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JewishJournal.com

March 4, 2004

A Buffet Fit for Your Kings and Queens

http://www.jewishjournal.com/celebrations_simchas/article/a_buffet_fit_for_your_kings_and_queens_20040305

My family loves Purim. It is a time when our grandchildren dress up in biblical costumes to act out the story of Esther and attend Purim carnivals, just as our children did when they were young. As in most holidays, we all look forward to the traditional foods that are part of the celebration. During Purim, hamantaschen, the three-cornered pastries filled with poppy seeds or fruit preserves, are always served.

This year, the family is invited to an "after-the-Purim-carnival buffet" inspired by the elaborate banquets that were served in biblical days. One long table in the dining room will be set for all the guests, and our collection of Purim groggers (noisemakers) will be arranged at each place setting for everyone to use during the retelling of the Purim story.

This dairy menu will feature hot, crispy Cheese Kreplach, a savory version of hamantaschen using a quick pizza dough, filled with three cheeses and flavored with fresh herbs.

A big bowl of Hummus will take center stage, accompanied by pita bread and an assortment of fresh vegetables for dipping. This garlicky dip, which originated in the Middle East, is based on chickpeas, one of the earliest Purim foods. Using a food processor, this is a quick and easy dish to prepare, just combine all the ingredients in the recipe and blend. The results can be as smooth as you like.

Include platters of grilled mushrooms in your buffet. I still remember when mushrooms were not easy to find. But, with the wonderful array of fresh mushrooms now available at the local open-air markets, it's fun to create your own unusual mushroom recipes The Grilled Stuffed Mushrooms have an intense flavor as well as a slight crunch. Prepare them in advance and broil just before serving.

Forget chopped liver, instead, serve healthy Fennel "Caviar," a fresh fennel pâté with a delicate anise flavor, easy to prepare, and delicious when spread on toast. On the buffet table include Skewered Eggplant, a dish that I discovered on a trip to Bali. It will lend an exotic touch to your buffet table. Drizzle the Peanut Sauce over the eggplant or serve it on the side.

This buffet will appeal to everyone, especially the children because they can make their own selections. Also, this menu is especially appropriate for Purim because it reminds us that Queen Esther, in order to eat only kosher food in the king's palace, followed a vegetarian diet, which consisted primarily of seeds, grains, nuts and beans.

Purim would not be complete without hamantaschen, filled with as many interesting mixtures as your imagination allows. Besides the classic poppy seed filling, my family likes an apricot-nut mixture and a pureed prune filling. Below you will find an easy-to-prepare recipe with a filling of pecans, figs and raisins.

Cheese Kreplach

(Quick Pizza Dough)

1 recipe Quick Pizza Dough (recipe follows)

1¼4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons cornmeal

2 cups mozzarella cheese, julienned

8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano

Freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Prepare the Quick Pizza Dough.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Brush a 10x14-inch baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal.

In a bowl, combine the three cheeses, oregano and pepper and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Divide the dough into four pieces. Roll out each piece and cut into 4-inch rounds with biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass. Place the cheeses on one half of each round, sprinkle with herbs, and season with pepper. Drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Brush the edges of the rounds with the beaten egg. Fold the dough over the filling to form a half-moon and press the edges of the dough firmly together. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about 12 (6 servings).

Quick Pizza Dough

2 packages dry yeast

Pinch of sugar

11¼4 cups warm water

1¼4 cup extra virgin olive oil

31¼2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1¼2 cup of the warm water. Set aside until yeast becomes frothy, two to three minutes.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, or using a hand mixer, combine the remaining 3¼4 cup water, olive oil, and the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup of the flour and the salt, blending well. Add the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, gradually blending until a rough ball forms. Transfer to a floured board and knead until the top of the dough is smooth and elastic, and springs back when pressed with a finger. If using immediately, cover with a towel and tear off desired pieces of dough. Or at this point, place in a plastic bag, seal and refrigerate; (it will keep for up to four days.)

