Some holidays are necessarily culinary. Rosh Hashana has its simanim (fish heads, anyone?), Pesach is über-kosher, and lasagna and cheesecake are Shavuot institutions.
The focus on Purim is usually on costumes, Megillat Esther, and mishloach manot. But this year, I’ve been thinking about the culinary aspect of the holiday, the seudah (festive meal).
Back in the US, my experience of the seudah was usually the one the shul put on, with fried chicken, salad, and a few other things. It was simple, kid-friendly, not in any way particular to the holiday. But in doing a little research, I have turned up two themes to Purim food: hidden and vegetarian.
A couple of years ago, I was working with a friend on a Jewish cookbook (alas, never published) and she told me about why Jews eat hamantashen on Purim. Since God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, the belief is that God directed the events in the story from behind the scenes, as the hester panim, or hidden face. Since the filling is largely hidden inside the cookie, this is a reference to the hidden face of God in the story. My friend suggested serving pigs-in-blankets (pastry-wrapped hot dogs) as kid-friendly food for the holiday, and I have read elsewhere that kreplach, meat-filled ravioli (served alone, with sauce, or in chicken soup) is also served at Purim. (As an aside, hamantashen, Yiddish for Haman pockets, and the Israeli oznei Haman, Haman’s ears, are traditionally triangular in shape in Europe and Israel, though they were not so in other parts of the world, such as Iraq.)
The second theme of Purim food is vegetarian, especially fruit, nuts, and seeds. Just as Jews remember Esther’s fast before outing herself as a Jew to save her people, we also remember her time spent in the harem of King Ahashverosh, when she endeavored to observe the laws of kashrut by abstaining from eating meat. Fillings for hamantashen include dates, prunes, and poppy seeds. Families mindful of this tradition eat special foods made from almonds (mmm, marzipan), sesame seeds (techina and halva), humous, and dates.
Since my family eats mostly vegetarian aside from Shabbat and holidays, this presents me with some cool ideas for menus. Split pea soup, red lentil soup, or Moroccan chick pea soup are vegetarian options. Curried lentils is another. To incorporate the hester panim theme, one can serve stuffed peppers, stuffed acorn squash, or stuffed baked potatoes. For those like me who lean toward ethnic cuisine, burritos or enchiladas are Tex-Mex possibilities, as are Italian tortellini and calzones, Indian samosas and pakoras, Chinese wontons or steamed dumplings, Thai or Vietnamese spring rolls, or Japanese sushi or tempura. Sandwich wraps can be a lighter alternative. And while I am fond of hamantashen, other dessert options include pies, turnovers, and my childhood favorite, surprise cupcakes (made with chocolate cake batter, with a dollop of sweetened cream cheese and chocolate chips baked in the middle).
So many possibilities for a holiday that comes but once a year.
Read Full Post »