In January and February I like to dream up simple things to cook that suit the season and keep the kitchen warm without a whole lot of megillah. Megillah is a Hebrew word for the Jewish ritual of Purim, which takes place sometime between February and March according to a revolving calender and celebrates the release of the Jews from the execution decreed by the Persian vizier Haman. The story is told in the Old Testament Book of Ester, his queen, who foiled the plot. It’s a celebratory occasion where everyone goes to temple and food is shared. Traditionally the women, heads covered with scarves, though it was a woman who saved them all, are situated in the balcony, separated from the men; the men are on the floor doing the prayers; and the children move about freely, under watchful eyes, of course. To me, having been raised as a Protestant Presbyterian with a more rigid set of rules about staying put in the pew while the service is in process, those rituals seem like freedom.
Back to Megillah. The service is so long, there came to be a popular expression, “the whole megillah,” meaning “recite every syllable unto agony”, or “a tediously detailed account.” It’s a bit like “the whole nine yards,” only more. So, if you want to make a truncated, brief explanation, or a quick dish, you don’t go through the whole megillah; you get to the point quickly. Here are two recipes for beautiful winter vegetable dishes, with no megillah.
Cauliflower Puree with Horseradish
Cauliflower is a winter brassica par excellence. It’s one of my default vegetables from late September through the winter holiday season until spring, when it begins to bolt. A simple puree of it with smoothing cream and a jolt of horseradish serves to accompany any turkey, roast beef, ham, or, believe it or not, sautéed scallops. Makes about 2 cups.
1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/ 4 pounds)
2/ 3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon horseradish, preferably freshly grated
Bring a pot of water to boil. Core the cauliflower and cut it into 1-inch florets. Place the florets in the water and boil until they are mashable, 10 minutes or so. Drain and let cool for a minute or two, until no longer steaming hot.
Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor and puree. Add the cream and horseradish and continuing pureeing until smooth and fluffy. Season with salt. Use right away or set aside at room temperature for up to 1 hour, or refrigerate for up to 2 days and reheat in the microwave just before serving.
Red beets are the ultimate vegetable for Valentine’s Day. Naturally sweet (they are kissin’ cousins with sugar beets), they roast up with no fuss at all, and, when sliced lengthwise, resemble hearts. (Okay, that last may require a bit of imagination.) Dressed with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and a colorful white and yellow snow of sieved egg, they invite romancing over the food. Serves 2 to 4
2 medium-size beets, preferably one red and one orange, tops trimmed off and reserved for another dish
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large egg*, hard boiled for 6 minutes, drained, cooled under water, and peeled
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Rinse the trimmed beets and place them, still moist, in a baking dish. Add a teaspoon or so of olive oil, roll them around to coat all sides, and cover the dish. Place in the oven and cook until the beets can be easily pierced through to the center with a fork. Remove them and set aside until cool enough to handle.
While still warm, peel the beets with your fingers. Slice them lengthwise and arrange them on a platter. Sprinkle them ever so lightly with the vinegar, drizzle, also lightly, with the olive oil, and sieve the egg over the top.
*Did you know: the older an egg is, the easier it is to peel when hardcooked. With very fresh eggs, the outer shell still clings to its inner white casing and so will tear a bit as it is loosened and peeled away. So, when you want the egg in perfect form after peeling, it’s best to let it rest in the refrigerator for two or three or four days before cooking.