Garbanzo Bean Hummus

Hummus is a simple, wonderfully flavorful dip or spread made from garbanzos (chick peas) and tahini (sesame seed paste). Its texture is velvety, rich and firm enough to scoop up with wedges of pita bread or crisp vegetables. The taste is robust, nutlike, garlicky and so satisfying that you won't be able to stop eating it.

l can (15 ounce) garbanzos, with liquid

1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

1¼2 cup lemon juice

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1¼3 cup olive oil

6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed

1 to 2 teaspoons salt

Place the garbanzos in a processor or blender and process until coarsely pureed.

Add the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and cumin, then process until smoothly pureed. Add olive oil in a thin stream. Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt. Add additional salt to taste. Serve with hot pita bread and sliced vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and jicama.

Note: Tahini (crushed sesame seeds) is available at natural food and Middle Eastern grocery stores and at most supermarkets.

Fennel "Caviar"

2 medium fennel bulbs

1¼4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 shallot, minced

2 tablespoons minced yellow onion

Pinch of fresh thyme, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Toasted rounds of French bread

Cut off the feathery tops of the fennel bulbs, and remove any tough outer layers. Cut the fennel into 1¼4-inch dice, to yield about 3 cups.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic, shallot, and onion about four minutes, or until soft. Add the fennel and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, salt and pepper, and let cook for five more minutes. Transfer to a wooden board and chop until well blended, or place in a food processor and pulse once or twice for a finer consistency. Spoon into a covered bowl or crock and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with toast rounds.

Makes 2 cups (about 16 servings).

Skewered Japanese Eggplant with Peanut Sauce

Japanese eggplants are very small and tender and usually come in a beautiful lavender shade, although you may find white and purple skinned varieties. If you don't have time to make the peanut sauce, pick up a kosher version available at some markets.

Peanut sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled and sliced 3¼4-inch thick

Olive oil, for sauteing

Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Prepare the Peanut Sauce; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In a shallow medium bowl, mix the flour with salt and pepper. Dip the eggplant slices on both sides in the flour and shake to remove excess. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil and brown the eggplant rounds on both sides about two to three minutes, or until tender. Thread two or three eggplant slices through wooden skewers, lollipop fashion. Arrange on a large platter, garnish with cilantro, and serve with Peanut Sauce.

Makes about 4 servings.

Peanut Sauce

2 tablespoons minced yellow onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1 stalk fresh lemongrass, white

stem only, minced (optional)

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1¼2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1¼8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1¼2 cup vegetable stock

1¼2 cup chunky peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine the onion, garlic, lemongrass (if using), brown sugar, coriander, pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, vegetable stock, peanut butter, coconut milk, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until smooth; reduce heat and let the sauce simmer four minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a medium serving bowl. Cool and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate up to four hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Add additional vegetable stock if needed to thin the sauce.

Makes about two cups.

Hamantaschen

1¼2 cup vegetable oil

11¼2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1¼2 cup orange juice

6 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch salt

Fig-Pecan Filling (recipe follows)

1 egg white

In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend oil, sugar and eggs, until light and fluffy. Add orange juice a little at a time until completely blended. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to oil mixture and blend well. (Do not over-mix.) Divide into four parts and knead each part into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for several hours.

Flatten each portion with the palms of your hands and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured board. Cut into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place the hamantaschen on a lightly greased foil-lined baking sheet and brush with egg white. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes about six-dozen hamantaschen.

Fig and Pecan Filling

4 cups dried figs

1 cup raisins

Apple juice

1 cup toasted chopped pecans

In a large bowl, place figs and raisins with enough apple juice to cover. Refrigerate for three hours or overnight. Place fig mixture in medium saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until soft, about 10 minutes. Cool and drain, reserving syrup. In food processor, blend figs and raisins with 1¼4 cup of reserved syrup. Transfer to a bowl and mix in pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fill hamantaschen.

Makes about 6 cups.

Judy Zeidler is the author of "The Gourmet Jewish Cook" and "The 30-Minute Kosher Cook." Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

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