Purim is coming up all too quickly. This holiday celebrates the ingenuity and bravery of a young Jewish girl and her uncle in overcoming a plot to destroy her people in ancient Persia. Because Queen Esther concealed her identity while in the king’s harem, many foods traditional to Purim incorporate some element of concealment, like the tasty filling in fruity hamantashen, tucked away inside a triangular cookie, or Sephardi folares, where hard-boiled eggs are tucked inside pastry dough, which is formed into fancy shapes.
There are other foods associated with Purim as well, ones which bring to mind other aspects of the story. Orecchi di Aman (Haman’s ears) are an Italian traditional treat that evokes Haman’s supposedly twisted ears, as are the French palmiers. And poppy seeds are a frequent addition to Purim goodies. The Yiddish, mohn, sounds similar to the name of Haman. The tiny blue-black seeds also look like tiny little insects and are colloquially known in some parts as Hamans’ fleas (as in the picturesque curse “May you be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels”).
Now, everyone who knows me knows that I love exploring different cuisines and foods from around the world. So when I began thinking about what to bake and write about for Purim, naturally I reached outside of my own cultural sphere. I will certainly make hamantashen, the Ashkenazi treat I enjoyed growing up, but why stop so close to home? And where better to look than in Persia, the very place where the Purim story happened all those many centuries ago.
I have a recipe to share today that is both hidden and poppy-laden. It is not hidden in a literal sense, but it is relatively unknown in many Jewish communities, and that should be remedied. Nanbrangi, or Naan Berenji, are light and flaky Persian cookies that are topped with poppy seeds. They are are both gluten-free and dairy-free, making them a wonderful addition to the culinary repertoire for folks with these dietary concerns. As well as being a Persian Purim recipe, they are also traditional for the Norouz, the Persian new year. Flavoured with rose water, they are a delicious way to recall the floral-scented air of the palace of Ahashverosh in Shushan, and as we crush the poppy seeds between our teeth, so may the name of Haman be destroyed!
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 TBSP rosewater
- 2 ½ cups rice flour (approx.)
- Poppy seeds
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Yes, you want to do this, because the cookies are very tender.
With an electric mixer (or whisk, if you’re feeling strong), beat the eggs until they are light and slightly frothy, then add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is pale yellow. Mix in the oil, then the rosewater, until well blended. Add the rice flour until you get a soft dough, adding a bit more if needed to make it easier to handle. Refrigerate the mixture for at least half an hour, longer (overnight, even) if you have the time. This lets the dough firm up a bit, so the cookies will hold together better. It also gives the rice flour a bit of time to soften.
Shape the dough into small balls, no more than an inch in diameter. The cookies are flaky, so anything too big will crumble. Make holes or designs on the top of each, depressing slightly, and sprinkle on poppy seeds (or add jam, for a more Western thumbprint-type cookie).
Bake for 15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Let cool completely before transferring to wire racks. Do two trays at a time if you can. Makes about 3-4 dozen cookies.