• The Secret Foods of Purim. Illustration: Nadav Yahel
    The Secret Foods of Purim. Illustration: Nadav Yahel
  • Caveos di Haman, Haman's Hair. Photo by Michal Herbstman
    Caveos di Haman, Haman's Hair. Photo by Michal Herbstman
  • In the photo: Ungola baked by Dina Abitan for the Purim feast
    In the photo: Ungola baked by Dina Abitan for the Purim feast
  • Gosh-e Fil - Persian Haman's Ears. Photo: Michal Herbstman
    Gosh-e Fil - Persian Haman's Ears. Photo: Michal Herbstman
  • Adise - Caucasian Flour Halva. Photo: Alona Eisenberg.
    Adise - Caucasian Flour Halva. Photo: Alona Eisenberg.
  • Pyota. Photo by Michal Herbstman
    Pyota. Photo by Michal Herbstman
  • Silvia Nacamulli's Buricche. Photo courtesy of Silvia Nacamulli
    Silvia Nacamulli's Buricche. Photo courtesy of Silvia Nacamulli
  • Haman's Fingers - Sephardic Nut Filled Phyllo Cookies. Photo: Michal Herbstman.
    Haman's Fingers - Sephardic Nut Filled Phyllo Cookies. Photo: Michal Herbstman.
  • Palmier - French Haman's Ears. Photo: Michal Herbstman
    Palmier - French Haman's Ears. Photo: Michal Herbstman
  • Flodni with Poppy seed, Nuts and Apples from Yonit Naftali Ko Al. Photography: Ronen Mangan, styling: Dalit Russo
    Flodni with Poppy seed, Nuts and Apples from Yonit Naftali Ko Al. Photography: Ronen Mangan, styling: Dalit Russo
  • Haman's Teeth. Photo: Michal Herbstman
    Haman's Teeth. Photo: Michal Herbstman
Magazine

21 Dishes You Should Try This Purim

From Esther's ingenuity to the hidden nature of miracles - the ultimate guide to the stories behind these 21 little known Purim treats

There is no holiday quite like Purim, it has something for everyone – drama, intrigue, rowdy celebrations and, of course, food. Sure, we all know that Hamantaschen represent Haman’s “ears” or his “pocket” (as tash means in Yiddish), or his three-sided hat – although there’s a whole slew of lesser known theories surrounding this triangular treat – but there is a plethora of unknown dishes prepared on Purim filled with symbolism that celebrate anything from hidden miracles to Esther’s ingenuity.

Whether you want to focus on it from the point of Esther’s hiding of her Jewish identity, or the ways hidden that God acted to save the Jewish people, stuffed dishes symbolize the aspect of concealment inherent in Esther’s story. In Transylvania, it was traditional to prepare stuffed vegetables for Purim, though Jews from Lithuania, Poland and Hungary also partake of this custom as well. Anything growing in the garden was fair game from cabbage to peppers, grape leaves, zucchini or kohlrabi, but cabbage was the most popular. The Turkish Jews preferred stuffed and sweet, and opt for Travados (also known as travadikos), or bourekitas de muez/miel for Greek Jews (which mean walnut and honey respectively) – nut filled bourekas dipped in honey syrup and traditionally made for Purim in various parts of the Balkans. The Greeks include them in their holiday mishloach manot.

The Ashkenazi go a different route with their staple, Kreplach. Food historian Gil Marks notes a few theories as to why kreplach are usually eaten on Erev Yom Kippur, Hoshana Rabba (the seventh day of Sukkot) and Purim: each of these days are a sort of hidden Yom Tov and thus their true nature is concealed. And so eating kreplach with meat (because according to Judaism, meat is required in celebrations), but concealed (because it’s not really a holiday), became another layer of meaning. But it could also be that these three days are days in which we “beat” something – on Purim it’s Haman, on Yom Kippur it’s sin, and for Hoshana Rabba it’s the willow (one of the four species required for the building of the sukkah). And if we want to stretch even further still, the phrase “eat a lot of kreplach” in hebrew begins with the letters ת-כ-ה, which forms the word “beat”. 

