One of the many commentaries discussed at Purim is that nothing was as it seemed. The miraculous salvation of the Jews was concealed under the guises of nature, luck and coincidence. I’ve read that Esther wasn’t the prettiest contestant in front of King Achashveiros, that Queen Vashti’s banishment was excessive even for a drunk king, and that Mordechai’s timing was more than coincidental in order for him to overhear Haman’s plot against the Jews.
Each one of these events is remarkable by themselves, and yet, they all happened with such precise timing to enable the events of Purim to take place. Did these occurrences happen by luck, by coincidence, by timing alone? Some say no. Instead, it is believed that these acts were all maneuvered by a higher force. And yet at the time, all these instances were disguised as ordinary occurrences.
Figuring out a mystery or uncloaking a disguise is satisfying. There’s a sense of completion as well as a level of excitement when this occurs. It is the same in many of the foods we enjoy. Rolled, wrapped or baked into delicacies, there are hidden ingredients we sometimes don’t expect. There’s a table full of commonly known, but disguised foods that add a little mystery to our meals.
During Purim we roll, fill and bake hamantaschen. Bite into a three cornered cookie and find either prune, chocolate, or apricot filling. What’s it going to be? Nobody knows! And hamantaschen isn’t the only treat that has a surprise for us. Every culture has its own camouflaged foods…
- South of the border, a Mexican favorite is the quintessential Quesadilla, which can be filled with cheese, olives, tomatoes and spicy hot jalapeno peppers. Or perhaps they’ll be filled with pulled chicken, sweet bell peppers and caramelized onions. Another non-dairy version is to fill them with slow roasted beef and a chimichurri cilantro sauce.
- The best Italian pizzerias serve up Strombolis and Calzones…these treasured entrees are made up of basic pizza dough, with an assortment of possibilities steaming within. A variety of cheeses, spinach, basil, tomatoes, olives….
- The name “Chicken Pot Pie” might not leave us guessing at the meat ingredient, but everything else that is combined to make this one dish meal extraordinary will vary with your imagination and the contents of your fridge! Traditionally peas, carrots, string beans and broccoli are added to the chunks of chicken or turkey along with a velvety herb sauce. Baked in a tightly sealed double pie crust, this American meal looks like dessert, but it’s served as the main course.
- Chinese cooking offers us the crisp fried eggroll, filled with roasted meat and shredded vegetables. At Abigael's our eggroll is filled with house-smoked brisket and served with a barbecue drizzle.
- Jewish cooking has its own disguised food, as well. My grandmother filled her Kreplach with ground beef and fried onions. At home we do a version with sweet potatoes and herbs. We also make them with chicken, ginger and water chestnuts.
- A big-seller at our catering events is Moroccan Filo Cigars. Yup, they look like miniature cigars and they are delicious! Finely chopped ground beef, spiced with curry, cumin and cilantro, all rolled within a thin layer of filo dough.
- One of my favorite hors d’oeuvres are Beggar’s Purses. A light and airy crepe filled with something incredible and mysterious…and tied with a scallion ribbon, mimicking the look of an over the shoulder hobo’s bag. Some argue that they’re called Beggar’s Purses because they taste so good, you’ll be begging for more. I agree, especially when filled with wild mushrooms and fresh herbs. For Esther's version with smoked salmon and crème fraiche, check out this great recipe!
The exciting thing about a disguised food is that the filling can always change whether it’s to play up the fresh produce of the season, to observe a holiday tradition or just to play around in the kitchen! You almost know what to expect, but with that first bite…not only is there “Mmmmm”, there’s also “Ahhhhh”!