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How to Eat Like Esther
The heroine of the Purim story was a strict vegetarian.

Judy Zeidler
Los Angeles Times February 20, 2002

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 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, 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 substitute, 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 isthe custom during the Purim holiday.

*Zeidler is the author of "The 30-Minute Kosher Cook" (William Morrow).

Chickpea Pizza
Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus 30 minutes standing

*Vegetarian Chickpea flour is sold at Indian markets and health food stores.

1 cup chickpea flour
Salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 large tomato or 2 small, diced
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Soymage Parmesan cheese

Heat the broiler.
Sift the chickpea flour with 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a bowl. Slowly add the water, whisking constantly to form a paste. Beat with a wire whisk until smooth. Let the batter stand, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes.
In a 10-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir the batter and pour 1/2 the batter into the skillet, tipping and swirling it to evenly coat the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the bottom is golden and crisp and the top is almost set, 2 to 3 minutes.
Burst any large air bubbles with the tip of a knife.
Sprinkle 1/2 of the tomato and green onions along with pepper to taste on top.
Place the pan under the broiler and cook until golden and crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Slide the pizza onto a work surface. Sprinkle with salt to taste and half the Soymage Parmesan cheese. Cut the pizza into wedges and serve hot.
Repeat with the remaining batter.

2 pizzas. Each of 8 servings: 136 calories; 163 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol;10 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.56 grams fiber.


*Mushroom-Barley Soup

Active Work Time: 20 minutes
*Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
*Vegetarian Leftover soup can be kept in the refrigerator for several
days, or it can be frozen.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 onion, diced
3/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup pearl barley
1 tablespoon dry Sherry
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Cook the celery and carrots, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened, 5 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the stock, soy sauce, barley and Sherry. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Add additional water as needed.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, ladle into heated soupbowls.

4 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings: 85 calories; 400 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 1.92 grams fiber.


*Caraway Bundt Cake
Active Work Time: 20 minutes
* Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours
This cake is extremely versatile. It can be served alone or with fresh berries, fruit compote, whipped soy cream or soy/rice ice cream.

1 tablespoon unsalted 'butter' or margarine, melted, for preparing pan
1/4 cup finely ground almonds
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted 'butter' or margarine, softened
1 2/3 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
2 2/3 cups sifted cake flour, divided
8 egg whites substitute
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons caraway seeds
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously brush a 10-inch bundt or tube panwith the melted 'butter' and dust with the ground almonds. Beat the 'butter' in the large bowl of an electric mixer, gradually adding 2/3cup of the sugar until creamy. Add the vanilla and mace and continue beating. Gradually beat in 1 2/3 cups of the flour until creamy and thick.
Set aside.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites substitute with the salt and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and beat until stiff. Add 1/4 of the egg white mixture substitute to the 'butter' mixture, mixing thoroughly with a rubber spatula.
Fold the butter mixture into the remaining egg whites substitute and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of flour. Gently fold together until completely blended. Fold in the caraway seeds, being careful not to over-mix. Pour into the prepared bundt pan.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan 15 minutes, then carefully turn the cake out onto a rack. Just before serving, dust with the powdered sugar.

12 servings. Each serving: 399 calories; 73 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 18grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 55 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein;1.48 grams fiber.

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