Queen Esther’s Foods of Seduction

“Ahasuerus and Haman at Esther’s Feast,” by Rembrandt, 1660.

— by Ronit Treatman

How did Queen Esther make King Ahasuerus fall in love with her? By her looks, intelligence, or sense of humor? Or did she concoct some sort of love potion?  

Persian cuisine is known for its complexity and subtlety. A message of desire may be transmitted in a cup of tea.

An ancient legend recounts that a Chinese emperor accidentally discovered tea when some leaves from a tea tree blew into an outdoor cauldron of boiling water. The fragrant brew attracted him, and after his first sip, he was hooked. This new beverage traveled from China to India, and tradesmen brought it from India to Persia.  

Persian tea is steeped from whole dried tealeaves, and is always served piping hot. It is never accompanied by milk. Tea is traditionally flavored with sugar cubes, sour cherry jam, honey, raisins, dry mulberries, dates, or limes.

Two recipes after the jump.
One special type of Persian tea is called “saffron love tea.” In her book Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, Iranian-American chef Najmieh Batmanglij wrote that when a suitor asks for a woman’s hand, if her parents offer him a cup of saffron tea, then the answer is “yes”!

Perhaps the real secret of Esther’s success in seducing King Ahasuerus was a perfect cup of Persian saffron love tea.

Persian Saffron Love Tea
Adapted from Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, by Najmieh Batmanglij    

  • 4 cups of filtered water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons rosewater
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 cardamom pods

Place all of the ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

The perfect accompaniment to this tea is a type of Persian frittata called kuku. This one is made with pistachios:

Pistachio Kuku
Adapted from Food of Life, by Najmieh Batmanglij  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon rose water
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Grind the pistachios in a food processor.
  3. Heat the rose water.
  4. Sprinkle the saffron threads into the hot rose water.
  5. Place the flour, baking soda, salt, black pepper, eggs and milk in a large bowl.
  6. Mix everything well, and then add the saffron-rose water mixture.
  7. Blend in the ground pistachios and the brown sugar.
  8. Take a heavy, oven-safe skillet and heat the olive oil over low heat in it.
  9. Pour the batter into the skillet.
  10. Cover the skillet with a lid, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes.
  11. Remove the lid, and place the skillet under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes, until the top is golden-brown.
  12. Garnish with powdered sugar.

I prepared this afternoon tea for my family. The kuku was delicious, crunchy, and not too sweet. The youngest person who tasted the saffron tea said, “It is warm and sweet, just like love.”

Three Philadelphians Star in “Megillas Lester” Musical Comedy DVD

Akiba Hebrew Academy graduates Michael Bihovsky, Adam Levinthal and Andrew Davies star in the newly-released, full-length musical animated comedy DVD Megillas Lester, presented by EMES Productions, produced by Kolrom Animation Studios, and distributed by ArtScroll.

Bihovsky, who directed and starred in One Grain More and Fresh! now voices Doniel “Lester” Lesterovitch, an average boy in a Jewish elementary school. While directing his school’s Purim play, Lester gets a knock on the head from a fallen box of puffy paint and falls unconscious. Suddenly, Lester finds himself in the middle of the feast of King Achashverosh, and through a case of mistaken identity, it is Lester who is asked to go summon Queen Vashti to the party.

More after the jump.

Vashti decides to go, which prevents the story of Megillas Esther: Vashti is not killed, a search for a new queen is not required, and thus Esther never comes to the palace. That leaves nobody to save the Jews from the plot of Haman (voiced by Levinthal). Amid a sub-plot involving Bigsan (voiced by Davies) and Seresh’s murder schemes, Lester runs all over Shushan, trying to stay out of Haman’s way and set the Purim story back on track.

The Actors

Get to know the real live actors that are the voices of Lester, Bigsan, Achashverosh, Haman and more!

Mishloach Manot For Tzahal: Offer Purim Treats To Israeli Troops

Do you want to make an Israeli soldier smile? Do you want to help her or him feel connected to Jews here in Philly? Sponsor a Purim gift basket — Mishloach Manot!

The goodies that go in the Mishloach Manot need to be bought: $10 pays for one solder, $300 covers a unit of soldiers and $1,000 provides for an entire division of soldiers.

Students write letters of appreciation and encouragement to soldiers presently serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and Connections Israel delivers the letters on Purim together with Mishloach Manot. The letters are a way for us to feel personally involved with the soldiers, and the soldiers really appreciate knowing that they have our support and gratitude.

