My husband looked up at me from his IPad the other day and said, "What about roast lamb shoulder with parsnip fries?" I responded, "For when? This weekend?" He said, "No, for Passover." To which my response was, incredulously, "Like, as in April? Passover??"
But this is what we do. We haven't even hit Purim yet, but the planning for Passover has begun. For my family (the Jewish side), Passover and Thanksgiving are the big holidays. And my beloved Presbyterian-raised partner has embraced them both with gusto. For me, Passover is the apex of everything I love about holidays. With the rich symbolism of the food stuffs served to family and friends, I'm in ritual heaven.
But for my man, Passover is a culinary challenge. And I don't mean challenge as in problem, but more like an Iron Chef challenge. What is the most amazing food he can prepare without using some of the most common ingredients in cooking? Stay tuned. It's going to get crazy here.
But for now, we find Purim in the offing.
Purim is a Jewish holiday that takes place in early spring to commemorate events detailed in the biblical Scroll of Esther/Megillat Esther. The book describes a failed genocidal plot against the Jews of Persia. The scheme, led by the king's advisor, Haman, was uncovered by Mordecai. Esther, the niece of Mordecai, won the heart of King Ahasuerus. Through her bravery in speaking up for her people, Haman's evil plot was foiled and the Jews were spared their planned execution.
The holiday falls on the 14th day of Adar in the Hebrew Calendar, which takes place in early spring. The rituals of Purim come from the Scroll of Esther and two obligations involve food. According to the text, Purim is to be a festival "of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor" (Esther 9:22). In adherence to this text, Jews are obligated to feast on Purim afternoon and to do mishloach manot [sending portions]. The mishloach manot are gifts containing two different foods that are ready to eat with no needed preparation (including beverages) to at least one person. These gifts are often sent through a third party, usually a child. Oh, and did I mention the costumes? The first time we actually had someone bring us mishloach manot, it was a father-son duo dressed as firemen. My husband saw them coming up the walk and panicked, "Do we give them something?? Like on Halloween?" Once I realized what was happening, I said, "Um, no. I think they are bringing us something!"
There is often great creativity expressed in theme baskets, and some may become quite elaborate. In the United States, sweets, particularly hamantaschen are the most common of gifts. Known alternatively as "Haman's Hats" or "Haman's Ears", hamantaschen are three cornered cookies stuffed with filling.
The traditional Ashkenazic (Eastern European and German) flavors are prune and poppy seed, but I never make those (although my sister-in law keeps hinting that she really likes the prune ones; maybe this year will be the year!). These cookies can include endless varieties of fruit fillings, as well as chocolate and even Nutella. Some Jews bake hamantaschen in order to use up their flour before Passover, much like the pancakes consumed on Fat Tuesday before the Lenten season begins.
So what is the plan for Purim in the Culinary Converter's house this year? Hamantaschen, of course. I say that like I make them every year. Which I don't,much to my husband's despair. But I have really good intentions this year. Sadly Purim falls during Lent this year, so there may be some of my dear friends who may have to abstain from the yummy cookies this time. Luckily, these freeze well!
This recipe is adapted from Sundays at the Moosewood. I only use the dough recipe, because I like that these cookies come out cake-y rather than crumbly (like other recipes I've tried). Also, the citrus flavor is great, I added orange zest to the juice. As for fillings, I tend to use fruit preserves. My daughters have requested chocolate this year. And I think I need to try the Nutella version.
For the Dough:
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 tsp baking powder
5 cups flour
4 tsp orange juice and the zest of one orange
2 tsp vanilla extract
1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and mix. In a separate bowl, stir the baking powder into the flour. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the juice/zest to the butter/sugar/eggs mixture. Stir in vanilla. Refrigerate dough for at least ½ an hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Take half the dough and on a well-floured surface, roll to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into circles w/a 3 inch cookie cutter (I use a glass).
3. Put one teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Pull 3 points of the circle toward the center (over the filling) in order to form a triangle. Pinch the dough together along the seams.
4. Repeat steps 2-3 w/leftover dough as well as with reworked scraps from the first batch. Place hamantaschen 2 inches apart on buttered baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned.
Makes about 40 hamantaschen.
Any other ideas for filling? Or maybe for making mishloach manot?