Purim menu with the luck of the Irish
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Purim menu with the luck of the Irish

Every time there’s a Jewish leap year, as is the case in 2011, Purim falls during the same week as St. Patrick’s Day. While St. Patrick’s Day is always on March 17, Purim this year begins at sundown just two days later, on March 19.

Far from the Emerald Isle, the Purim story is set in ancient Persia and bubbles with intrigue. Mordecai, a distinguished member of the Jewish community who suspected foul play within the king’s palace, maneuvered his niece Esther into the position of queen.

Learning that the king’s vizier, Haman, planned to annihilate the Jews, Queen Esther revealed her religion to her husband and prevailed upon him to save her people. Fortunately he was sympathetic to her plea. Once Haman was defeated, Mordecai and Queen Esther led a jubilant party celebrating Jewish survival.

Since then it has become customary for Jews everywhere to raise a glass on Purim, a holiday that encourages revelry. The Jews of Ireland are no exception. Small in number, they are a cohesive community with a proud history.

Among famed Irish Jews is Robert Briscoe, who in 1956 not only became the first Jewish mayor of Dublin but also led the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Briscoe, however, was not the first Jewish mayor in Ireland: William Annyas was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork, in 1555.

Although the Jewish presence in Ireland stretches back nearly 1,000 years, today’s Jewish community has its origins predominantly from the 1880s, when immigrants from Lithuania, fleeing pogroms and Russian oppression, sought refuge in Dublin and Cork.

As a small population in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Jews have not experienced much persecution in Ireland. Comfortably middle class, Irish Jews have been city folk, mostly businesspeople, professionals, and merchants. Many are third- and fourth-generation Irish born.

The Jewish population in Ireland reached a peak of nearly 6,000 during the 1940s, but by the end of that decade, young Jews assimilated and there was a good deal of intermarriage. The founding of the State of Israel in 1948 prompted an exodus from Ireland. Today there are more Irish Jews living in Israel than in Ireland.

With so few Jews in Ireland, young people migrate in search of Jewish life elsewhere. Some parents encourage their children to immigrate to England, Israel, or America, so they can meet and marry other Jews.

“Shalom Ireland,” a one-hour documentary about the Emerald Isle’s colorful Jewish community, is available on DVD through Share Productions at (650) 738-9495 or online at Valerie@shalomireland.com.

In the film, one man explains that Jews often acquire the “best” qualities of the wider community where they live. While American Jews tend to be boastful and English Jews may be pompous, he says, Irish Jews are the friendliest Jews in the world, but they drink more than other Jews.

A unique way to celebrate Purim on this Jewish leap year would be to host a brunch and serve typical Irish fare, followed by a viewing of “Shalom Ireland.”

With the Jewish population dwindling, the dead in Ireland’s Jewish cemeteries far exceed living Jews, who today number fewer than 1,000. However, for those with a spirit of adventure who would like to live someplace where your presence would be greatly appreciated, consider moving to Ireland, where the Jewish community will welcome you with the joy of Mordecai that first Purim.

Following is an Irish Purim brunch menu (recipes developed by Linda Morel):

Irish soda bread with clabber (buttermilk)

Irish smoked salmon** with a dollop of horseradish cream

Roasted tomato wedges

Fried potatoes

Fried eggs

Oatmeal raisin scones with clabber (buttermilk), served with marmalade

Irish coffee

**Note: When purchased in the United States, Irish smoked salmon is probably not prepared from fish caught in Irish waters. The term refers to the method used to cure the salmon. Irish smoked salmon has a drier texture and is smoked longer than Gaspe and Scotch salmon, which are more popular in America. Because of its deep smoky flavor, Irish smoked salmon may not appeal to some if served on a bagel with cream cheese, but it’s a great appetizer presented with capers and chopped dill.

Irish soda bread with clabber (buttermilk)

(Dairy)

Ingredients:

Parchment paper
2 lbs. all-purpose flour (small size bag), plus extra for dusting
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 2 1/2 cups milk mixed with 1 1/4 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice)

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If using milk instead of clabber (buttermilk), mix milk with lemon juice.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, place 2 lbs. flour, salt, baking soda, and brown sugar. Using the dough hook, stir to combine.

3. Add the cheddar cheese to the flour mixture. While mixing, gradually pour in buttermilk or milk mixture, until dough clumps together. (You may not need all of the milk.)