Purim: A Rite of Reversal Teaching Ways to Survive

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Difficult to date, but definitely written prior to 87 B.C.E., when it was translated into Greek, Megillat Esther appears to have been a romance novel or satire of the Persian Empire period, incorporating aspects of the Babylonian mythological goddess Ishtar, also known as Astarte, and the god Marduk. Notice how strikingly close these names are to those of the Purim heroine, Esther, and her uncle, Mordechai. So nu? Why make Purim a sacred time for Jews?

Purim is what cultural anthropologists would term a rite of reversal. Such rites, during hard times, serves as a people’s valve for letting off toxic emotional steam. The story is a political satire — where else in antiquity could Jews win at every turn? Purim is wish fulfillment within comedic relief during times of oppression — the Daily Show of its times.

More after the jump.
The social order is turned topsy-turvy. Jewish women weren’t likely to become queens to the conquering kings or emperors. The bad guy is made look like a dunce and dies for his evil ways. Esther, our nice Jewish girl, is pimped by her uncle into the palace. Esther decides to play the seductress to win the day, the opposite of modesty mitzvahs for sure. And she intermarries with the king who presumably follows Zoroastrianism, the religion of the region. In the end, the king permits the Jews to do whatever necessary to defend themselves against the evil decree, including killing his troops. Riiiight.

A Surprising Hebrew Root of the Word Purim

The root of the word Purim is the Hebrew word “hafarah,” which can be translated as disruption or annulment. (Things have changed since they taught us it was “purs” — “lots”, as in casting lots in Hebrew School, eh?) Hitler outlawed Purim by name. Why? Purim isn’t just some Hebrew School activity, it is an intentionally subversive festival, where, by analogy, we mock our oppressors and inculcate the belief that the people can triumph over evil, “even a woman” can save the day. And, one wonders, at times what were we sharing besides sweets when visiting each other to deliver nosh presents known as mishloach manot?

Jewish holidays are each a mitzvah in their own right, composed of sequenced spiritual practices, many mitzvot, that, when taken seriously, thicken with meaning and memories as we mature. Dressing in costume for Purim, for example, might at first seem like a way to engage the interest of children. But it can also serve as a jumping-off point for discussing what you might hope to do if placed in the position of Queen Esther. She had to choose whether to attempt to save the lives of her people with serious risk to herself involved.

Will We Have Had Esther’s Lifesaving Chutzpah If Needed?

Purim is a time to step into Queen Esther’s shoes and discover where God is to be found in this story. That’s right, God is not a character in this megillah, never named or apparently mentioned. Our sages do cleverly find G*d in Megillat Ester by pointing to Deuteronomy 31:18. Listen to the sound of the Hebrew words as you read them aloud: Ah’noe’hi ha-stehr ahsteer, “I will hide my face on that day.” Can you hear how ahsteer sounds like Esther? So, on Purim, G*d is also wearing a mask, that of Esther. Every day, you, a stranger, your teacher, a partner, your neighbor, your enemy — each has the potential to realize that s/he is in the Esther position — able to unmask and bring a mitzvah-centered consciousness into difficult circumstances. The choice belongs to the individual; the consequences belong to all. There, in each of us, he’ester, is hidden inside the soulspark of Esther’s courage and determination to make a difference. She used every asset she had, including her gender and sexuality. It’s a good conversation to have: was how she acted actually kosher from our contemporary point of view?

Social Justice Advocacy and Purim Options

On the evening of February 23 or before Sunday on February 24 of this year, when Purim arrives, consider bringing a life-saving agenda with you and dress in Esther’s persona for the Megillah reading. Step out in front of the crowd to raise consciousness (I can see your Esther now dressed with props to promote gun control, or to raise awareness about the trafficking of women and children, for example). See if your own people will raise the scepter of their own Purim norms and embrace your courage. It’s up to us. We are the starter dough, the baking powder in the cake of creation.

A Megillah for 5773

— by Rabbi Robert Layman

And it came to pass in the third year of the reign of the tall, swarthy king from the distant islands of the great Western Sea, that a multitude of foes sought to depose him, saying, “By my life and the lives of my ancestors, he shall not reign for another four years.” And the king, who was not descended from the Angles and the Saxons, but bore a name that resembled the language of the Israelites, a middle name from the language of the Ishmaelites, and a family name from the language of the Hamites (some would say, from the language of the Celts), accepted the challenge and did struggle valiantly to retain his throne. Among the multitude of foes were two bounders named Rick, one from the northern province of Pennsylvania in the district called Alabama. This Rick was renowned for his misconception (pun intended) of the workings of the female body. The other Rick sought to separate his great southern realm from the vast expanse of territory extending from the great Western Sea to the great Eastern Sea, to the frozen northwest and to the islands whence arose King Barack who had replaced King Dubya.

