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Daily Israel Report

Kosher Persian Cookbook: 'Iranian Jews Eat Halvah on Purim'

What better way to celebrate Purim than with Purim Cookies from a Kosher Persian Cookbook, written by a Venezuelan descendant of "hidden Jews"?
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 3/20/2011, 9:48 AM / Last Update: 3/20/2011, 1:53 PM

courtesy of Feldheim

What better way to celebrate Purim than with fancy  “Purim Cookies” baked from the newest delectable cookbook offering from Feldheim Publishers? 

Persian Food from The Non-Persian Bride by Reyna Simnegar provides a glossy, full-color panoply of Sephardic delights that even a beginner can cook. Moreover, the book can find a happy home on any living room coffee table. It is clearly written and the graphics are, to put it simply, gorgeous.

According to Simnegar – the daughter of "anusim" or Crypto Jews who was born in Caracas, not Iran -- Esther in Farsi means “beautiful” (as the morning star). She goes on to explain that Queen Esther's Hebrew name, Hadassah, means “myrtle.” (Her husband is Persian – and it was his mother who taught her the secrets of Persian cuisine.)

“When the myrtle leaves are crushed, they give a very sweet scent,” Simnegar continues in her essay on Purim in the chapter on Jewish holidays. “Similarly, as Hadassah (Queen Esther) was being “crushed” in the palace by her evil husband King Achashverosh, this brought out the sweetness and the best in her. Queen Esther risked her life with unmatched courage and dignity for her people, becoming one of the most important heroines for the Jews.”

Simnegar further explains in her recipe for the traditional Purim pastry that actually “back in Iran there were no hamentaschen!," the traditional pastry baked for Purim. " Very funny,  considering that all the events that lead to Purim happened in Iran. Traditionally, Persian Jewish families in Iran made halvah for Purim.”

Halvah, she adds, became one of the staple foods to give away in the Mishloach Manot (food packages) that are traditionally given to friends on the holiday of Purim. Persian halvah, she explains, is flour-based, with rose water.

“I love halvah,” Simnegar adds, “but I can't give up my hamentaschen on Purim!”

Since few of us can pass up this traditional treat, below is her recipe, which she credits to her friend Shifra Schwartz:

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
¾ cup canola oil
1/3 cup apple juice or sweet wine
1 T. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract
1 T. baking powder
5 cups flour

Fillings (your choice)
strawberry or apricot preservers
chocolate chips or
brownie mix, prepared according to pkg directions
prune butter (lekvar)

Directions:
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 C). Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2.Beat eggs and sugar until creamy. Add oil and combine. Add juice or wine and extracts. Add baking powder. Gradually add the flour until a dough with smooth consistency is achieved.
3.Flatten a portion of the dough 1/8-inch thick. Cut out 3-inch diameter circles and spoon ½ teaspoon preserves or any other filling onto the middle. Pinch at the corners with wet fingers, sealing very well. Place raw cookies about 1 inch apart onto prepared cookie sheets. Repeat until all the dough has been used.
4.Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the bottom is golden. Cool on racks.

Yield: 50 cookies