4. Dust your kitchen counter with flour. Remove dough from the bowl, shape into a ball, and roll in the flour on the counter. Dough will be coarse. Shape dough into a round loaf and flatten slightly. Dough will display cracks. Place dough on the parchment paper.

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and cake tester inserted in the center comes clean. Cool to warm. Slice and serve.

Yield: 1 (7-inch) loaf, about 14 slices

Horseradish cream (to accompany Irish smoked salmon or any variety you desire)

(Dairy)

Ingredients:

1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 tsp. (or more for stronger flavor) prepared horseradish (from a jar)
1 tsp. fresh dill, minced

Preparation:

Place ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir with a spoon until well blended. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until serving, preferably in an attractive bowl. Sprinkle dill on top.

Yield: 1 cup

Roasted tomato wedges

(Pareve)

Ingredients:

No-stick vegetable spray
4 medium-sized tomatoes
Vegetable oil for drizzling
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper, preferably freshly ground

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a shallow baking pan with no-stick spray.

2. Cut each tomato into 8 wedges, 32 pieces in all. Place wedges on prepared pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Roast for 30 minutes, or until wedges soften and pucker. Place on a platter and serve immediately.

Yield: 8 servings

Crunchy fried potatoes

(Pareve)

Ingredients:

4 large potatoes
Several paper towels
3 or 4 tbsp. vegetable oil, or more, if needed
Kosher salt to taste

Preparation:

1. Peel potatoes and rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife, cut potatoes into thin slices, about 1/8-inch thick.

2. In a large skillet, briefly heat 3 tbsp. oil on a medium flame. With a spatula, carefully move potatoes into the oil. Make sure they don’t overlap. Sprinkle with salt. Fry for several minutes until potato slices begin to brown. Flip slices to the other side and sprinkle again with salt. Add more oil, if needed.

3. Continue frying and turning slices until they are brown and quite crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Move to 2 layers of paper towels to drain and serve immediately.

Yield: 8 servings

Oatmeal raisin scones with clabber (buttermilk)

(Dairy)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup clabber (buttermilk) or 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
7 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups flour, plus 4 tbsp.
1/2 cup quick 1-minute oats (uncooked)
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar, plus 1 tbsp.
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
Marmalade, optional accompaniment

Equipment:

2 sheets of parchment paper
2 cookie sheets
2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter

Preparation:

1. While assembling ingredients, soak the raisins in 1/3 cup water. If using milk instead of clabber (buttermilk), mix milk with lemon juice. Cut butter into pea-sized pieces. Place parchment paper on cookie sheets. Preheat oven to 400.

2. In a large mixing bowl, place 1 1/2 cups flour, oats, baking powder, salt, and 2 tbsp. sugar and blend with electric beaters to combine. Add the butter and vanilla and beat on a low speed until mixture is crumbly.

3. Add the eggs and slowly pour in the buttermilk or milk mixture, beating until dough turns soft and sticky. Strain the raisins and blend into dough on low speed.

4. Sprinkle 4 tbsp. flour on your kitchen counter. Knead the dough briefly while in the bowl. Place the dough on the floured counter. With your hands, flatten dough to 1/4-inch thick. Using the cookie cutter, dipping its edge into flour before each cutting, punch out circles of dough and place them on prepared cookie sheets. Gather up the dough remaining between circles and flatten again. Cut out scones until there’s no dough left. Sprinkle the remaining tbsp. of sugar over each scone.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, switching the upper cookie sheet with the lower one after 8 minutes. Remove from oven when scones are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes clean. Serve warm or at room temperature, with marmalade, if using.

Yield: 24 scones

Irish coffee

(Dairy)

Ingredients:

8 cups of coffee, freshly brewed
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 cup (8 oz.) Irish cream liqueur, such as Bailey’s
1 cup (8 oz.) Irish whiskey

Preparation:

1. While coffee is brewing, place heavy cream in a mixing bowl and whip with electric beaters until cream forms peaks. Pulse beaters on and off as cream thickens into whipped cream to avoid turning it into butter. Reserve.

2. Into 8 coffee mugs, place 1 oz. of Irish cream liqueur and 1 oz. of Irish whiskey. Pour 1 cup of coffee into each mug and stir until combined. Top with spoonfuls of whipped cream and serve immediately.

Yield: 8 servings

JTA Wire Service

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