More after the jump.
Lo, it became evident to the great masses that those who would depose King Barack possessed the level of wisdom of the woman from the frozen northwestern peninsula who bore the name of the Matriarch Sarah. Are not the strange names of her offspring recorded in the chronicles of the Megillah for 5769? She was the mother of Track and Trig and the grandmother of Tripp born unto her daughter Calc. There are those who say that the names were inspired by an easterner of copious hair called Trump. He, too, sought to unseat the king, claiming that the king was not native born and, therefore, unworthy of ascending the throne. He was supported in his contention by many Sons of Belial, that is despicable scoundrels.

And it came to pass that the foes of the king strove for many months to select a worthy opponent, and they chose Willard son of George the Mormonite, also known as Mitt. And the Lord had blessed Willard the Mormonite, also known as Mitt, with great wealth so that he was able to purchase a luxurious chariot for his wife which could be lifted to the second story of their palace by the great Western Sea. And he did challenge Rick of the great southern realm to a wager of ten thousand sheqels, which for Willard was like small coins. And it came to pass that Willard the Mormonite was enabled to raise myriads upon myriads of sheqels in his quest to depose the king, but, alas, the myriads of sheqels did not suffice to achieve his purpose.

And it came to pass on the twenty-first day of Heshvan, corresponding to the sixth day of the eleventh month according to the reckoning of the nations, that the people of the vast land between the Great Seas, the distant islands, and the frozen northwestern peninsula did raise their voices and did proclaim Barack king for another four years. Whereupon the Israelites who supported the king’s opponents did lament and wail in the language of their forebears: “Aroisgevorfene gelt!” (that is, money thrown away). And there was deep mourning in their ranks. But for the king and his cohorts there was joy and exultation and the voluble singing of Halleluyah. And Willard the Mormonite disappeared from view and few were dismayed.

Six Mishloach Manot Theme Ideas

— by Ronit Treatman

One of the most fun activities for Purim is putting together gifts of food for friends. The legal requirement for a mishloach manot is that there will be at least two types of food that are ready to be consumed immediately. This is to ensure that everyone in the community may celebrate Purim with a feast. This mitzvah is even bigger if the recipient is an orphan, widow, or financially disadvantaged. When we give these gifts to the poor (Matanot La’evyonim) we perform a mitzvah, which may “revive the spirit of the humble” and “revive the heart of the downtrodden” (Isaiah 57:15).

This is an opportunity to be very creative. Here are some fun ideas for food packages that you may assemble. I like to place everything in a straw basket. I tie it up with cellophane and ribbons, and it is ready to be presented.

Package ideas after the jump.
Coffee Shop Manot

  • Quality ground coffee
  • Hamentaschen
  • Biscotti
  • Coffee Cake
  • 2 personalized coffee mugs

Chocoholic Manot

Israeli Wine Manot

Fruit And Nut Manot

  • Hamentaschen
  • Dried fruits
  • Roasted nuts
  • Dark chocolate

Movie Night Manot

  • Hamentaschen
  • Popcorn
  • Candy
  • Lemonade

Israeli Treats Manot

Purim From Bakery29: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Tel-Aviv-based Bakery29 enables you to send a gourmet Purim gift package to your family and friends in Israel, with all profits going to the  Friends of the IDF’s IMPACT program, a college scholarship program for low-income combat soldiers.

You may order online. You may also create your own mishloach manot with any of Bakery29’s products.

Bakery29 is kosher dairy, with certification from the Tel-Aviv Rabbinate.

More images after the jump.  

Iraqi Date Purim Pastries

— by Michelle Kemp-Nordell

Chag Purim Sameach everyone. This year, I added a new cookie for my mishloach manot that I am giving to my neighbors. I have wanted to try to make Iraqi date cookies ever since I first tried them a couple of years ago after finding them in a local greengrocer near my office. I was so happy when I found Maggi Glezer’s recipe. The recipe looks complicated, but the cookies are actually very easy to make and even easier if you can find ready-made date paste. You should be able to find a package or two at a Middle Eastern store. The ready-made filling is just pure dates without any added sugars of fillers. Ba’abe are flaky semolina pastry cookies filled with pure date puree. The sweetness of the dates is all that is needed for this delicious cookie. Besides being a Purim food, they are perfect for afternoon tea.

Full recipe after the jump.

