Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pockets Full

Haman was the Dick Cheney of ancient Babylon. Ahasuerus, the King, set Haman above the Princes of Babylon. His pockets were always full of things. Mostly they were full of other people's wealth that Haman and his cronies had plundered or received as bribes. But on one particular and remembered day he filled them with lots, or purim, which he meant to cast to determine the day on which he would slaughter all the Jews of Babylon which then stretched from India to Ethiopia. Haman so hated the Jews that he offered the King ten thousand talents of silver for the privilege of wiping them out.
It so happened that Ahasuerus had recently made Esther, an orphaned Jewess, his Queen. Her cousin Mordecai reported a palace coup plot to Ahasueras through Esther. For this, and other qualities, Esther gained great favor with Ahasueras and was thus able to thwart Haman, prevent the massacre of the Jews and end the Babylonian captivity.
This event is celebrated with feasting, gifts, witty and satiric plays, much noise. "According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai," though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is."
The point seems to be that the day is to celebrate freedom and not to wallow in remedied wrong.
This year I made Empanadas and Juvetch to mark the day. One great theme of Jewish cookery all over the world is a circle of dough wrapped around a filling. Knishes, kreplach, koshnikes, borekas, empanadas, topfen, hamantashen, and more explain why Jews the world over love Dim Sum.
The Empanada was in Argentina. It is a spicy beef mixture in a wrap similar to puff paste but not so fussy to make. They are very tasty and hard to stop eating until no more emerge from the oven.
Filling: Brown a pound of beef with two or three onions chopped fine. Drain. Add 3 dozen pimento stuffed olives, 2 hard boiled eggs, and a half cup of golden raisins, all finely chopped. Stir in a quarter cup of chili powder and a half teaspoon of cayenne, salt and pepper. Vary the spices to suit your palettes. The filling is made milder by the pastry wrap.
For the wrap: cream a half cup of salted butter with 2 cups of flour. Add four egg yolks, the juice of a lemon and water if needed. Work until smooth. Roll out on a floured board until about a quarter inch thick. Folds in thirds. Let dough rest for ten minutes. Turn 90 degrees and roll out to a quarter inch. Fold. Turn. Rest. Repeat a third time. Roll out very thin (Less than an eighth inch. Cut into 4" circles, or cut in a diamond or square pattern. Take each bit of pastry and paint a bit of water on half the edge with your finger. Place a teaspoon of filling on the pastry. Fold that over the filling and seal edges. Depending on the shape cut you will have half moons, triangles or squares. Place them on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes in a 3500f oven.
You may have filling left over, or need less time or more depending on your oven's idea of temperature. Take notes for next time. These also freeze well if you feel like filling the freezer. Bake them for 30 to 35 minutes if frozen. I am told they go a treat with cold vermouth. Dum Luk's plonk was okay for me.
Juvetch was the main course. This one is worth putting in the staple repertoire as it is infinitely variable with the season.
Brown a pound and a half of coarsely cubed lean lamb in a half cup of olive oil. Set the meat aside. Saute one and a half cups of sliced egg plant, a half cup of sliced leeks, and two stalks of celery, sliced, for five minutes. Add more olive oilr if needed. Arrange the vegetables in a casserole dish. Return the meat to the pan and add two cups of water and simmer until tender. Meanwhile add 2 turnips, 1 cup of fresh green beans, 1 cup green peas, 1 sliced anise bulb, 1 cup zucchini or yellow summer squash, 1 or 2 fresh okra to the casserole. When the meat is tender add 2 to 6 tablespoons of lemon juice salt and pepper and chopped fresh basil to taste. Cover dsh and bake at 4000f. for fifteen minutes. Reduce temp to 3000f. and cook until the vegetables are done, about 45 minutes.

Vary the vegetables based on what you like and what is fresh in your kitchen. You can leave the meat out if you like. The point of the dish is lots of vegetables that meld together to our delight.
Of course there were hamantaschen. And we played silly cames and the three year old visitor took his mother and the Kid(tm) for a walk to see the horses at the end of the road. A proper Purim.
The recipes started with those of Patti Shosteck in her fascinating Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, A collection of folklore, foodlore, history, customs and recipes. Look for it at the usual sources. This is one of my favorite horizon expanders, because the recipes come from most all the world.
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