Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the evil intentions of Haman, prime minister to Ahasuerus, king of ancient Persia in the sixth century B.C. Perhaps the jolliest of all Jewish holidays, with great emphasis on food, merriment and all kinds of festivities, it begins this year on the evening of Feb. 27.
Haman is the focus of many of the traditions surrounding this occasion. In the synagogue, for instance, when the Mella (scroll) of Esther is being read, people twirl noisemakers called groggers every time Haman's name is mentioned. In the kitchen, hamantaschen, cookies made in the shape of Haman's three-cornered hat, are prepared. In the Netherlands, some Jewish homemakers prepare gingerbread men and top them with Haman's three-cornered hat.
Other traditions surround this joyous celebration of deliverance. One is to eat seeds, dried fruits and nuts, because they were the mainstay of Esther's diet in Ahasuerus' court where she could not eat the meat. The duty of giving shalach monos, food gifts, is another important part of the observance. The gifts should be immediately edible treats of two kinds: foods made from flour, such as cookies and cakes, and uncooked fruits, such as apricots, prunes, other dried fruits, oranges and pomegranates.
For most people, following the requirements of this holiday poses no problems. But for those who are trying to restrict their intake of fat and/or lower their consumption of cholesterol, these butter- and egg-rich delicacies are not recommended. If you are among the increasing number of people in this category, you can participate in the food aspects of the holiday -- so near and dear to a Jewish mother's heart -- and still keep to the requirements of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. By making simple alterations to the original recipes, you can include them in your baking repertoire and celebrate the holiday in the most traditional manner.
Changes to the traditional recipes focus on (1) eliminating egg yolks and butter from recipes and (2) using egg substitute and canola oil instead. If you make these adaptations, you can celebrate Purim with all the fun and tradition -- but with less fat -- you have always enjoyed.
Makes 3 cups.
1 1/4 cups pitted prunes
1/2 cup seedless raisins, with water or sweet wine to cover
1/2 cup chopped almonds
juice and grated peel of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
Makes 6 dozen cookies.
3/4 cup egg substitute (equal to 3 eggs)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup orange juice
4 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
To make prune filling: Soak prunes and raisins in water (or wine) for 2 to 3 hours or overnight. Drain well. Place all ingredients (except drained liquid) in food processor. Process thoroughly.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg substitute, adding the sugar as you beat. Continue beating, adding the oil and orange juice. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients, mixing well. Add these to the beaten egg mixture. The dough will be a little sticky, but don't add too much flour in rolling or the cookies will come out hard. On a lightly floured pastry board, roll part of the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut with a 3-inch round cutter. Fill with about 1 teaspoon of prune filling. Shape Haman's hat by folding three points of the circle into the center. Repeat with remaining dough, always using the scraps of what was just rolled with the next batch of fresh dough. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
No-cholesterol gingerbread Hamans
Makes 60 4-inch cookies.
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (divided use)
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
decorator frosting (recipe below)
glace cherries, raisins, etc., for decoration
In a mixing bowl, combine the oil, brown sugar and molasses. Add 1/4 cup water and mix until smooth. In a small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in 2 tablespoons water. Add this to the sugar mixture. Combine the flour and spices and add to the sugar mixture. Dough will be very stiff. Do not add extra water. Cover and chill for 1 hour (optional). On a lightly floured pastry cloth, roll 1/4 of the dough to 1/8 -inch thickness. Use a gingerbread man cutter to make the Hamans. Collect the scraps and add them to some of the unrolled dough. Roll that dough out and cut out more Hamans. Continue this process until all the dough is used )) up. Save some of the last scraps. Use them to cut out small triangles for hats. Attach the hats to the heads of the gingerbread men with a little water. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pans at once. Cool and frost with decorator frosting.
Makes about 3 cups.
2 egg whites (at room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups confectioner's sugar
At high speed, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in small bowl of electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla. At low speed, gradually stir in enough confectioners' sugar to make frosting thick enough for use. Divide frosting in half. Cover one half with plastic wrap to keep it from forming a crust. Divide the rest into 3 small bowls. Add red, green and blue food coloring. Cover them with plastic wrap until ready to use. To decorate, apply white frosting with a spatula. Press cherries, raisins, etc., into the wet frosting. Or, let the white dry a little and then decorate with some of the colored frostings. Use a paintbrush or pastry tube to apply. Store extra frosting in the refrigerator, covered.
No-cholesterol Queen Esther poppy seed cake
Serves 12 to 16.
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup poppy seeds
lemon glaze (recipe below)
additional poppy seeds for garnish
Middle Eastern dried fruit salad (for optional topping) (recipe below)
Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Dust with flour. Shake out the excess. Heat oven to 300 degrees. At high speed of electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Continue beating, adding the sugar gradually until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Add to the whites. Beat just until well mixed. Gently fold in the poppy seeds. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until cake just begins to pull away from sides of pan, about 40 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool on a rack. If desired, apply lemon glaze to cooled cake. Sprinkle with additional poppy seeds.
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
a little grated lemon rind
Beat the lemon juice into the sugar and rind. The consistency will be "drippy." Drizzle over the top of the cake.
THE MIDDLE EASTERN
DRIED FRUIT SALAD:
Makes 8 cups.
1 pound dried apricots
1/2 pound prunes
1/4 pound raisins
1/4 pound blanched sliced almonds
sugar to taste
Place all the fruits in a large bowl. Add the nuts and cover with water. Add sugar to taste, starting with 1/3 cup. Cover with plastic wrap and let the fruits soak for at least 48 hours. Spoon into gift jars and share immediately. Keep refrigerated.