It has all the elements of pulp fiction Biblical style: the foolish king, Ahasuerus, spurns his wife, Vashti, and holds a pageant to replace her. Enter the brave and beautiful Esther, who wins his heart, but keeps her Judaism a secret. Add palace intrigue – a plot to kill the king foiled by Mordechai, incurring the wrath of the wicked minister, Haman, who conspires to massacre the Jews. Our heroine, Esther, saves the day, and our people are saved.
Fast forward 2,500 years, and along come some scholars asserting that Purim, the holiday of merriment, mirth and trickery, may itself be a trick, casting doubt that the story ever happened!
Go ahead. You tell that to all those colorfully costumed kids, graggers in hand, waiting to drown out the name Haman every time it is mentioned as the Megillah is read. This is a day to party!
On Purim day (the holiday begins at sundown on February 24), it is considered a mitzvah to celebrate with a festive meal (Seudat Purim). “There is no real law on what to serve for Jewish holidays except for matzo on Pesach,” said Susie Fishbein, the effervescent author of the wildly popular Kosher by Design series, by phone from her home in New Jersey.
“The story of Purim is such a secretive story. Esther conceals her identity, and there are plots and intrigue. This gives you the ability to play with food that is wrapped, concealing a hidden message inside, like Turkey Taco Eggrolls or Vegetable Stuffed Cabbage.”
Fishbein’s latest cookbook, Kosher by Design Cooking Coach (Artscroll, $36.99), the eighth in the series, offers culinary tips and techniques as well as 120 new recipes and over 400 full-color photos. Each chapter begins with an informative “game plan,” teaching those skills that turn a novice cook into a confident chef. A unique addition is her “Playbook,” a guide to handling leftovers, saving you time and money.
“Say one night you make Bulgogi (Korean steak wrapped in lettuce),” she said. “My playbook shows you how to reincarnate the leftovers into Asian Beef Soup. These are not last night’s leftovers. If you serve the leftovers in Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, nobody’s going to say, ‘We’ve had that filling already.’ It’s a totally new item.”
Mention food and Purim together, and you instantly think of hamantashen, “Haman’s pockets,” which supposedly held the lots (purim) he cast in order to choose the date for the slaughter of the Jews. Or does the three-cornered cookie resemble his hat? Whatever the derivation, eat and enjoy! Marlena Spieler offers a version from her latest cookbook Recipes From My Jewish Grandmother (Lorenz Books, $18.99). Besides the apricot filling here, you’ll find poppy seed and prune at www.ocjewishlife.com.
Spieler, author of more than 50 cookbooks, includes informative chapters on the history of Jewish cuisine, the holidays and Kashrut, as well as general guides to the preparation of all foods Jewish, everything from grilling mamaliga to pounding hawaij and berbere (spice mixtures).
Spieler fondly remembers Sundays in her grandmother’s kitchen, her early inspiration. “My grandmother ran a law firm and worked until a few days before she died at 93,” said the California native on a recent visit to San Francisco from her home in London. “Well, she had to cut back a little — she only worked from nine to five then! But on Sunday morning people would start coming, and she would start cooking. I couldn’t say they’d come for breakfast, lunch or dinner, because it was all one meal. Bachi really gave me the love of cooking.”
Spieler traveled widely as a young adult, even lived in Israel for a year, and was working as an artist in Greece when she started including recipes with her drawings of food. A publisher offered to publish the recipes (minus the drawings!) launching her career as a food writer,
broadcaster and columnist.
Recipes From My Jewish Grandmother is a truly international culmination of Spieler’s curiosity about our people and our food. “I love meeting Jews from different cultures and hearing their stories and find it really exciting that people with such different backgrounds share the same heritage and holidays.”
Helene’s Turkey Taco Eggrolls
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound dark meat ground turkey
1 packet (1.25 ounces) Ortega taco seasoning mix
3/4 cup water
5 ounces (1/2 of a 10-ounce box) frozen spinach, completely defrosted
1 package (1 pound) eggroll wrappers; I like Nasoya brand
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Canola oil, for frying
Bottled taco sauce or hot sauce for dipping
1. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in large (12-14-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey, breaking up chunks with wooden spoon. Cook 2 to 3 minutes until no longer pink and just starting to brown. Add taco seasoning packet and water. Bring to a simmer.
2. Squeeze all liquid out of spinach. Add spinach to pan and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir to distribute spinach. Cook until all liquid evaporates. Remove from heat. Cool completely or eggrolls will be soggy.
3. Arrange eggroll wrapper on cutting board facing you like a diamond. Brush egg wash along edges of wrapper. Place 2 tablespoons filling horizontally in middle of eggroll; form into 4-inch log. Fold bottom corner over filling toward top corner. Fold two sides in toward center to look like an envelope. Roll firmly toward top corner, making 4-inch wide roll. Seal final edge with egg wash. Set aside seam side down. Repeat.
4. In deep fryer or medium pot, heat oil to 355˚F. If using pot, oil should be at least 2 inches deep. Fry eggrolls in batches about 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown, turning occasionally. Don’t crowd pot. Drain on paper towels. S erve with taco sauce.
Source: Kosher by Design Cooking Coach by Susie Fishbein
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
Pinch of salt
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Generous 1 cup dried apricots
1 cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons sugar
Poppy seed filling:
1 cup poppy seeds, coarsely ground
½ cup milk
½ cup golden raisins, roughly chopped
3-4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1-2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous 1 cup pitted prunes
Hot, freshly brewed tea or water, to cover
¼ cup plum jam
1. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
2. In separate bowl combine milk, egg, extract and salt. Sift flour into third bowl.
3. Beat butter mixture with 1/3 of flour. Gradually add remaining flour in 3 batches alternately with milk mixture. Dough should be consistency of loose shortbread dough. If too stiff, add a little milk. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
4. Apricot filling: Put apricots, cinnamon stick and sugar in pan with water to cover. Simmer 15 minutes or until apricots are tender and most of liquid has evaporated. Remove cinnamon stick; purée apricots in food processor or blender with a little cooking liquid until consistency of thick jam.
5. Poppy seed filling: Put all ingredients except vanilla in pan and simmer 5 to 10 minutes or until mixture thickens and most of milk is absorbed. Stir in vanilla.
6. Prune Filling: Put prunes in bowl and cover with hot tea or water. Set aside, covered, about 30 minutes or until prunes absorb liquid. Drain; purée in food processor or blender with jam.
7. Form hamantashen: Preheat oven to 350˚F. On lightly floured surface roll out dough about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into rounds about 3 inches in diameter. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons filling in center of each round; pinch pastry together to form 3 corners, leaving a little filling showing in middle of pastry.
9. Place pastries on baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes or until pale golden. Serve warm or cold, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, if you like.
Source: Recipes From My Jewish Grandmother by Marlena Spieler