A Purim Meal
by Daniel Rogov
At least since the 15th century, rabbis have stated that the proper celebration of Purim, which celebrates the triumph of Queen Esther over Haman, the wicked Prime Minister of the ancient kingdom of Persia, should include drinking enough wine so that it is difficult to distinguish between Mordechai and Haman, the hero and villain of the Purim celebration.
The origins of wine are obscure and no one is quite sure of the identity of the first genius to realize that the fermented juice of the grape could be modified, aged and treated in ways that made it far superior to the juice of other fruits. Evidence found in the Dordogne caves of France indicate that men and women have been drinking wine at least since the end of the Stone Age.
We also know that since the day Noah "planted a vineyard; and drank of the wine, and was drunken", the ancients were not always moderate in the amounts of wine they consumed. There are 521 mentions of wine in the Bible, more than half of them warning against injudicious consumption. As Woody Allen observed: "Some of our best Patriarchs enjoyed getting drunk". We also know that when Joshua and Caleb were sent to scout out Canaan, they discovered that the Promised Land had a wide range of grapes appropriate for making wines.
Wine was so beloved in ancient times that it actually had its own god, Dionysus or Bacchus, who furnished occasions for large-scale festivities, called Dionysia, with processions, carousing and plays. In Rome, one day every year was dedicated to Bachus. On that day, masses of people would pour out onto the streets, often in costumes, to behave just a bit outrageously (something akin, one suspects to the behavior one sees throughout Israel during the holiday of Purim).
That Purim falls more or less during the same time each year as the former Roman celebrations and the more modern Christian celebration of Mardi Gras, and that each of these holidays involves costumes, theatrical productions, dancing, singing and the generous consumption of wine may be merely coincidence.
The following recipes, all Mediterranean in origin, call for the use of wine or brandy. Served together, these will serve as a celebratory Purim dinner party for 6 - 8. While no one will become tipsy on the meal, the wines suggested as accompaniments to each course will be no more or less intoxicating than we allow them to be. One should keep in mind that drinking more than a moderate amount of wine and driving do not make a good combination.
Cinnamon Wine Soup
In a saucepan simmer together the wine, cinnamon and lemon peel for 10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl blend together the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of cold water. Stir this into 4 cups of water, transfer to a separate saucepan and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Strain the cornstarch mixture into the wine and add the sugar, stirring well (may add more sugar to taste). Slowly spoon about 1 cup of the hot wine soup into the egg yolks, beating constantly. Pour the mixture back into the soup slowly, continuing to beat. Heat through but do not boil. Taste and correct the flavoring with sugar if necessary. Serve either hot or chilled. Goes well with young, fruity red wines.
Brisket of Beef in Wine
Combine all of the ingredients except the beef and mix thoroughly.
Place the meat in a roasting pan and pour over the marinade, turning the meat until well coated on all sides. Cover the pan and refrigerate, turning the meat occasionally, for 12 - 16 hours.
Place the roast, tightly covered, in a medium oven and let cook until the meat is tender (about 3 - 31/2 hours). Remove the meat to a serving platter and skim off the excess fat from the liquids. Reheat the sauce and serve in a gravy boat. Serve hot.
Broccoli in White Wine
Wash the broccoli well and cut off the tough stalks. Place upright in the bottom part of a double boiler in rapidly boiling salted water. Keep the flowers uppermost for 10 minutes and then invert the top part of the double boiler over the flowers and steam for 3 - 4 minutes.
In a skillet heat the olive oil and in this saute the garlic until browned. When the broccoli is nearly tender transfer it to this skillet and fry for about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer 5 minutes longer. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and serve in the oil and wine sauce. Serve hot.
Cherries in Rum
Place the butter and sugar in a heavy skillet and place over a low flame. As the butter starts to melt add the cherries and continue to heat for 2 - 3 minutes longer, stirring regularly.
Pour the rum over the cherries, let warm and then carefully flame. When the flame dies down, pour in the juice of the cherries and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and add the sour cream. Just as the mixture returns to the boiling point remove from the flame. Serve hot in champagne or wine glasses. Excellent with champagne.
Let Us Not Forget Haman
For adults and children alike, the food most often associated with Purim are the cookies known in Hebrew as osnei haman (literallly, Haman's Ears). Although these can be purchased in every bake shop in the land, there is great fun to making these marvelous cookies at home. I personally guarantee that the following recipes will delight everyone who samples them.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, mixing well. Add the milk, melted butter and egg mix again. On a floured board knead well and then roll out to about 1/4 cm. thickness. Cut out rounds about 6 cm. in diameter.
On the center of each round place 1 heaping tsp. of the filling. Pinch the three sides of the round together to form a triangle and place individually formed cookies on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180 degrees Celsius until the cookies are golden brown (25 - 30 minutes). (Yields about 30 cookies).
Place the dates, wine and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over a low flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture is paste-like (about 8 - 10 minutes). Allow to cool 10 minutes and then stir in the cinnamon and nuts.
Soak the prunes in water to cover for about 3 hours. Drain and chop finely. Combine all the ingredients (except the vanilla) in a saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, over a low flame until the mixture thickens (about 20 minutes). Allow to cool for 15 minutes and then stir in the vanilla.
Soak the raisins in water to cover for 2 hours. Drain and chop finely. Combine all of the ingredients, except the vanilla, in a saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, over a low flame until the mixture thickens (about 20 minutes). Allow to cool for 15 - 20 minutes and then stir in the vanilla.
Daniel Rogov is the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is also the senior writer for Wine and Gourmet Magazine and contributes culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry and Rogov's Ramblings. Reprinted with permission.