The holiday of Purim, which begins on Monday evening, March 6, commemorates the saving of the Jews of Persia from being killed.
The story is recounted in the Book of Esther, which is chanted in synagogues on Purim. It relates how Queen Esther, who was Jewish, foiled the scheme of the king’s evil advisor Haman to destroy the Jewish community. During the reading, every time the name Haman is mentioned, the children make plenty of noise with special noisemakers.
Since Queen Esther was said to be a vegetarian, many people include nuts, beans and seeds in their Purim menus. We’re preparing sesame-topped greens, soup with beans, potatoes with tahini (which is made from sesame seeds), and orange cake with nuts.
The best-loved Purim food custom is preparing, exchanging and enjoying holiday sweet treats, especially three-cornered filled cookies called hamantaschen, which in Yiddish means Haman’s pockets; in Hebrew they’re called Oznei Haman, meaning Haman’s ears.
This year we are making hamantaschen a different way. Instead of using a rolling pin, we shape the cookie dough in balls, fill them with guava paste and form them in triangles.
These three-cornered hamantaschen, which are filled with guava paste, are easy to make. The pliable cookie dough is shaped without a rolling pin. With the same dough you can also make round cookies with the filling enclosed, or flat cookies with a filling cube on top.
Yield: About 24 cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter (4 ounces), room temperature, cut in pieces
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
4 ounces guava paste
1. In a mixer beat butter until softened. Add powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla.
2. Add flour and salt. Stir until mixture it holds together as a dough.
3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until easy to handle.
4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (300 degrees if using an air fryer toaster oven). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil; or butter cookie sheet.
5. Cut guava paste into 1/2-inch cubes.
6. Using a measuring tablespoon, shape dough in 1-inch balls. Roll them between your hands until smooth. Press balls to flatten about half way. Indent centers with a measuring spoon to make room for filling. Place guava paste cube in center of each one. Pull dough over filling, forming a triangular cookie by folding dough over filling in three arcs, leaving a little filling showing in center. If you prefer, completely enclose filling and make round cookies. (Or bake them as flat cookies with the filling cube on top; filling will be drier this way.)
7. Place cookies on prepared pan about 2 inches apart. In a standard oven, bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes; in an air fryer toaster oven bake at 300 degrees for 15 to 17 minutes, or until dough is very pale golden.
8. Cool on a wire rack.
Blood Orange Cake with Macadamia Nuts
This cake has a macadamia nut crust and an orange-coconut topping made with sweet-tangy blood oranges; you can substitute navel oranges. It is based on a recipe from Melissa’s Produce.
Yield: 12 servings
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons grated blood orange zest
1/2 cup cold butter (4 ounces), cut in cubes
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup blood orange juice
1 tablespoon grated blood orange zest
3/4 cup flaked coconut
Powdered sugar and half slices blood orange (optional, for garnish)
1. Toast macadamia nuts on a baking sheet at 300 degrees for 5 minutes or until light golden. Transfer to a plate; let cool completely. Grind finely in a food processor.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 if using an air fryer toaster oven). Lightly oil a square 9-inch pan. Line pan with parchment paper, allowing it to hang over pan sides. Oil paper.
3. In a medium bowl mix ground macadamia nuts, flour, powdered sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter and grated orange zest. Crumble mixture between your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. Press mixture firmly into bottom of prepared pan in an even layer.
4. Bake crust for 12 to 20 minutes, or until light golden.
5. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees (300 in an air fryer toaster oven).
6. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar. Add flour; whisk until smooth. Stir in juice, grated zest and coconut. Pour mixture over prepared crust. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until filling is completely set and golden brown.
7. Let cake cool completely in pan. Lift it carefully from pan using parchment paper. With cake still on paper, cut it in 12 squares. Remove each one carefully from paper.
8. Serve dusted with powdered sugar if desired, and garnished with half slices of orange.
Stir-Fry of Gai Lan with Sesame Seeds
Gai lan, also known as Chinese broccoli, is delicious with a few Asian flavorings. It cooks quickly; first we cook the sliced stems, and then we finish cooking them with the leaves and the tiny florets.