Adapted from A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World, by Maggie Glezer

For the dough:

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 2/3 cups semolina flour
  • 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 10 tablespoons melted butter

For the filling:

  • 2 packages date filling
    • 1 cup pitted medjool dates
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 1 egg, beaten
  • Sesame seeds to coat

Prepare the dough:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Place the dough in a bowl.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

Prepare the filling:

  1. Heat the dates and oil in a pan until they are warm to the touch.
  2. Knead them together until they form a paste.

Assemble the cookies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Roll out the dough.
  3. Cut out circles with a glass.
  4. Place a walnut-sized amount of date paste in the center of each circle.
  5. Take another circle of dough, and cover the date paste.
  6. Flatten it with your hand, and pinch the edges shut.
  7. Dip each cookie in the beaten egg.
  8. Dip in sesame seeds.
  9. Place the Ba’abe on a baking sheet.
  10. Bake for about 20 minutes, until light golden brown.

Michelle Kemp-Nordell is the creator of Baroness Tapuzina. She is a foodie who grew up in a “house of weird vegetables.” Follow her adventures as she experiments with exotic vegetables from her garden and spices from around the world.

Put Haman In Jail, And Eat Him Too!

— by Ronit Treatman

Have you ever wanted to arrest Haman and put him in jail? There is a Purim specialty from the Iberian Peninsula whose preparation acts out imprisoning Haman. This Purim treat is called a folar. According to the Rhodes Jewish Museum, folares arrived with Jewish refugees who settled in Greece and Turkey, following their expulsion from Spain in 1492. The descendants of these families have preserved some of their historic foods to the present day.

The traditional recipe calls for a yeast dough, which is constructed in the shape of a cage around a huevo haminado (slowly roasted egg). The egg represents Haman, and the cage of dough symbolizes prison.  

The full recipe after the jump.
Over the years, the recipe for the dough had some Balkan influences. Some families started encasing the egg with flaky borekas dough instead of yeast dough. Either way, folares are served for breakfast during Purim. With their heavenly smell, they would not last long after being pulled out of the oven! Here is a recipe for the traditional yeast dough folar.


Adapted from Gil Mark’s Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.

For the Huevos Haminados:

(Huevos haminados are eggs that are cooked in a warm oven overnight. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to wait this long, you can just make boiled eggs. When they are ready, drain the pot and leave them in their shells. If you wish to make huevos haminados, here is the method.)

  • Eggs
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Place the eggs in a casserole. Cover them with water, and drizzle some olive oil over them. Bring the water to a boil. Cover tightly, and place in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven overnight.  

For the dough:

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 1/4 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Mix the warm water with the sugar and yeast. Incorporate the flour. Add all the other ingredients. Knead the dough, then cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place somewhere warm. Allow the dough to rise for 2 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Place some parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  4. Rip out a piece of dough and sculpt the floor of your “jail.”
  5. Place one egg, with the larger end down, in the center of this floor.
  6. Roll out strips of dough, and attach them over the egg like the bars of a cell.
  7. When all your folares are ready, mix some egg wash (one egg beaten with little water).
  8. Paint the folares with the egg wash.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Serve immediately!

Folares are always appreciated in a mishloach manot as well. Add some fresh fruit and candy, and your gift basket is ready to be delivered.

Overthrowing Tyrants, Inside and Out

I, with my wonderful congregation Leyv Ha-Ir, celebrated Purim, the wild and crazy Jewish holiday celebrating the downfall of Haman (boo!), who as vizier to the Persian King tried to massacre all the Jews in the realm; but his plan was foiled by Mordechai (yay!) entering his beautiful cousin Esther (woo hoo!) into a beauty pageant to be the queen, and Haman’s plot was foiled.

It’s the celebration of the downfall of a tyrant; the world has been full of them, people who have become legends in their own minds, such as Mubarak in Egypt, Ghadaffi in Libya, and Assad in Syria. There are also mental Hamans as well, within our psyches, such as low self-esteem and self-doubts, which we daily must overthrow; I know, I deal with them as well.

More after the jump.

Now coming up is the holiday of Passover, the liberating of the Jews from Pharaoh’s slavery in Egypt. The traditional word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, “the narrow place,” the place of limitation. There are Pharaohs in the word today-political dictators for one thing, also abusive relationships-as well as internal Pharaohs, like the voice inside you that says, “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I can’t do it.” Those dictators and tyrants, inside and around you, also need to be vanquished.  

One issue I have dealt with is allowing myself downtime, time of rest and recreation and plain ol’ fun, however you define it; I have often felt guilty about not doing something “productive.” But when we went to school and studied, we twice daily had recess, so it’s not an either-or situation. Having fun and recreation can be a great revolt against the inner and outer Hamans and Pharaohs in the world, you can in effect say to them, “Screw you, I’m not your damn pack mule!”