When I decided to celebrate Purim this year, I must confess that I had no idea what I was doing. I knew the story of the little orphan girl who became a queen and was able to save her people from complete destruction -- a rags to riches story if I've ever heard one. There was a heroine and a villain. I knew that a lot of people use the holiday as an excuse to get completely tossed, so wasted in fact that one can't tell the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordecai." I also knew that I wasn't planning on partaking in that part of the mitzvah.
But I had no idea what to cook. Coming from a non-Jewish background (and having a lot of Christian friends whose eyes glazed over when I said I was celebrating Purim), I didn't know where to begin. Should I keep kosher? Where is a recipe I can trust? What the heck should I cook? Is it wrong to use Creole seasoning (my staple for all things) in a Jewish recipe?
Luckily, I stumbled upon a recipe for kasha varnishkes (buckwheat with farfalle) on my faithful Epicurious.com. Borrowing a friend's home, I spent the afternoon mixing kasha with egg yolks, chopping parsley and praying for a decent flavor. Side note: I don't know why I torture myself with experimenting with recipes I've never had and serving them to others. Call me a glutton for punishment.
All prayers were answered, however. Despite its non-sexy appearance, the kasha varnishkes was a light and healthy blend of grains, accented by flavors of bouillion, parsley, onions and kosher salt. As a starter, I opted for a sugared almond salad, complete with romaine lettuce, mandarin oranges and purple onions. It was complemented by my very first REAL dressing -- a concoction of sugar, white vinegar, olive oil and parsley. I even did a little jig for joy when I tasted it.
But the best part was watching my friends enjoy my cooking, a full feeling that cannot be duplicated by any amount of chocolate. It is in those quiet moments, watching the dearest people in the world to me experience the sheer delight of a good meal, that I am at my happiest -- especially when the food is composed of unfamiliar flavors with (gasp!) no meat at all.
We finished dinner with hamantaschen -- a triangular sort of cookie with a fruity center, symbolic of the Haman's (the villian) three-corned hat -- laughs, wine and a reading of the book of Esther aloud. You can flip open the Torah to read this soap opera -- a dramatic tale of captivity, sex, lies, murder, war and deliverance.
All of this good Jewish eating and cooking has given me enough momentum for the rest of the holidays I am preparing to celebrate this year. Shalom to all -- and bring on the Passover!
Kasha Varnishkes at Wolff's in New Jersey
(Adapted from Gourmet magazine)
2 large onions, sliced in rounds
2 to 3 tablespoons margarine or chicken fat
1 large egg or egg white, slightly beaten
1 cup medium or coarse kasha
2 cups water or bouillon
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 pound large or small bow tie-shaped noodles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (optional)
1. Sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of the margarine or chicken fat in a heavy frying pan with a cover until golden. Remove to a plate.
2. Beat the egg in a small mixing bowl and stir in the kasha. Mix, making sure all the grains are coated. Put the kasha in the same frying pan, set over a high heat. Flatten, stir, and break up the egg-coated kasha with a fork or wooden spoon for 2 to 4 minutes or until the egg has dried on the kasha and the kernels brown and mostly separate.
3. Add the water or bouillon, salt, and pepper to the frying pan and bring to a boil. Add the onions, cover tightly, and cook over low heat, steaming the kasha for 10 minutes. Remove the cover, stir, and quickly check to see if the kernels are tender and the liquid has been absorbed. If not, cover and continue steaming for 3 to 5 minutes more.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the bow-tie noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain.
5. When the kasha is ready, combine with the noodles. Adjust the seasoning, sprinkle with the parsley and coriander. If desired, add a bit more margarine or chicken fat.
Sugared Almond Salad
12 cups washed and dried salad greens of your choice
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup slivered almonds
3 11-oz. cans mandarin oranges, drained
1 purple onion, sliced
3/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. parsley, snipped
1 Tbsp. salt
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1. Shake all dressing ingredients in a tightly covered jar. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
2. Cook and stir almonds and sugar in a skillet over low heat until sugar is melted and nuts are coated. Cool on wax paper. Break apart. Set aside.
3. Toss dressing with salad greens and arrange on plates. Top with orange sections, onion slices and sugared almonds.