Purim puddings

There’s more to the holiday than triangular pastries.

Rice Pudding (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Rice Pudding
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
For Purim, hamentashen are not the only traditional dessert. In some communities, puddings are popular.
Italian Jews make an almond pudding for the holiday, writes Joyce Goldstein in Cucina Ebraica . It is enriched generously with egg yolks and flavored with orange-flower water, grated lemon zest and cinnamon. Rice kugel, a baked rice pudding, is served as a Purim dessert by Jews from Romania, writes Gil Marks, author of Encyclopedia of Jewish Food .
Jews from Greece, adds Marks, make a semolina or farina pudding called “pyota” for Purim. Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of The Jewish Holiday Cookbook , prepares pyota by cooking farina in milk, stirring in a little butter, sugar, honey, vanilla and cinnamon, then blending the mixture with eggs and baking it (see recipe below). Other versions are enriched with vegetable oil instead of butter and are flavored with orange juice and zest and mixed sweet spices.
Puddings are especially appealing when flavored with nuts and seeds, which are time-honored Purim foods.
After a heavy meat meal, Syrian Jews might serve el’ Mazeeyah, a parve pistachio and rose-water pudding, writes Jennifer Felicia Abadi, author of A Fistful of Lentils , a book of Syrian-Jewish recipes. To make it, she cooks cornstarch with water and sugar, flavors the pudding with rose-water syrup and serves it with a garnish of pistachio nuts, and with additional rose-water syrup as a sauce.
Jews from Iran also use rose water, along with saffron and cardamom seeds, to flavor their flour-based Purim halva, writes Reyna Simnegar in Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride ; it’s made like pudding and topped with pistachios and almonds. Other Persian Jews eat rice pudding on Purim. To prepare it, they brown rice in a little oil and then cook it in water with sugar, saffron and cardamom. They serve the pudding cold, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
Tapioca almond pudding is another tasty option for Purim. Levana Kirschenbaum, author of The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen , cooks her pudding with coconut milk as well as soy milk and flavors it with ground almonds, golden raisins and her favorite Indian dessert spices – ground cardamom, ginger, cloves and saffron.
These desserts can be prepared in advance. You can serve them on their own or with strawberries or other fresh fruit.
This is a two-way dessert. To serve it as a soft, creamy rice pudding, make it without eggs and omit the step of baking it.
If you’d like to turn the pudding into a kugel, which has a firmer texture, add the eggs to the pud- ding and bake it, following the last paragraph in the recipe. If you are adding the eggs, sweeten the mixture with the extra 2 or 3 tablespoons sugar. You can make the pudding parve by substituting soy milk, rice milk or coconut milk for the milk and margarine for the butter.
Makes 6 servings
1 cup short-grain rice, such as risotto rice 5 cups milk Pinch of salt 1 ⁄ 3 cup sugar, plus 2 to 3 Tbsp. more, to taste (if adding eggs) 1 ⁄ 3 cup coarsely chopped pecans, plus more for garnish 1 ⁄ 3 cup raisins or dried cranberries2 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling 1 tsp. ground ginger 1 ⁄ 2 tsp. ground nutmeg 2 Tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces (optional) 3 eggs, beaten (optional)
Bring 2 liters (2 quarts) of water to a boil in a heavy, large saucepan. Add the rice and boil it uncovered for 7 minutes; drain well.
Bring the milk to a boil in the same saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and salt. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring often, about 15 minutes or until the rice is very soft and absorbs most of milk. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Add pecans, raisins, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
For a soft pudding, you can stir the butter into the warm mixture, if you like. Serve the mixture warm or cold, sprinkled with cinnamon and chopped pecans.
For a firmer dessert, let the mixture cool until lukewarm. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Grease a 2- liter (2-quart) baking dish. Beat the eggs and stir them thoroughly into the cooled rice mixture.
Spoon the mixture into the greased baking dish. Dot with the butter. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until firm. Serve the baked pudding warm, sprinkled with cinnamon and chopped pecans.
Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of The Jewish Holiday Cookbook , wrote about this dessert: “This unusual pudding is a Sephardic Purim specialty that raises mundane cooked wheat cereal to new gastronomic heights. In some versions, honey is omitted from the custard mixture, and, instead, a honey syrup is poured over the baked pudding and allowed to soak in. I prefer the following type of pyota, which is not excessively sweet, and makes a fairly nutritious dessert. The pudding, which is firm enough to be cut into squares, is often served with sliced fresh fruit.”
You can vary the flavorings to your taste. Some Greek cooks stud the pudding with walnuts, almonds or pine nuts and flavor it with cloves and grated orange zest in addition to cinnamon.
Farina and semolina are similar to each other, and you can use either one. Greene makes the pudding with quick Cream of Wheat cereal, which is a fast- cooking kind of farina. Instead of the milk powder and water in the recipe, you can use 3 1 ⁄ 2 cups milk, or, to make the pudding parve, soy milk or rice milk.
Makes about 9 servings
3 1 ⁄ 2 cups water 2 ⁄ 3 cup quick Cream of Wheat cereal 1 cup instant nonfat dry milk powder 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, cut into small pieces 1 ⁄ 2 cup sugar 1 ⁄ 3 cup honey 1 ⁄ 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 1 ⁄ 4 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus extra for topping 5 large eggs Sliced fresh fruit, any kind (optional, for serving)
In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. (If using milk instead of water and milk powder, use medium-high heat; be careful not to scorch the milk.) Stir in the cereal and milk powder and immediately lower the heat to medium. Cook the cereal, stirring constantly, for about 3 to 5 minutes or until it becomes very thick.
Remove it from the heat and stir in the butter until it is melted. Then stir in the sugar, honey, vanilla and cinnamon.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs with a fork until well mixed. While continuing to beat the eggs, slowly add about 1 cup of the hot cereal mixture to them. Then, stirring constantly, add the egg mixture back to the rest of the cereal mixture. (This technique helps keep the eggs from curdling in the hot cereal.) Preheat oven to 160ºC (325ºF). Grease a 20-cm. (8- inch) square pan or coat it with non-stick spray. Pour the mixture into the pan and sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Bake the pudding in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Cool the pudding to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack; then refrigerate it, covered, for several hours or until it is chilled. Serve it chilled, cut into large squares. Accompany it with fresh fruit, if desired.
Faye Levy is the author of Dessert Sensations.