Food for Thought #9: Wondrous Purim

Food for Thought has focused on newsy items of late – a good thing, I think – but recipes have been promised. So, given the upcoming holiday of Purim (March 14 this year), I thought it appropriate and timely to share a healthy recipe that is a favorite of mine. First, however, let’s talk about the holiday itself.

For those who don’t know, Purim is a day of celebration and sharing. The occasion marks the victory of the Jewish people over the evil Haman, who was prime minister to Persian King Xerxes and who plotted to slay the Jews. Queen Esther, a closeted Jew, heard of Haman’s vile plot and, with her uncle Mordecai, turned the tables and saved her people. The biblical Book of Esther tells the whole tale and is worthwhile reading.

Why do I recommend Purim to everyone? It’s an amazing day of family, community and unity: For one, we celebrate the resilience and survival of the Jewish people – undoubtedly a good thing. Additionally, the day’s traditions include doing mitzvot – good deeds – for others: giving Matanot L’evyonim, food gifts to the poor; and sharing Mishlo’ach Manot – gifts of food to friends and family. All are wonderfully loving and humane Purim customs. Of course there are religious aspects to this joyous day, such as the reading of the Megillat Esther, which tells the story behind Purim and gives props to an amazing woman of courage (just in time for Women’s History Month). And then there is the revelry, complete with groggers (noisemakers shaken to drown out any mention of Haman’s name), colorful costumes, the Purim Schpiel (a funny skit for the holiday) and a wonderful dinner – Mishteh – with lots of yummy dessert treats.

Among the day’s delicacies is the traditional three-cornered filled pastry Hamantaschen, which is supposed to resemble Haman’s hat. Now, on Purim, a day when participants are encouraged to drink wine and wallow in joy, watching calories and nutrition seems silly, but hey, I’m obsessed. So I found a vegan recipe for the Purim goodie that fits the occasion and keeps me guilt-free.

Vegan Hamantaschen

INGREDIENTS

1-1/2 cups vegan margarine, at room temperature
1 cup evaporated cane juice or other unprocessed, sweetener
1/4 cup silken tofu, pureed
6 tbsps. orange juice
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsps. baking powder
4-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
a variety of all-fruit preserves – apricot, strawberry, raspberry, whatever you like

PROCEDURES

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer at low speed to cream together the margarine and sugar. Beat in the puréed tofu, and then the orange juice and vanilla extract. Add the baking powder and flour; mix until the dough turns into a ball. Cover and place the bowl in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Lightly flour a rolling pin and a large cutting board – I prefer a wooden surface. Place your chilled dough onto the board and roll the dough until it is very thin – between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick. Using a floured cookie cutter or glass, cut into 3-inch wide circles.

Here is where we start to have some real fun: Place about one teaspoon of the fruit preserves in the center of each round. Dip a pastry brush in water and wet the outside edge of each dough circle, then pinch the three sides together to form a triangle – Haman’s hat. Make sure that the filling is safely enveloped within the dough.

Place the cookies onto an ungreased baking sheet, and put the sheet into the refrigerator for an hour to allow the cookies to chill again in order to help them keep their shape.

Preheat oven to 375° F / 190° C. Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are a light golden brown. When you remove the cookies from the oven, be sure to allow them to rest on the hot baking sheet for a minute – then transfer the cookies – carefully – to a wire rack. Makes about three dozen little bits of celebration.

It occurs to me that since this is an activism site and in addition to being a journalist and food writer I am The Armchair Activist, it makes sense to share some mitzvot ideas for doing good this Purim. Best of all, many of these suggested good deeds benefit women – given Esther’s central role in the Purim story and the fact that this is Women’s History Month, these ideas from the Religious Action Center are quite appropriate:

Give to the Jewish Fund for Justice’s Purim Fund

The Jewish Fund for Justice established the Purim Fund for Women in Poverty in 1988 to help women successfully overcome barriers to becoming economically self-sufficient. Organizations supported by the Purim Fund give low-income women the strength, skills and means to take leadership in their communities and organize for livable wage jobs, decent affordable childcare, and economic development opportunities. In honor of Queen Esther’s courageous efforts to save the Jewish people, the Purim Fund also honors the struggles faced by our immigrant mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers when they first landed on these shores–often working in oppressive conditions while struggling to hold their families together. For more information, visit www.jfjustice.org.

Donate your Old Cell Phone to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

The NCADP collects deactivated cell phones (which still allow for 911 calls) to distribute to victims of domestic violence so that they can call for emergency help. Visit their website for more information.

Distribute Information about Help for Victims of Domestic Violence

Place informational material about a local shelter for victims of spousal abuse in the women’s rooms at your synagogue, place of employment, hair salon, and clothing stores—anywhere you can think of. If you need such material, contact any of the groups listed on this page, or the RAC.

Advocate for Women’s Reproductive Rights

Speak Out on Federal Advocacy Issues – Take action by sending a letter to elected officials. Whether the subject is U.S. Supreme Court nominations or bills to cut critical family planning funding you can stay informed and speak out on choice issues of the day. Check out the RAC’s issue page on reproductive rights for more information.

Support Pro-Choice Organizations – Check out the following organizations that are working to ensure women’s reproductive rights:

* Planned Parenthood
* National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League
* Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
* National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association

Donate to American Jewish World Service’s Women’s Empowerment Projects

Women living in the developing world shoulder the heaviest burdens of poverty as a result of gender discrimination and social inequality. Yet despite these challenges, women frequently serve as the catalysts for creating positive social change. Through grant making and the Women’s Empowerment Fund, AJWS supports programs designed to enable women to become agents of change, empowering them to transform their own lives and create lasting and meaningful change for themselves, their families and their communities. Visit www.ajws.org and click on “Women’s Empowerment” for information on AJWS’s current projects.

Join Amnesty International’s Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women

By joining AI’s Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women, you will receive information about current women’s rights issues around the globe and about local efforts to combat discrimination and violence. You can also donate to the campaign to ensure its success. Visit www.amnesty.org/actforwomen for more information on how to join.

Urge African Governments to Ratify the Women’s Rights Protocol

African women made history in 2003 through the adoption of a protocol that specifically protects women’s human rights and breaks new ground in international law. But before the protocol has the force of law, fifteen African governments must ratify it. As of January 2006, 17 countries had ratified the Protocol (Benin, Comoros, Cape-Verde, Djibouti, The Gambia, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, and Togo). African women’s rights organizations are leading an innovative and energetic campaign to get more countries to ratify the protocol. Show your solidarity with them by writing to African heads of state to urge them to ratify the protocol. Visit Human Rights Watch’s website for more information.

If you make Purim a special day in your house, I wish you a happy one. And though I am not usually a drinker, know that I will drink deeply of the grape at our family’s Mishteh to wish you joy.

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Food for Thought ruminates on the world of food – news, recipes, dining out, health, trends and more – from a progressive, counterculture perspective. Wanna share recipes or tips? Send email!

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