Cunning General, Hidden Empress

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03 Mar 2009

Purim MaskPurim, and disguise the limit! Tradition has us featuring costumes relating to the characters named in the Megillah (The, ummm… err… extensive and quite thorough… story of Purim) as hiding the truth inside an inapt metaphor is part of the holiday theme .
What’s it all about, then? We read in Devarim:31 “…And I will surely hide My face…” and G-d’s face and hand, were there in the story of Purim, but hidden and masked. So we too hide our face on Purim.

Here’s two bits of tid further:

“Esther did not reveal her nationality and her descent, for Mordechai had commanded her not to tell.” (2:10)


“Esther would not reveal her descent and her nationality, as Mordechai had commanded her.” (2:20)

Remember that Mordekhai (Mordechai) was acting in loco parentis since her father had died before she was born and her mother died in childbirth but the Ibn Ezra tells us this wasn’t just a parental whim… (2:9)

“It seems correct in my eyes that Mordekhai acted thus in order that she could observe G-d’s Torah in secret; that she would not eat forbidden meat and would observe Shabbat in such a way that the servants would not become aware of it, for if the matter became known then perhaps the king would force her to act contrary to her religious beliefs or kill her.”

A request came in here for an entire Seudah, one that can be assembled quickly for easy entertaining as well as for a crowd. There’s not much leeway to do a large (I think the number mentioned was 30!!) meal by yourself. So I’m going far afield into using prepared foods and getting courses/dishes together a day or so in advance as well as using recipes that can easily double, triple, or more. Don’t look at me with that tone. Yes, like that. We’re still staying to a late winter/early spring set of ingredients!!

Let’s begin our Seudah–vegetarian, in keeping with our heroine’s astounding accomplishment not to consume non-kosher meat while in the Palace–with a “Veloute” or “Velvet.” (maybe like Esther’s gowns!) This is one of the Mother Sauces that others can be made from–essentially, it’s a white sauce made with stock instead of dairy. The technique we’re demo’ing can used as a base when preparing any cream soup, as well as non-dairy sauces where you’d adjust the texture with more stock. This particular veloute stars earthy, tenderly bitter-sweet artichoke bottoms; in season back in my home stomping grounds of Castroville, CA–they grew in our backyard.

We go on to Mushroom Roulades (the two per serving, side-by-side remind us of Sifrei Torah), with touch of deep woodsy dried mushroom flavor in the hidden filling. Of course the filling can be prepared the day before or even two. Once you get the hang of the rolling technique, it’s easy. But you can also make a kind of kreplach, also quite Purim-like since the rolls can be made in triangular shapes as Haman’s famous hat. . What would be a festive dinner without a sauce? In the topsy-turvy Purim world, this lemon light and luverly “jam” goes UNDER the main dish!!!

One of my favorite ways to cook beets is to roast them–what a rather twisted friend of mine refers to as “sun-dried beets”–and bring out the hiding sugars. And they go great in a side salad along with candied walnuts and cool-weather romaine lettuce.

We’re going to finish up with a poppylicious variation of a recipe for a “hot milk cake” cake I got from an almost-93-year-old friend. Her stepmother (loosely described, relationships were more fluid 100 years ago in rural California), “Mom Oakes,” made it for her so this recipe goes back quite a way. The original recipe was also featured in WWII pamphlets as a way to stretch out scarce rations since it’s sparing of both eggs and butter. It does come out as an easy-sneezy one-bowl sponge cake so I’m intrigued with this less-than-demanding process. Watch this space for further developments, I see Pesach in the future!

Add bread, or rolls or biscuits of some sort, plus purchased sides such as olives, pickles of various kinds, or lay out stalks of the season’s pencil-thin asparagus for a quick five-minute roasting (just lightly coat with olive oil, salt/pepper before putting into a 375:F oven) and it’s a complete feast for a Queen!!