My dear father, Harry Glazer, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday on February 13, was a man blessed with whimsy. He spoke frequently with our family dog, and when he returned from work would open the basement door to call down a greeting to George, the recovering alcoholic whom my father had recruited as a house painter. The thing was, he knew and we knew that George was long gone. I mean, for years.
We loved our father’s sense of humor, but treasured his whimsy. And it is his whimsy I recall as the Purim holiday draws near. There are other great holidays to be sure, but Purim is the only Jewish holiday where we have an opportunity to express the wacky part of our personality and get away with it. Last Purim, my cellular provider’s Tel Aviv service center was manned by staff dressed as a doctor, a Haredi man, a monk and a prostitute, and nobody blinked an eyelash.
Our collective, centuries-old Purim culinary traditions are also not lacking in whimsy –- such as hamantaschen recalling the wicked Haman’s hat, and other treats reminiscent of his pockets and body parts. In Moroccan homes, the traditional Purim challah eaten on the Shabbat closest to Purim included whole, hard-boiled eggs baked right into the bread, representing Haman’s eyes. While in Ashkenazi homes, it was a giant-sized braided challah called a keylitsh, to represent the ropes from which Haman was hanged. While Italian Jewish mamas fried Orecchi Di Aman (Haman’s ears), Jewish bakers were busy shaping Folarikos (Haman’s shoes). I’m told there was even a special Purim sesame candy called Haman’s fleas.
Here’s one of these whimsical foods you might like to add to your recipe collection for the upcoming holiday.
Boyoja Ungola Di-Purim (Moroccan Purim challah) (Makes 3-4 challahs)
- 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (or bread flour), plus extra for kneading
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1 cup sugar (can use light organic cane sugar)
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon anise seeds (or fennel seeds)
- 1 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
- 2 ¼ cups warm water
- 6-8 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for brushing
- ½ cup blanched whole or sliced almonds for garnish
1. Put the flour in the wide bowl of an electric mixer. Use the dough hook to mix in the yeast, sugar, sesame seeds, anise seeds and chopped almonds; then add the salt.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, oil and warm water. Make a well in the center of the dough and blend in the egg mixture. Knead with the dough hook until a soft dough is formed.
3. Remove the dough from the mixer, and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Knead a few more minutes, adding additional flour if necessary, until dough is elastic. Divide into 3-4 balls, cover each with a warm cloth and let rise one hour or until doubled. Punch down and let rest five minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 200º C (400º F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. Knead the first ball of dough briefly, and remove a small amount of dough to make strips that will hold down the hard-boiled eggs.
5. Form the ball into a round flattened disk, and use a knife to cut crosswise shallow slits on the top in a grid. Place two hard-boiled eggs in the center of each bread, and fasten them down individually with crosswise strips of dough. Repeat the process with the remaining balls of dough and eggs.
6. Make deep slits around the edge of each disk, giving it a sun-like appearance. Brush with the egg yolk and water mixture. Stick a few blanched almonds in around the eggs, and bake in a hot oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking, by Phyllis and Miriyam Glazer (Harper Collins).