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How to make a Great Purim Meal
By Aviva Goldstein
Purim is one of those special times of the year that a good homemaker can kvell about, that is if she is on top of the planning for the Purim meal. There is only really one Purim meal and that is by day. The meal eaten at night is not the Purim meal so I am not addressing that meal. I have hosted Purim meals in my house for forty years and I would like to share my experiences on how to plan a really successful Purim feast.
Realize that many people are busy in the morning and early afternoon between hearing the Megillah being read and sending food portions to their friends. A good Purim meal should commence in the mid to late afternoon. My husband prefers to have it start late and carry into the night, but that is his preference. There are those who prefer it earlier. Our experience is that no matter what time you call it for, it will start later. No one has ever come on time.
Make certain that you invite plenty of guests: friends, neighbors, guests and sometimes we have had strangers who were collecting money for various causes come in and partake of the meal. The more people that you invite, the happier and joyous the Purim meal will be. Make certain that you invite plenty of guests! The more you have, the merrier will be the meal.
It is important to have a meal plan. I write down all of the courses, main dishes and side dishes that I plan to serve. Now don't worry about preparing ALL that food; ask your guests to bring something too. They are normally delighted to help. Since I know ahead who is coming, I ask each to bring one thing. I ask this one to bring a cole slaw, or that one to bring a carrot salad or a cucumber salad and some one else to make something for dessert. You would be surprised how people are willing to help out. I do not ask them to bring difficult things like soup or a main course, but when the salads, side dishes or desserts are covered, the preparation of the meal is much easier.
Here is a sample menu plan for Purim:
The table should be set festively with candelabra lit in center of table early in the afternoon. Perhaps a flower vase might look good on the table, but sometimes the table gets so cluttered with food that we have to remove it. I have been using plastic and paper plates for the past few years. I am getting too old to wash all the dishes myself. I buy some colorful plates, large and small, with matching cups, plastic silverware and napkins. It makes the table look really festive. They are not as expensive as they used to be, but if you have a dishwasher (electric – not your family) then use your Shabbat plates.
If you have children to help you, get some balloons and streamers to decorate the house. Put up some Purim pictures on the door too. It makes the festive atmosphere; when the house looks different it feels different too. Also get a CD with some Purim music and put in on your player on low to add some background music.
For the meal, first we need bread. I prefer to have small dinner rolls on table in a basket with individual dinner rolls placed at each place setting. It looks nicer for every one to have their own little roll and there are so many different types of rolls: whole wheat, sweet, plain, onion, etc. I put them in the basket for each person to take what they want. Along side this, I set out different types of dips: avocado, eggplant, humus, techina, etc. People enjoy dipping their bread into the various dips. Also it is good to have the pickles and olives placed on the table before the meal so that the guests can snack on these.
Normally I bring to the table at the beginning of the meal a variety of fresh vegetable salads, such as cole slaw, beet salad, cucumber salad, carrot salad, mixed fresh vegetable salad. Sliced carrots, cucumbers, radishes and/or sweet peppers also look nice on the table and add to the festive mood. These go well with the bread and are generally light on the appetite. Remember to put several different types of salad dressings on the table too. As my guests and friends bring their salads, I add them to the table immediately so that everyone can try them.
It is important to provide a variety of soft drinks on table, such as soda water, sprite, cola, fruit flavored drinks, and bottled water – many people feel that bottled water is very important, so don't skimp on this. Of course it is mandatory to have several different types of wine on the table – use a good wine, sweet wines are fine for a slight sip, but for a Purim party a good dry or semi dry wine is important – red or white wines are fine. My husband has some whiskeys that he used to put on the table, but in the recent years he said that the meal really should be only with wine, so he stopped putting the whiskeys on the table.
For the first course which I always set on table before guests arrive: half a melon with cut strawberries inside or fruit cocktail. I like to start off with something light so that people do not fill up on the first course. The first guests to arrive will be bored if there is no food so I have it set on the table for them but it is light enough food that they will not fill up from it.
The second course is something tasty but small like hot dog knishes and/or potato knishes or maybe borekas. I make a thick mushroom sauce to pour on it. It looks good and served hot make a good start to the meal.
The main course is generally meat roast with cooked potatoes, onions and carrots. I also like to serve either oven baked chicken or fried schnitzel with fresh mashed potatoes and peas. Serving two kinds of dishes at the main course makes the meal look so much more festive than just one dish.
For dessert we always have plenty of hamentaschen on hand plus what ever we got in the shalach manot, the food portions that people send over on Purim. Parve ice cream is also a big hit.
What I have outlined above is only half of the meal, this is the food part which I am responsible for. The other half is the singing and insights into the Megillah and Purim that the men should prepare. Don't forget that when you invite someone over for the meal, when you ask the wife to bring a salad of some sort, mention that the husband should prepare a little insight into Purim for the crowd. When you combine the good food and drink that the ladies prepare with the singing, dancing, and Torah insights that the men prepare, you know that you are going to have a Purim feast that all will enjoy.
from the March 2011 Purim Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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