Purim seeds, nuts and beans

On Purim, it's a mitzva to enjoy not only costumes and parties, but good food, as well.

hamantaschen 88 (photo credit: )
hamantaschen 88
(photo credit: )
On Purim, enjoying a festive meal is not simply a pleasure; it is a mitzva. According to Michael Strassfeld, author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide & Commentary, the Purim se'uda traditionally "ranks second only to the Passover Seder in importance as a special meal," although it does not have rituals similar to the Seder's. In many households chickpeas appear on the menu. Given that the Purim story took place in Persia, chickpeas are appropriate, since they have long been a favorite in Persian cuisine, especially in hearty soups with lamb, or with vegetables and noodles. Strassfeld gives another reason: "According to one tradition, Esther, in order to keep kosher, ate only seeds and legumes, which has given rise to a custom of eating chickpeas... or at least foods that contain seeds or nuts." To commemorate Esther's menu, some might serve a meatless meal, particularly if they want to enjoy hamentashen made with butter. For many families, however, a holiday dinner calls for an entree of poultry or meat, and so they simply cook the meat with chickpeas or serve them as an appetizer or side dish. Other good ways to include nuts or seeds are to make salads or rice dishes embellished with toasted nuts, buttered noodles with poppy seeds, or sauces flavored with coriander or cumin seeds, as in the brisket with chickpeas recipe below. Obviously, you can also serve sesame or poppyseed halla or rye bread with caraway seeds. For dessert, besides the hamentashen, you can make the always popular chocolate rum balls, which are great not only for dessert but as part of mishloah manot, which I think of as the Purim cookie exchange. QUEEN ESTHER'S SALAD This salad commemorates Queen Esther's fare when she lived at the Persian king's palace. If you like, add freshly cooked chickpeas (for directions, see first paragraph of next recipe) to the salad. It's so tasty that you'll want to serve it not just for Purim, but also during the rest of the year. 6 cups mixed baby lettuces 2 tsp. white or red wine vinegar 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil salt and freshly ground pepper 2 or 3 Tbsp. toasted shelled sunflower seeds 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup toasted walnuts (see Note) or mixed toasted nuts If greens are not already rinsed, rinse them and dry thoroughly. Transfer to a bowl. Add vinegar, oil, salt and pepper to taste. Toss thoroughly. Serve sprinkled with sunflower seeds and toasted nuts. Makes 4 servings. Note: To toast walnuts: Put walnut halves or pieces in a preheated oven or toaster oven at 180º. Toast for 5 minutes, stir and toast for 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool. BRISKET WITH CHICKPEAS AND ZUCCHINI Brisket is good not only braised in one piece, but also cooked in cubes as beef stew, which is easier to serve. Here the brisket cooks gently in a richly flavored Mediterranean-style sauce of tomatoes and garlic. In honor of Purim, it includes not only chickpeas, but also ground cumin and coriander seeds in the sauce. Basmati rice, a Persian favorite, is a good accompaniment. To make this entree vegetarian, substitute tofu for the beef or simply omit the beef. For more details on these meatless modifications of the recipe, see Note 1 below. 3⁄4 cup dried chickpeas, rinsed and sorted (see Note 2) 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil 900 gr. beef brisket or stewing meat, cut into 3-cm. pieces, trimmed of fat and patted dry 1 large onion, chopped 1 Tbsp. flour 1 cup water an 800-gr. can diced tomatoes, drained 1 fresh hot pepper, seeds and ribs discarded, minced 1 tsp. ground cumin seeds, or more to taste 1 tsp. ground coriander seeds, or more to taste Salt 4 large garlic cloves, minced 1 Tbsp. tomato paste 450 gr. zucchini or pale-green squash (kishu), cut in 1-cm. cubes Put chickpeas in a medium saucepan and add 3 cups water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Heat oil in large heavy stew pan over medium-high heat. Brown beef in two batches, removing it with a slotted spoon to a plate. Add onion to stew pan and cook over low heat, stirring often, until softened, about 7 minutes. Return meat to pan, reserving any juices on plate, and sprinkle meat with flour. Toss lightly to coat meat with flour. Cook over low heat, stirring often, 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup liquid from the cooked chickpeas or 1 cup water. Add juices from plate, tomatoes, hot pepper, cumin, coriander, salt and half the garlic. Bring to boil, stirring often. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring and turning beef cubes over occasionally, 31⁄2 hours. Stir tomato paste into stew. Drain chickpeas and add them. Cover and cook about 30 more minutes or until beef is very tender; when a piece is lifted with a sharp knife, it should fall from knife. If you would like a thicker sauce, uncover pan and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally very gently, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini, cover and simmer until it is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining garlic and simmer, uncovered, 1⁄2 minute. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings. NOTE 1: If you are making this dish vegetarian, omit the beef and the flour. When making the sauce, use only 1⁄2 cup liquid from the cooked chickpeas and a smaller can of tomatoes - 400 gr. Cook the sauce with the chickpeas about 30 minutes or until well flavored and thickened. To add tofu, use 400 gr. to 450 gr. firm tofu cut in cubes and cook it in the sauce with the chickpeas for 30 minutes or until well flavored. NOTE 2: You can substitute 11⁄2 cups canned chickpeas for the dried ones. Add them to stew at same time as tomato paste. CHOCOLATE ALMOND RUM BALLS Rum balls are perfect for Purim, as this is a holiday for enjoying wine and spirits. Besides, rum balls are so much easier to make than hamentashen and, some would argue, equally delicious. 110 gr. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa 2 Tbsp. sugar 1⁄2 cup sweet wine 2 Tbsp. rum 65 gr. to 70 gr. (5 Tbsp.) butter or margarine, room temperature, cut in pieces 110 gr. simple, unfilled cookies or 3⁄4 to 1 cup cookie crumbs 1⁄2 cup toasted almonds 1 cup coconut Combine chocolate, cocoa, sugar, wine, and rum in a heavy, medium saucepan. Heat mixture over low heat, stirring often, until chocolate melts. Remove from heat and add butter. Stir mixture until butter melts and blends in. In a food processor, grind cookies to fairly coarse crumbs. Stir them into chocolate mixture. Add almonds to processor and process until finely chopped. Add them to chocolate mixture and mix well. Refrigerate mixture about 30 minutes, or until it is just firm enough to shape in balls. Prepare a shallow bowl or tray and put coconut in it. To shape the sweets, take about 2 teaspoons of chocolate mixture and roll it quickly in your palms to a smooth ball. Set the ball in the coconut and roll it until it is completely coated. Set it on a plate. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to 1 week before serving. Serve candies cold or at room temperature, in candy papers. Makes about 30 rum balls. Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.