November 19, 2018

Try these vegetarian delights — fit for a Persian queen

During our first trip to Israel many years ago we bought a humorous silver Purim grogger that depicts a man holding a goblet of wine, almost tipsy, dancing while being bucked by a frisky goat as a young boy looks on. We assumed it was made in Israel, but later we discovered it was handcrafted in Italy.

Since then we have collected Purim groggers from all over the world, made from many different materials — wood, bronze, silver and even ivory. Most of the groggers symbolize Haman, but some depict modern tyrants.

Last year my husband and I traveled to Israel with the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership on a cultural mission. We stayed in Tel Aviv, where we visited art galleries and several artists’ studios.

One day we drove to Jerusalem to see a wonderful exhibition at the Israel Museum as well as a private art collection. Just outside the Old City we discovered a street behind the King David Hotel that opens onto a private hillside walkway filled with galleries and shops that sell contemporary and traditional Judaica.

At the base of the steps was a gallery that was different from the others.

Beautiful embroidered tapestries lined the room, and on one of the walls was a colorfully hand-stitched Omer calendar used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot. The owner told us that most of the work was made by artist Adina Gatt. We asked the owner if Gatt had ever designed a grogger. She immediately called the artist, who drove the next day from Nahariyah to meet us in Tel Aviv.

Gatt arrived at our hotel in the afternoon, and when she unwrapped her grogger we could not believe our eyes. It was a nontraditional piece celebrating Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, rather than depicting Haman. It has banners embroidered in Hebrew and adorned with small brass bells hanging from each one, and the beautifully handcrafted piece is topped with a crown of bells. When the handle is twisted the fabric banners unfold, fly in a circle and the bells chime. Each banner quotes a passage from the Purim Megillah.

After we arranged to purchase the piece and have it sent to Los Angeles, we talked with Gatt about the foods that are served during the Purim celebrations, and she shared a few of her favorite recipes with me, including Hummus With Pita Bread and her Eggplant Casserole. Adina’s favorite dessert is cheesecake, which she makes for almost every holiday. During Purim she adds nuts and poppy seeds to celebrate Queen Esther’s traditonal characterization as a vegetarian.

Purim Poppy Seed Cheesecake
Almond Nut Crust (recipe follows)
2 cups sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 eggs

Prepare, bake and cool the Almond Nut Crust.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small bowl, beat the sour cream and 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon of the almond extract until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with the remaining 1 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons of the poppy seeds until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in the remaining vanilla and almond extracts. Pour this filling into the prepared pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden. Remove the cake from the oven. Spread the prepared sour cream mixture on top and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds. Cool. Remove from the springform pan and serve cold.

Makes 16 servings.

Almond Nut Crust
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unpeeled whole almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Melt three tablespoons of butter. Brush a 9- or 10-inch springform pan with butter and set aside.

In a food processor or blender mix almonds and sugar until the almonds are coarsely chopped. Dice remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add butter and almond extract to food processor or blender and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides.

Press the almond mixture evenly into the bottom of the springform pan and 1?4 inch up the sides in the prepared pan. Bake for five to 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool.

Hummus With Pita Bread

Hummus is a simple, wonderfully flavorful dip or spread made from garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and tahini (sesame seed paste). Its texture is velvety, rich and firm enough to scoop up with wedges of pita bread or crisp vegetables. The taste is robust, nutty, garlicky and so satisfying that you won’t be able to stop eating it.

l can (15 ounce) garbanzo beans, with liquid
1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/2 cups lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed
1 to 2 teaspoons salt

Place the garbanzos in a food processor or blender and coarsely purée. Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin and purée until smooth, drizzling the olive oil into the mixture during the mixing. Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt. Add additional salt to taste.

Serve with hot pita bread and sliced vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and jicama.

Makes six to eight servings.

Adina’s Eggplant Casserole

This casserole is wonderful as a main course, a side dish or as a topping over pasta.

Olive oil
2 medium-size eggplants
6 firm tomatoes, preferably locally grown
6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the broiler. Line two to three baking sheets with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil.