Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim tale, was quite a woman. Not only did she outwit the evil Haman and save the entire Jewish population of Persia, she did it all as a vegetarian. Or, by today’s standards, a vegan.
According to tradition, when Esther married King Ahasuerus and moved into the palace, she ate only fruits, beans and grains. Legend has it that poppy and caraway seed pastries were her favorites.
In keeping with this, when we celebrate Purim this year (it begins Monday evening) I will be serving Chickpea Pizza, a spring salad of fennel and lima beans, Mushroom-Barley Soup and a Caraway Bundt Cake.
Chickpea Pizza is based on the Provencal dish socca, which is usually eaten as a midmorning snack. Along the Italian Riviera it is called farinata, and it is served at lunch topped with chopped tomatoes and capers. Made with only ground chickpea flour and water, it takes just minutes to make and can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.
It is also delicious served plain or topped with spices, cheese, vegetables and olives--but always include a liberal sprinkling of fresh ground pepper. While it is traditionally baked in a brick oven in pizza pans, my method calls for stove-top cooking, then finishing under the broiler.
Beans--fresh, frozen or dried--are always included in our Purim menu. With the beginning of spring, I take advantage of the arrival of the fresh beans at the local outdoor farmers’ market. Lima beans are now coming into season, and when combined with diced fennel and extra-virgin olive oil they make a perfect Purim salad served over finely sliced lettuce.
The Mushroom-Barley Soup that I prepare for Purim is made without chicken or meat broth. What gives this soup texture and depth of flavor is fresh shiitake mushrooms. Remember to cook the soup vegetables briefly before adding the barley and water. This is a satisfying soup that is hearty enough to be a main course.
Almost everyone associates caraway seeds with rye bread, but you will be amazed at the way their aromatic, distinctive flavor highlights this Caraway Bundt Cake. It is made with egg whites, and although it contains no egg yolks, the texture resembles a pound cake. As a holiday Purim dessert, it is a perfect accompaniment to the wine that is such an important part of the celebration.
Make mini-cakes using the same recipe, and the family can give them as gifts to those less fortunate. These are known as shalachmones, and giving them is the custom during the Purim holiday.
Zeidler is the author of “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (William Morrow, $22).