When I was in college, I took some time off and moved to Jerusalem. I lived at the top of a very high hill, on a street lined with jasmine trees that perfumed my daily walks. A hammock was strung between two loquat trees in the backyard, upon which I read all the English books I could get my hands on at Steimansky’s book store.
I spent that spring studying Jewish texts at a co-educational, non-denominational yeshiva, something that’s still of a bit of an anomaly. The traditional Rabbinic approach to learning is to study a shared text with discussion and debate. My partner was named Aleza, and we really were a pair that year. We spent nearly every day together, in and outside of school. From Cairo to the shuk, we were partners. I remember bumping into classmates at the market and being asked where Aleza was. “Oh, she’s in the dairy section,” I answered. We were inseparable.
When you’re in Israel, everyone tells you how great Purim is, like no other celebration you’ve ever seen. Brazil might have Carnival, and New Orleans has Mardi Gras, but Jerusalem has Purim. The night of the megillah reading, I wore the homemade wings my friend Jonathan fashioned for me out of wire and white muslin. I ended up getting a terrible migraine that night, so I fluttered home and crawled into bed.
The next day Aleza and I hosted a Persian-inspired meal full of saffron and nuts. I don’t remember for certain everything we cooked, but I do remember that I mistook the salt for the sugar in a potato dish. It was dreadful. The next month, my 21st birthday coincided with a visit from Aleza’s father, and she cooked us a wonderful vegetarian feast with bright curries and pestos. Truly magnificent.
Without a doubt, Aleza remains my favorite home chef, and the recipe I have here is her inspiration. She actually told me about one of these hamentashen fillings last year. Hamentashen, the tri-cornered cookie typically filled with jam, is a Purim must. I’ve been taught that the three corners of the cookie represent the hat that the evil Haman wore. I’ve also heard that these are Haman’s pockets, and another source calls them his ears. Whatever body part or article of clothing, this year’s hamentashen have been coopted as part of my cardamom jag.
The cookie recipe is from Spice and Spirit: The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook. This is a terrific cookbook, put together by a guild of Lubavitch women. It’s a wonderful source for those interested in learning more about kashrut, and all the recipes in it are pitch perfect. I have never had a better latke than the one from this book. I actually found my copy of “the purple book” in a second hand bookstore. I was so worried someone would snatch it from me that I hid it under my shirt as I ran to the register.
I’m offering a mix of sweet and savory fillings. The pistachio, cardamom and honey one is pure Aleza, while the toasted pine nuts, honey and thyme is definitely a holiday treat. Pine nuts are not cheap, so I am only suggesting to use 2 tablespoons worth. You should still get about 8 cookies from just those two tablespoons. And please don’t use cheap pine nuts. The ones from China are sketchy and will leave a terrible metallic taste in your mouth that won’t leave for about two weeks. The rest of the cookies I baked were the standard jams — this year it was apricot and mixed berry.
I will be perfectly honest and admit that most of my hamentashen would not win any beauty contests. A fair number of the cookies’ bellies burst open, spilling their sweet insides all over my baking sheets. I’m not worried though. I guarantee there won’t be a cookie remaining by the end of this weekend.
Fillings (these are my recipes)
Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey
Combine in a bowl:
1/4 cup pistachios
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pine Nuts, Honey and Thyme
Combine in a bowl:
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (I roasted mine stovetop in a small pan, carefully watching to make sure they didn’t burn. Toasted pine nuts are delicious. Burnt pine nuts are garbage.)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon thyme
The rest of the cookies are up to you. You can never go wrong with the traditional prune butter (lekvar) and poppy seeds (mohn). I’ve read about Nutella ones this year. Sadly, we had none in the house.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
Rind of 1 lemon, grated
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
To Make The Cookies
Preheat oven to 350
Grease cookie sheet.
Beat eggs and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Divide into four parts.
On a floured board roll out each portion to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a round biscuit or cookie cutter cut 3-inch circles. (Please note: I have never used either of these things in my entire life. Always, always, always have I used a drinking glass turned upside down for this step.)
Place 1/2 to 2/3 teaspoon of desired filling in the middle of each circle.
To shape the triangle, lift up right and left sides, leaving the bottom down, and bring both sides to meet at the center about the filling.
Bring the top flap down to the center to meet the two sides. Pinch edges together.
Place on greased cookie sheets 1 inch apart and bake in 350 preheated oven for 20 minutes.
While the first batch of cookies are baking, gather up the remains of the dough, and roll it back out and start cutting out new circles.