To make our kosher version of this traditional dish, we use vegetarian oyster sauce or mushroom oyster sauce, which do not contain oyster extract. You can substitute hoisin sauce mixed with a touch of soy sauce.
Yield: 3 or 4 servings
1 pound gai lan
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water (for slurry) and more for cooking
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 to 3 teaspoons minced gingerroot
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vegetarian oyster sauce or mushroom oyster sauce, and more for drizzling
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
About 2 teaspoons sesame seeds (for sprinkling)
1. Slice gai lan stems diagonally about 1/4 inch thick. Roughly chop leaves. Keep stems and leaves separate.
2. To make a slurry, spoon cornstarch into a small cup and stir in 2 tablespoons water.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and garlic and fry just until garlic is golden; this happens quickly. Remove garlic; reserve.
4. Add ginger to pan and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add gai lan stems and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add sugar, vegetarian oyster sauce and 1/4 cup water. Stir fry about 3 minutes, adding more water by tablespoons if pan becomes dry.
5. Add chopped leaves and cook, tossing, for 30 seconds or until tender.
6. Stir slurry and mix it into greens. Add fried garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add sesame oil, salt and pepper.
7. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds. Drizzle with vegetarian oyster sauce if desired.
Tahini Mashed Potatoes
Tahini, lemon and garlic give mashed potatoes Eastern Mediterranean flair. This recipe is from Faith Kramer’s book, 52 Shabbats. Faith leaves the potato peels on for texture; you can peel them if you prefer.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, more if desired
6 tablespoons very cold water, more if needed
3/4 cup tahini paste, stirred before measuring
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 pounds whole baby potatoes
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pinch of pepper
About 1 cup Tahini Sauce
Paprika and chopped Italian parsley for garnish
1. Tahini Sauce: In a medium-large bowl, stir garlic with lemon juice and 6 tablespoons water. Stir in tahini paste with a fork. Mixture may thicken and seize; keep stirring until it is smooth and thick but pourable. Add more cold water if needed, 1 teaspoon at a time, to reach desired consistency. Add salt to taste and more lemon juice if needed.
2. Mashed potatoes: In a large pot combine potatoes with water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft and can easily be pierced with a fork. (Timing varies with potato size.) Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Drain potatoes; discard remaining liquid.
3. Cut potatoes in half; remove any potato skins that come off easily. Put potatoes in a large bowl.
4. While potatoes are hot, add olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and 6 tablespoons potato cooking liquid . Mash with a potato masher until combined and somewhat smooth.
5. Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cup tahini sauce; mash until blended in. If potatoes are not smooth enough, add more cooking liquid by tablespoons; be careful not to make the potatoes watery. Taste and adjust seasoning.
6. Keep warm or reheat when ready to serve. Serve hot, drizzled with 2 or 3 more tablespoons tahini sauce and garnished with paprika and parsley.
Black Eyed Pea and Pasta Soup with Red Pepper
This hearty, flavorful soup is inspired by an Italian recipe from the StrazzantiCucina YouTube Channel. It makes use of a sweet red pepper two ways — half of it diced and sautéed in olive oil with other vegetables, and the rest pureed with vegetable broth.
Yield: 3 or 4 servings
1 large sweet red pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced small
2 celery ribs, diced small
3 1/2 to 4 cups vegetable broth
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
1 small dried chile, mild or hot
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup ditalini (short tubes) or other small pasta
An 11-ounce package cooked black eyed peas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
Hot pepper olive oil (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Dice half the red pepper. Heat olive oil in a medium-large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and diced pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cut rest of pepper in pieces. Puree in a food processor with 1/2 cup vegetable broth.
3. Add 3 cups broth to vegetables in pan. Stir and bring to a boil. Add garlic clove, dried chile, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Return to a boil. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
4. Add pureed red pepper mixture and return to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
5. Remove and discard chile and garlic clove.
6. Add pasta to pan, return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in cooked black eyed peas and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 more minutes or until pasta is just cooked. If soup is too thick, add more broth and heat through.
7. Taste and adjust seasoning. Just before serving, stir in chopped parsley. Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and with hot pepper oil and grated Parmesan cheese if desired.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.