But on this wild and nutty holiday, which takes place on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (this year on March 4), almost anything goes. The atmosphere is like a carnival: Kids and grown-ups dress up and parade around as Queen Esther, Haman, Mordechai and King Achashverosh. It's deemed okay to play good-natured tricks and be silly.
Purim is the only Jewish festival where it is actually encouraged to get so drunk that you can't tell the difference between the names of Haman and Mordechai. Nowadays, if you're going to indulge this way, then do so at home; don't drive! Back in Eastern Europe, no such problem existed; everyone lived within walking distance of the synagogue, and could stagger home well into the wee hours of the morning.
There are dozens of culinary customs connected to Purim, but the most popular is hamantashen — the triangular filled pastries that resemble Haman's tricornered hat or pockets.
Traditionally, a seudah — a special meal — is served to commemorate the victory of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai over the anti-Semitic Haman, who had secretly planned to exterminate all the Jews of Persia.
Here, you'll find a variety of dishes — from sour to sweet — to include on your seudah table. The collection symbolizes the whole Megillah — from evil intent to joyous victory.
Hearts of Palm Salad
Cayenne is pungent and very hot. Use judiciously.
1 can (15 oz.) hearts of palm, drained and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 cup thinly sliced red radishes
1 cup jicama, cut in 1/4-inch dice
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 Tbsps. olive oil
3 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
pinch cayenne pepper or 3 to 4 grinds pepper
kosher salt to taste
4-6 cups red leaf lettuce
In a large bowl, toss together the hearts of palm, radishes, jicama and scallions.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and salt to taste. Pour over the vegetables; toss gently to mix.
To Serve: Divide the lettuce onto 4 salad plates. Top with the hearts of palm mixture. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 126; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 7 g; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 363 mg.
Sweet-and-Sour Stuffed Lettuce Rolls
This recipe is simplified by using soft lettuce leaves, like Boston lettuce, instead of the traditional cabbage leaves that need to be blanched to soften before using.
2 medium onions, divided (may use 1/2 cup frozen chopped onion instead of 1 whole onion)
11/4 lbs. ground kosher turkey
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
4 Tbsps. steak sauce
1 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning
8 large soft lettuce leaves, such as Boston lettuce
16 to 18 baby carrots
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes with garlic
2 Tbsps. matzah meal
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsps. shredded ginger root
Preheat oven to 400°.
Chop 1 onion coarsely. Slice the remaining onion. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix the chopped onion with the turkey, rice, steak sauce and lemon-pepper seasoning. Place about 1/2 cup of the meat mixture in the center of each lettuce leaf. Loosely roll up like a jelly roll. Place, seam-side down, in a 13×9-inch baking dish.
Scatter the sliced onion and carrots over top.
In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, matzah meal, lemon juice or vinegar, brown sugar and ginger. Pour over the lettuce rolls. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
Bake for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 375° and bake 30 minutes longer. Meat mixture should be cooked through with no pinkness remaining.
Makes 8 large rolls.
Approximate nutrients per roll: calories, 191; protein, 15 g; carbohydrates, 19 g; fat, 6 g; cholesterol, 56 mg; sodium, 498 mg.
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, drained
1 cup sliced pitted black olives
2 Tbsps. sliced canned pimento
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. snipped cilantro or parsley
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, or until softened.
Stir in the chickpeas, olives, pimento, lemon rind and juice.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with the cilantro or parsley. Serve hot.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 160; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 22 g; fat, 6 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 378 mg.
Pineapple-Cherry Babka Pudding
1 cup cherry pie filling
4 Tbsps. margarine, divided, at room temperature
5 Tbsps. sugar
3 Tbsps. orange juice
1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple in its own juice
3 cups pareve babka, cut in bite-size chunks
cinnamon to sprinkle
Preheat oven to 375°.
Spray a 11/2-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Spread the cherry pie filling over the bottom of the baking dish. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat 3 tablespoons margarine and the sugar until fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, lemon juice and grated rind.
Stir in the undrained, crushed pineapple. Fold in the babka.
Dot with the remaining tablespoon of margarine. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until puffed and golden-brown.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 224; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 29 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 74 mg; sodium, 182 mg.
Frozen Lemon Crystal Pie
1 pint lemon sorbet, slightly softened
1/4 cup crushed lemon hard candies
1 container (12 oz.) nondairy whipped topping
1 graham-cracker pie crust (9-inch)
mint leaves to garnish
Spoon the sorbet into a bowl.
Fold in the whipped topping and crushed candies.
Spoon into pie crust. Freeze for 4 to 6 hours.
Cut into wedges, garnish with mint leaves and serve.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 326; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 42 g; fat, 17 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 200 mg.
Konafa is finely shredded filo dough used in Middle Eastern pastries. It may be found next to filo dough in the freezer section of your market.
2 Tbsps., plus 1 tsp., cornstarch
11/4 cups milk
2 Tbsps. sugar
1 tsp. orange extract
1 cup sour half-and-half
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
1/2 lb. konafa
1 stick (4 oz.) butter, melted
1/2 cup honey, warmed
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 400°.
Spray a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
In a heavy, medium saucepan, mix the cornstarch with 1/4 cup milk to make a smooth paste. Add the remaining milk and mix well.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth.
Continue boiling for 1 minute longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Stir in the sugar, orange extract, sour half-and-half and pistachios. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
Pull konafa into thin strands with your hands and place in a medium bowl. Pour half of the melted butter over top, tossing to coat all strands.
Spread half the konafa over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Spoon the cream filling over, spreading to edge of dish. Cover with the remaining konafa. Drizzle the remaining butter on top.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden-brown.
Mix the honey with the lemon juice. Drizzle over hot konafa.
Cool completely before cutting into squares with a serrated knife.
Makes 24 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 122; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 14 g; fat, 7 g; cholesterol, 6 mg; sodium, 56 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman, the author of Mackerel at Midnight, is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.