A Yummy Hat Trick of Triangle Treats

The traditional shape of the quintessential Purim dessert, the hamantaschen, is a three-cornered filled pastry. Some say it even looks like George Washington’s hat, but I’m certain he wasn’t around in those early days. But, what about the shape? What does it represent? Is it the shape of Haman’s pocket, his hat or his ear? I think it all depends on the story your grandmother told you.

Ever since planning our first family Purim celebration, research into the origin of the traditional hamantaschen dessert has had me a little confused. In Hebrew the triangular pastries are called oznei Haman (Haman’s ears). And yet, the word hamantaschen, when translated means Haman’s pockets. In some countries they are called mohntaschen, simply meaning small pockets of pastry with poppy-seed filling.

I don’t have the answer, but I have always thought it must be shaped after the three-cornered hat that Haman is said to have worn, because that is what I learned at Hebrew school.

Usually hamantaschen are made of cookie or yeast dough and filled with poppy seed or dried fruit and served for dessert. But, this year I thought it would be fun to design a Purim dinner based on the hamantaschen shape. Why not serve a variety of triangular dishes, fitting for the carnival-like atmosphere of the holiday?

One of my new Purim ideas is a grilled sandwich, or panini, as it is called in Italy, where they are served at the autogrill on the autostrada. The display case has at least 10 different combinations of these panini, served on a variety of breads and rolls that come in many sizes and shapes. The basic components are simple: bread, cheese, vegetables or meat and greens. When you make your selection, you are asked if you want it grilled, and in a few minutes you are handed a hot panini, wrapped in parchment-like paper. When cut diagonally they become perfect for your Purim meal.

The best way to make the panini at home, is to use a table-top grill that resembles a waffle iron. But, a frying pan with a heavy weight placed on top of the panini works fine.

Have platters of assorted cheeses, vegetables, smoked fish or meats available, depending on your menu, and let your guests, as well as the children, create their own panini.

For a main course, create and serve individual hamantaschen using filo dough and fill them with roasted veggies, a take-off of a vegetable strudel. After baking, just garnish with a dollop of sour cream, and this will be a new treat for Purim.

Every family has their own preference for hamantaschen pastries, but our family loves the traditional hamantaschen made from cookie dough and enhanced with specks of orange and lemon zest. Fill them with poppy seed or prune fillings, then bake until they are golden brown and crisp. Don’t skimp on the filling, and its OK if it oozes out a little.

When baking for Purim don’t forget the ancient tradition of shalach manot, which suggests that we share the holiday foods with the community. Arrange a batch of assorted hamantaschen to take to friends and also share with others. You’ll enjoy both the good deed and the compliments you receive.

My Favorite Autogrill Panini

The great thing about this panini recipe is that the eggplant, peppers and/or cheese are interchangeable with your own personal favorite veggies. Prepare all the fillings in advance and simply set them out in bowls for everyone to make his or her own selections.

8 slices from sandwich loaf (preferably challah)

1?4 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
4 slices fried or grilled eggplant (zucchini may replace the eggplant, using 2 slices per panini)
4 slices roasted peppers
4 slices Swiss cheese

Spread butter on one side of each slice of bread. Set four of the slices buttered side down and cover each of them with eggplant and roasted peppers. Then top with cheese slices.

As you layer vegetables and cheese be sure to cover the bread and allow some of the vegetables to extend just beyond the edge of the bread so they become crisp while grilling. Put the remaining slices of bread on top of filling, buttered side up. Grill the panini on each side until golden brown and the cheese is melted. Transfer to cutting board and slice diagonally.

Makes four panini.

Veggie Hamantaschen

1 package filo dough
1 pound unsalted butter, melted and clarified
1 cup fine bread crumbs
Vegetable Filling (recipe follows)
1/4 cup sesame seeds or poppy seeds
Sour cream

Prepare the Vegetable Filling and set aside.

Place a damp towel on a work area and cover with waxed paper. Remove one sheet of filo from the package. Keep the remaining sheets covered with waxed paper and a damp towel to prevent drying out.

With scissors, cut the sheet in half lengthwise. Brush one half with melted butter, sprinkle with bread crumbs and top with the other half sheet of filo. Place one-quarter cup of vegetable filling at one end of the sheet, leaving a 2-inch border to fold over the filling. Continue folding it over in a triangle along its length to make a neat triangular package. Place each triangle as it is finished on a baking sheet lined with buttered foil. Repeat with the remaining filo and vegetable filling.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Brush the tops of the triangles with melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. (The Veggie hamantaschen can be frozen at this point, if you like. Place them in the freezer uncovered, until the butter hardens, then cover with foil, seal and freeze. Defrost frozen ones before baking them.)

Bake for l5 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 Veggie Hamantaschen.

Vegetable Filling

1?4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium eggplant, finely diced
2 medium zucchini, finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 large tomato, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, and tomato, mix well, and sauté until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool.

Makes four cups.

Poppy Seed Hamantaschen

1/4 pound unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, softened
2 cup sugar
3 eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups flour
1-2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
3 (8-ounce) cans poppy seed filling

Preheat the oven to 375 F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in 2 of the eggs and the orange zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds and blend until dough is smooth.

Transfer to floured board and divide dough into three or four portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with the palm of your hand and roll it out to one-quarter-inch thick. With a scalloped or plain cookie cutter, cut into two 2-inch rounds. 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 them.

Place hamantaschen 2 inches apart on a lightly greased foil-lined baking sheet and brush with the remaining egg, lightly beaten. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes five dozen to six dozen hamantaschen.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999).

Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.