By Paula Gottlieb Herman
Just yesterday, on March 8th, women all over the world were celebrating International Women’s Day. But, six days earlier, at the East Meadow Jewish Center, we were celebrating one very special woman, Queen Vashti. During the reading of the Purim story, we recall how she was summoned to the palace to have an audience with the King, and since she was hosting her own banquet, she refused to leave her guests. Sadly, because of this act of bravery she was sentenced to death, which then paved the way for Esther to become the Queen. Some people have said that Queen Vashti was our world’s first feminist.
For those lucky enough to join our Vashti’s Banquet in person, they were treated to an evening of Persian delights. The décor included a harem tent covered in purple voile curtains and pashminas, complete with throne and plush purple seat cover, silver decorative tray with water pitcher, plants, baskets, and Persian background music. Upon arrival, guests were presented with metallic necklaces decorated with crowns or coins on them, or colorful scarves to wear.
The elaborate banquet platters included Pistachio Baklava Bites, Dark Chocolate Fruit Candies with Figs and Dates, Chocolate Dipped Dried Apricots, Dates Stuffed with Walnut Halves, and Persian Mulled Wine. These handmade delicacies were both delicious and beautiful to look at.
In addition to amazing food and drink, Chef Paula, dressed in a harem-chic outfit, led the program with an Ancient Beauty Secrets Demonstration of 3 Harem Body Scrubs or Polishes. Harem girls would spend 12 months getting ready for their audience with the King. They used a variety of beauty rituals to make their skin velvety soft and smooth. So, exfoliating body scrubs and polishes were quite popular.
No Vashti Banquet would be complete without a belly dancer and a belly dancing lesson. Daniela, Daniela Belly Dance, mesmerized the ladies with her flawless movements, enchanting smile, snake arm gestures, and sword balancing act. Her performance and group lesson were life changing! Photo 2259 (More photos will be posted soon.)
Since we have received countless requests for the recipes we featured at our Banquet, including the ancient beauty demonstration, as well as our gourmet refreshments, we now share them with you. You can make these recipes in your own home kitchen. So, whether you use the ingredients to make your skin smooth, or to make your taste buds do a happy dance, we hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
Harem Beauty Secrets & Rituals
Harem Body Scrub/Polish#1 Photo 2214
- Take 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 teaspoon fine sea salt.
- Mix the two ingredients together.
- Apply over the areas of skin that you would like to treat.
- Begin making brisk back and forth massaging movements to exfoliate your skin, and then polish your skin briskly.
- Once the process is completed, hop under a shower to rinse.
Harem Body Scrub/Polish#2
- Take 4 tablespoons of shredded coconut, a few spoonfuls of natural yogurt and 2 teaspoons of brown sugar.
- Mix all of the ingredients together thoroughly.
Harem Body Scrub/Polish#3
- Take 4 or 5 tablespoons of rice flour, the same amount of ground coffee, and 1 cup of natural yogurt.
- Mix all of the ingredients well.
Persian Delight Desserts
Baklava Bites Photo 2203
- 1 ½ cups walnuts or pistachios, chopped
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 packages (15 count, each) Athens® Mini Fillo Shells
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- In a food processor, add walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves and pulse to combine. Spoon 1 tablespoon of nut mixture into each shell filling 30 mini shells. Bake in preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, sugar honey and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Cool slightly and pour a teaspoon of warm syrup over each shell.
- Refrigerate filled shells for 4 to 5 hours, then thaw shells for 15 minutes before serving.
- *Desserts can be frozen and then thawed for future use.
Dark Chocolate Fruit Candies with Pomegranates, Figs and Dates
36 candies (12 of each fruit)
Kosher Key: Pareve for dairy-free dark chocolate (or dairy if using milk chocolate) Photo 2205
Total Time: 4 Hours
- 4 bars dark chocolate, or 3 cups dark chocolate chips
- 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds
- 2/3 cup dates, chopped into small pieces
- 2/3 cup dried figs, chopped into small pieces
- Double boiler, 2 mini muffin tins, 36 mini muffin cups
- Line a mini muffin pan with paper muffin cups. Break the dark chocolate bars into smaller pieces and slowly melt over a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler, you can melt the chocolate in a glass, Pyrex or metal bowl set securely atop a pan of simmering water. Note: to avoid blooming (the filmy layer that sometimes rises to the surface of chocolate after it sets-- it doesn't affect flavor but it's not very pretty), you can temper the chocolate. You'll need a thermometer.
- Once the chocolate is melted, spoon a little into each cup so that the bottom is completely covered.
- Spoon about 2 teaspoons of the pomegranate seeds into 12 of the chocolate cups, dividing the fruit evenly between the cups.
- Repeat with the chopped dates and figs (12 of each) until all of the cups have been filled.
- Cover the fruit candies with the remaining melted chocolate. Don't be afraid to get a little messy here. Embrace the imperfection. They don't need to look neat and tidy.
- Leave the chocolates in a cool, dry place for about 4 hours until set. You can speed up the process by placing them in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Over time the chocolate may "bloom" - a process in which the sugar or fat rises to surface of the chocolate and creates a cloudy or spotty appearance. They'll still taste great, they just won't be as pretty. As I mentioned above, you can temper the chocolate to avoid blooming.
- Keep the pomegranate dark chocolates in the fridge for up to a week. The others can stay at room temperature in a cool, dry place for 2-3 weeks.
Persian Mulled Wine
Ingredients: Photo 2215
- 2 cups pomegranate seeds
- 8 cardamom pods
- 6 cloves
- 1 orange
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 cups apple cider
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 bottle of fruity Shiraz wine
To a pot add pomegranate seeds, peel from orange pierced by cloves, lightly crushed cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks.
Add apple cider, cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Add honey and continue to gently simmer for 10 minutes.
Add red wine, give it a gentle stir, cover and simmer on low for 10 minutes longer. That’s pretty much it! Serve mulled wine in mugs or Persian tea cups. Enjoy! This recipe makes about 6 to 8 cups of mulled wine depending on the size of the cups in which they are served.