Vegetarian dishes such as the traditional Syrian bean stew, or Burriche that hail from Venice, are served to honor Esther’s keeping of the laws of kashrut with the clever ruse that she was a vegetarian so that she wouldn’t have to eat non kosher meat. Or you can choose an option which ticks both boxes and opt for Sambusak (hidden stuffing and vegetarian). 

Maakouda Nujum (star maakouda) is a Libyan dish usually made during Purim. Maakouda are potato fritters prepared throughout the Maghreb, however, this recipe takes the form of a quiche that is baked, dotted with eggs and then baked again. According to the folklore of the Libyan Jews, the eggs, which are actually the “stars”, represent the stars in the night sky in the verse from the Megillah (the scroll of the book of Esther) – “On that night the king’s sleep wandered” – the verse in which the turning point in the plot of the story begins, and which ultimately ends with, “The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honor.”

Known by many names Ungola – or Ojos de Haman (Haman’s Eyes), Boyoja Ungola, Boyosa, Negola – is a sweet bread baked with hard boiled eggs on top which can be made as a loaf (with as many eggs as there are guests at dinner) or individual buns. Christian and Catholic communities in Italy have their own version of this treat which they make for Easter. But apparently Moroccan communities prepare their own version for Purim. Here the eggs are also the symbolic element, this time representing Haman’s eyes. Apparently the number of eggs in the bread and the order in which they are served goes according to the familial hierarchy. In the book “Mom’s Moroccan Cooking” Rachel Kinan says that children get a bun with one egg, women receive 3 eggs in theirs, and men get bread with 5 eggs. But you don’t need to stop at the eyes, go full body experience and nibble on the delicious Haman’s Fingers, which are sheets of paper thin phyllo dough stuffed with almonds and walnuts, or Dents di Haman, made of tiny caramelized balls of dough meant to represent Haman’s teeth. The Bulgarians went above and beyond with Caveos di Aman an angel hair pasta salad that symbolizes Haman’s hair! And if you’ve grown tired of the same old cookies for Purim, you can mix it up this year and go with any of the delicious options for Haman’s ears: French Palmiers, Tunisian Deblas, Persian Gosh-e fil, or the Greek Fazuelos

Nan-e Berenji are Persian rice cookies which were traditionally prepared to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Iranian Jews adopted the cookies and replaced the traditional sprinkle of pistachio on top with poppy seeds, which represent the bad things wished upon an enemy (the poppy seeds resembling small bugs). Chebakia are prepared in Moroccan communities for the holiday. The ornately shaped, syrup dipped cookies resemble a net, and symbolize Haman falling into the Jew’s net (that is, he was caught out). For a savory dish that symbolizes ill wishes and revenge, you should go with cured meats, which are hung up to age, like Haman was hung for his plotting.

There is Hungarian Flodni – three fillings (nuts, poppy seeds, and apples) sandwiched between thin layers of wine spiked dough. We’ve heard it said that the cake is so saturated with alcohol because Hungarians believe that even the dessert should be filled with booze for Purim. Though others note that the four fillings represent the four seasons, or further still, that the many flavors combined in the cake symbolize the hope for unity between members of different religions.

If you’re into delicious food but less looking to partake in symbolic eating, there are plenty of other options. You can enjoy Berkoukes from Morocco – a sweet porridge made with large semolina grains cooked in milk and served with butter, buttermilk, and cinnamon – or Pyota which is a thick, semolina pudding made by the Jews of Greece. The Jews of the Caucasus make a caramelized flour halvah called Adise, the preparation of which will burn so many calories (from constant stirring) that you won’t have to feel guilty for eating half the plate yourself.

It is not lost on us that we continue to discover unique dishes from across the Jewish diaspora even in this age of global communication when we assume there is nothing new under the sun. If you have an unknown holiday tradition that you’d like to share, join our community and share your recipes.

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