Honestly, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want to eat hamantaschen on Purim. They’re a perfectly good cookie, and if you have a problem with the traditional poppy seed filling (“traditional” in the sense that for some reason we venerate everything our Eastern European ancestors ate even though most of them were dirt poor and just making the best out of the sad ingredients they had), there’s plenty of room for experimentation. In the past, I’ve filled hamantaschen with chocolate, cajeta, strawberry jam, and lemon curd, and they have made me very happy. In The Jewish Cookbook, Leah Koenig writes that there’s something very satisfying about eating a representation of your enemy: “a powerful act of sweet, culinary vengeance.”
But supposing you have something against triangular cookies that represent the hat of an evil person, especially triangular cookies made with shortening instead of butter and cream cheese so you can eat them for dessert after a kosher meal of meat—what then?
Jews in Italy and Spain have a tradition of eating fritters called Haman’s Ears. They, like hamantaschen, are part of the eating-your-enemy tradition, but there’s something far more punitive about an ear than a hat. It would be... something if they tasted like earwax (like Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans from the Harry Potter books), but Koenig flavors hers with orange zest and juice.
Haman’s Ears fit in nicely with the tradition of the shalach manot baskets, gifts of food that people gave to friends and family, delivered by children. Maybe it’s the season, but I’ve conflated them in my head with Girl Scout cookies, also delivered by children. I mean, why not? Judaism isn’t static. It’s always changing and adjusting to different countries and centuries. Joan Nathan, the undisputed queen of Jewish cooking, insists in her book The Jewish Holiday Kitchen that we should not neglect an important but usually overlooked element of the shalach manot basket: fresh fruit. No matter where they live, Jews should eat fruit, I guess is the point of this tradition.
Nathan also claims that since Purim comes so close to Passover, there’s a compulsion for Jewish cooks to use up all their spare flour, Fat Tuesday style. But Passover is still a month and four Friday night challahs away, so I’m not buying it.
But what about savory food? Nathan offers up a few menus in The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, Sephardic, Israeli, and Eastern European, but I am sorry to report that there’s not much that is Purim-specific about any of them except for the hamantaschen at the very end. Nathan writes that turkey should be served because turkeys are said to be stupid animals and King Ahasuerus, the Persian monarch in the Purim story who trusted his wicked vizier Haman and would have killed all the Jews if not for the intervention of the good and beautiful and Jewish Queen Esther, wasn’t very bright, either.
Some Jews eat chickpeas on Purim in honor of Queen Esther, who, through most of the story, keeps her Jewishness a secret from King Ahasuerus. But she still wants to remain true to her heritage, so she goes vegetarian to avoid the possibility of eating non-kosher meat. None of the authors of the cookbooks I consulted suggested falafel, which seems obvious to me, but what do I know? Instead, both Nathan and Claudia Roden, author of The Book of Jewish Food, recommend sambusak, an Iraqi stuffed pastry.
One of the most beloved traditions of Purim is getting so drunk that you can’t distinguish between the evil Haman and the good Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and conscience and the only decent man in the whole story. (Ahasuerus, in addition to listening to that rat Haman, also kicks off the story by getting raging drunk and demanding that his first wife, Vashti, appear naked before the court; when she refuses, she’s banished, paving the way for Esther, whom he chooses in a sort of beauty contest organized by the eunuch in charge of his harem.) This tradition comes from the Talmud, so it’s at least 1,500 years old. Rabbi Robert Sternberg warns in The Sephardic Kitchen that “The Talmudic encouragement to drink a lot is not a command to get drunk but to celebrate without inhibitions, rejoice without restraint.”
Well, okay then. One thing I do know is that this encouragement to celebrate uninhibitedly is such an ingrained part of the holiday that we learned about it in Hebrew school. We even learned Yiddish drinking songs: There is one, “Elimelech of Gilhoffen,” the tale of a man who drank l’chaim once too often and went a little crazy with the musical instruments, that will be stuck in my head till the day I die.
I didn’t come across any recipes for post-Purim hangover remedies. But I was once assured by a group of Hasids at a very rowdy celebration that involved at least 13 bottles of hard liquor that if you line your stomach with pickled herring, you’ll be fine. Since Haman’s Ear Fritters are fried, they might help, too.
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Cookbook by Leah Koenig (Phaidon)
Italian Jews celebrate Purim with orecchie di Aman—crunchy, sugar-dusted fritters shaped like the ear of the holiday’s villain, Haman. They are part of a larger tradition of Purim sweets that resemble the infamous man, and of which hamantaschen are the most widely known. Not surprisingly, orrechie di Aman are very closely related to chiacchiere—sweet Italian fritters eaten during carnival season, which falls at the same time of the year as Purim.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- 2¼-2½ cups (315-350 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- ½ cup (100 g) sugar
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for frying
- 2 Tbsp. orange juice
- ½ tsp. finely grated orange zest (optional)
- Powdered sugar for dusting
In a medium bowl, whisk together 2¼ cups (315 g) flour, the sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.
In a stand mixer (or using a handheld electric mixer and a large bowl), beat together the eggs, 2 tablespoons oil, orange juice, and orange zest (if using) on medium-high speed until frothy, 2-3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and beat until a supple, slightly sticky dough forms. If necessary, beat in up to ¼ cup (35 g) additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. Knead the dough in the bowl a couple of times with your hands to bring it together into a ball.
On a large floured surface using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large rectangle ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut out small rectangles about 3 x 4 inches (7.5 x 10 cm). Fold the top two corners of the rectangles to the center, forming a triangle at the top and a sailboat shape overall. Press down gently on the seam so they don’t open during frying. (Any scraps of dough can be twisted once or twice to make curls.)
Line a large plate with paper towels. In a large frying pan, heat ½ inch (1.25 cm) oil over medium heat. Working in batches of 3-4, carefully slip the folded pastries into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to the paper towels to drain. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust generously with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.