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.”


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