Purim Treats

elegant venetian, mardi gras mask on glitter backgroundPURIM IS COMING – you were expecting maybe hamantaschen? Fooled ‘ya! But isn’t that the point of Purim anyway?
On this holiday nothing is as it seems. Did Achashverosh select Esther as his queen for her beauty alone? Did Mordechai just happen to overhear the assassination plot to kill him? Was it coincidental that Haman’s visit to Achashverosh coincided with the reading of Mordechai’s heroic deeds? Did the king suddenly decide to hang Haman, his favorite minister, just because of Esther’s power of persuasion? All these events disguise the real miracle of Purim: G-d’s intercession to save His people. And, yet, the ultimate deception of all: the Book of Esther is the only one in the bible in which
G-d’s name is not even mentioned.
For Purim (beginning at sundown on March 11), intrigue and foolery are the order of the day, and our holiday table reflects that. Here a duo of surprises begin and end your festive meal.
Tell your guests that the mouth-watering appetizer set before them is baba ghanoush, and what do they expect? Eggplant and tahini. Surprise! Neither one is present here.
“There is none of the tahini you’d associate with baba ghanoush,” writes Yotam Ottolenghi, the award-winning author of “Jerusalem” and “Plenty,” in his latest cookbook, “Plenty More.“ “It’s the garlic, smokiness, and texture of the mashed zucchini flesh that calls its purple friend to mind. I don’t know why we don’t broil zucchini more. Getting some smokiness into the naturally bland flesh is a real revelation.”
You’ll find plenty of surprises in “Plenty,” subtitled “Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi,” not the least of which is that vegetarian cooking can be so inventive and exciting: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomelo and Star Anise, Crushed Carrots with Harissa and Pistachios, Smoky Polenta Fries, Caramelized Brandy Pears with Fennel Seed Crackers. But he prefers to describe “Plenty” and “Plenty More” as vegetarian-based, rather than vegetarian. “I don’t like to call them vegetarian because vegetarian, for me, rings of all sorts of things that I think these books are not,” he told NPR’s Rachel Martin.
You finish the feast with a flourish, but who would guess that stunning cake contains eggplant? Ask your guests, as I did, to name the surprise ingredient. I assure you all will be fooled.
“It may be hard to imagine, but eggplant performs as a sweet treat,” writes Cara Mangini in “The Vegetable Butcher” (Workman, $29.95),” which teaches you, with 150 seasonal recipes and 250 step-by-step color photographs, just how to slice and dice the season’s best. “Here it melts with honey, vanilla, and nutmeg and caramelizes in balsamic vinegar, turning a simple, rustic, Italian-style polenta into a complex, moist, and dense cake – one that’s only made better with the addition of orange mascarpone frosting. You must try it to believe it.
“Use medium-grind, stone-ground polenta,” she advises, “for a more toothsome cake – I love it this way – or an extra-fine, almost powdery cornmeal for a softer cake with a more typical texture.”
Zucchini masquerades as eggplant in your appetizer, while eggplant fools the palate in your dessert. Happy Purim!

Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

5 large zucchini (about 2 3/4 pounds)
1/3 cup goat’s milk yogurt
2 tablespoons coarsely grated Roquefort
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon Urfa chili flakes, or pinch regular chili flakes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon za’atar, to finish
Salt and bla¹5¾ck pepper

1 Preheat broiler. Place zucchini on baking sheet lined with parchment paper; broil, turning once or twice, until skin crisps and browns nicely. Remove; once cool enough to handle, peel off zucchini skin {or scoop out flesh with a spoon), discard, and set flesh in colander to drain. Zucchini can be served warm or at room temperature.
2 Put yogurt in small saucepan with Roquefort and egg. Heat very gently about 3 minutes, stirring often until yogurt is heated though but not quite simmering. Set aside and keep warm.
3 Melt butter in small sauté pan with pine nuts over low heat and cook, stirring often, 3-4 minutes, until nuts turn golden brown. Star in chili flakes and lemon juice.
4 To serve, put zucchini in bowl; add garlic, scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Gently mash everything together with a fork; then spread mixture onto large serving platter. Spoon warm yogurt sauce on top, followed by drizzle of warm chili butter and pine nuts.

Finish with sprinkle of Za’atar. Serve immediately.
Source: “Plenty More” by Yotam Ottolenghi

Honeyed Eggplant and Polenta Cake with Orange Mascarpone Frosting
Slender Asian eggplants or small to medium Italian eggplants are ideal here.

Eggplant Purée
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4 cups)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Polenta Cake
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing pan
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pan
2/3 cup polenta
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk

Frosting
1 tub (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 Eggplant purée: Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. When beginning to foam, add eggplant and salt, increase heat to medium- high, and cook, stirring frequently, until eggplant begins to soften and become golden at edges, about 3 minutes. Add honey, vanilla, nutmeg, and 1/4 cup water, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is soft and caramelized, about 6 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until eggplant is completely soft and deep golden brown, 3-5 minutes more.
2 Transfer eggplant to food processor and blend, scraping down side of bowl, until completely smooth. Set aside and let cool.
3 Polenta Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour side and bottom of 9-inch cake pan; shake out excess flour. (A round of parchment paper may be used at bottom.)
4 In medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
5 In large bowl using electric mixer, beat egg and sugar, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium-high, until whipped and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add eggs, one at a time, whipping on medium speed after each addition. Add vanilla and eggplant purée; beat until just incorporated. Alternately in three rounds, add dry ingredients and milk, beating well between each addition until just combined. Do not overbeat.
6 Pour batter into prepared pan; using rubber spatula, spread evenly and smooth out top. Bake until cake just starts to pull away from pan and top is golden brown all over and just firm to the touch, but still tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
7 Transfer cake in pan to wire cooling rack; cool 15 minutes. Invert cake against rack to release it, remove pan, and allow cake to cool completely.
8 Frosting: Place mascarpone cheese in large bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium speed until there are no more lumps (do not overmix). Stir in orange zest. Add confectioners’ sugar slowly, beating continuously, until smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla until just combined.
9 Frost top of cooled cake and serve.

Source: “The Vegetable Butcher” by Cara Mangini

Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.

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