonstick baking spray. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour with hummus, Parmesan cheese and seasoning.
Add the broccoli and dredge with the flour mixture.
Arrange in one layer on prepared baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until nicely browned.
Nova Enchiladas (Dairy)
Makes 12 pieces
*Substitute thinly sliced cooked soy sausage for smoked salmon.
*Use thinly spread Dijon mustard instead of cream cheese when using soy sausage.
*No tomatoes? Add 1 tablespoon drained pickle relish to cream cheese.
3 (6-inch) tortillas
3 rounded tablespoons cream cheese, softened
3-4 ounces of smoked salmon (or one large package)
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced and seeded
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1 small lime
paprika for dusting
Lay tortillas on a board. Spread each with 1 rounded tablespoon cream cheese. Top with evenly divided smoked salmon, tomatoes and onion.
Drizzle a little bit of lime juice over top. Roll up.
With a serrated knife, cut each tortilla into 4 pieces. Dust with paprika.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Loaded Chocolate-Cranberry Loaf (Dairy)
Make ahead of time and freeze. Serves 8-10.
*Sour milk: Pour 1 teaspoon vinegar into milk. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes without stirring.
*May substitute buttermilk.
*Substitute any nuts for walnuts.
*To soften butter: Leave in covered container overnight at room temperature.
*The night before, measure and mix dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Cover with clean cloth and leave on counter. Then loaf is mixed and ready to bake in minutes.
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, softened
1 teaspoon instant coffee
3 tablespoons sour milk
¾ cup sugar
2-3 overripe bananas, peeled and thickly sliced
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries
⅓ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a loaf pan (approx. 8x4x2 inches) with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom with wax paper.
In blender or food processor, place the butter, coffee, eggs, sour milk and sugar. Process until smooth. Add the bananas. Process to blend smoothly.
Transfer to a bowl and stir in the flour mixture, ½ cup at a time.
Add the chocolate chips, cranberries and walnuts, stirring to mix. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Some melted chocolate may stick to the toothpick; that’s OK. Do not overbake.
Cool 10 minutes. Loosen sides with a round-bladed knife. Turn onto a wire tray to cool completely.
Wrap in wax paper to store in refrigerator up to 4 to 5 days or wrap in foil, label and freeze.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.