Purim is the Jewish holiday celebrating the salvation of the Jews of ancient Persia from annihilation at the hands of the king’s wicked advisor, Haman. The heroes of the story are Queen Esther, whose bravery and disclosure of her Jewish identity to her husband King Ahasuerus saves her people, and Esther’s uncle/cousin (depending on which story you go with) Mordecai, whose good deeds and wisdom proves essential to saving the Jewish people. Or as the Hand (her Hebrew name also happens to be Esther) just summed up: King replaces hot queen with new hot queen who is secretly Jewish, king’s evil Jafar-like advisor decides to kill all of the Jews, queen’s wise cousin encourages her to appeal to the king for help, queen saves the day.
The holiday has evolved into a celebration of freedom in which Jews are encouraged/commanded to eat, drink, and be merry, and share with friends and those in need. Ashkenazi Jews, who came from Germany, Russia, and other parts of Europe, eat hamantaschen. The cookie’s name is subject to interpretation as the “hat of Haman,” “ears of Haman,” or “pockets of Haman.” According to the story, Haman either had a very triangle-shaped hat or pair set of ears. Hamantaschen are filled to represent the secret that Esther hid for so long.
Sephardic Jews, who integrate Spanish, North African and Middle Eastern customs, prepare sweet almond candies such as figuellos and filled sambusas or borekitas (I recently had the opportunity to obtain this delicious recipe).
During last night’s Purim party, I employed my friends as helpers to cut, stuff, and fold over 100 hamantaschen. There are many variations of the cookie, which may be hard or soft and made with or without yeast in the dough. While poppy seed is the traditional filling, many people (myself included) prefer fruit preserves (apricot, raspberry, strawberry, cherry, etc.), or chocolate.
As I mentioned earlier, Purim is a holiday for giving to others. Jews have this wonderful tradition of making “shalach manot” baskets (literally “sending out portions). So, make lots of hamantaschen and share.
For further reading:
http://www.jewishmag.com/121mag/hamantaschen/hamantaschen.htm All about Hamantaschen
http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm Tells the Purim story in more detail
http://jewishfoodexperience.com/around-town/dcs-jewish-food-history/ Some local Jewish food history
This is my family’s recipe for hamantaschen. The cookie is soft, and the corners are pinched together instead of folded. Hope you enjoy!
½ cup sugar
1 stick butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Filling of your choice (I use apricot pie filling, raspberry jam, and dark chocolate chips)
1) Make the dough: Mix the sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Slowly add the flour and baking powder. Chill for at least an hour.
2) Roll the dough: Sprinkle flour over a countertop or cutting board. Roll the dough as thin as possible without tearing or sticking to surface.
3) Cut the dough into 2 ½ to 3 inch circles using a wide-rimmed mug or glass.
4) Fill the circles with a small amount of filling. Resist urge to overfill or the dough will tear.
5) Fold the cookies by pinching into three corners.
6) Bake on greased or parchment paper-lined in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.