Ma’moul Syrian Hamentachen!
Purim celebrates the miracle that happened on the 13th of Adar in 356 BCE in the ancient city of Shushan, which is located in modern- day Iran near the southwestern town of Dezful. It was there that Esther, a clandestine Jewess in King Ahasveros’s royal harem, arose to foil the decree of the king’s evil minister Haman to destroy the Jews in the kingdom. Haman drew lots ( purim in Hebrew) and selected the 13th of Adar as the date on which his decree of annihilation would take effect. To help her people avert a tragic end, Esther, at her own great risk, revealed her true identity to the king while he was making merry at a wine banquet. She asked him to issue a counterdecree. Ahasveros, enamored of Esther’s purity, complied and issued an order protecting the Jews of his kingdom and permitting them to defend themselves against anyone seeking to do them harm. The Jewish people averted disaster, and their fortune was reversed. What was first anticipated to be a somber day of mourning and destruction turned into a joyous and momentous festival.
Purim is primarily observed by fulfilling four positive commandments: Jews are required to hear the reading of the Book of Esther (megillah) on the eve and on the morning of the festival, give charity to at least two poor people (matanot l’evyonim in Hebrew), send special parcels called mishloah manot to friends and family, and eat a sumptuous feast. Each mishloah manot must include at least two ready-to-eat foods; giving more than that is praiseworthy. Aleppian Jews arrange numerous baskets filled with candies, chocolates, fruits, nuts, and wine. Sweets that make a great addition to the mishloah are simsemiyeh (Sesame Candy, page 305), halweh (Sesame Sweetmeat, page 304), baklawa (Pistachio Filla Wedges in Rose Water Syrup, page 251), graybeh (Sweet Bracelet- Shaped Butter Cookies, page 267), eras b’ajweh ( Date- Filled Crescents, page 268), and assabih b’loz ( Nut- Filled Filla Fingers, page 261). The daylight hours of Purim are spent transporting one’s festively costumed children to deliver these parcels.
The afternoon of Purim is dedicated to an elaborate feast, which usually includes numerous meat dishes and copious amounts of wine. The consumption of wine is encouraged on this festival because it was while under the intoxicating sway of wine that Ahasveros assented to Esther’s bold request to help the Jews of his kingdom. Esther also called for a wine banquet as a ruse to summon Haman to the king’s court to expose his treachery.
There is a saying that on Purim one should drink until one can no longer distinguish between the righteousness of Mordechai (Esther’s encouraging uncle) and the wickedness of Haman. Whether you choose to drink this much is up to you—but what better way to do so than with a fabulous meal of rich Aleppian dishes such as laham b’ajeen (Miniature Tamarind Minced Meat Pies, page 50), kuaisat ( Pistachio- Filled Ground Meat Shells, page 60), kibbeh b’garaz (Sweet- Cherry– Stuffed Beef Slices, page 166), yebra (Grape Leaves Stuffed with Ground Meat and Rice, with Apricot-Tamarind Sauce, page 150), rubuh’ (Succulent Roast Veal Stuffed with Spiced Ground Meat and Rice, page 168), and whatever else your festive heart desires.
The definition of the Arabic word ma’amoul is “filled.” It is a small rounded pastry made with decorative molds called tabe’. The nut filling is inserted into a hollow shell in the pastry and then closed. The filled pastry is then placed inside the mold. Each mold shape indicates a different type of ma’amoul filling. A flat- topped pastry usually means a date filling, while a pointy top usually means some kind of nut filling.
When the ma’amoul are baked, the embossed design becomes more prominent and very beautiful. Another option is to decorate the ma’amoul with a special pincher (called mulaht) with a serrated edge. Using this tool, which is sold at Middle Eastern groceries, you can crimp the top of the rounded pastry about four times. Ma’amoul is a Purim staple, along with kra’bij ( Marshmallow- Dipped Nut- Stuffed Pastry, page 269).
2 cups all- purpose flour
1 cup smead (semolina)
2 teaspoon rose water (optional)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine
1 pound pistachio nuts, shelled, blanched, peeled, and chopped (see page 310)
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1-2 teaspoon orange blossom water
1. To make the dough, combine the flour and smead in a large mixing bowl until the mixture has a crumbly consistency. Add rose water, if desired. Fold in the butter and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Knead the dough well and cover.
2. To make the filling, combine the pistachios, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the butter, and orange blossom water.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4. To form the pastries, divide the dough into 4 portions. Work with 1 portion at a time, keeping the rest covered as you work. Pinch a walnut- size ball from the dough. Press down on the center with your finger, forming a 1/2-inch indentation. Fill the indentation with 3/4 teaspoon of the filling. Close the pastry with your thumb and forefinger. If using the special ma’amoul mold, press the top of the pastry firmly against the mold to impress the desired pattern onto the pastry. Lightly tap the mold on a hard surface to remove the pastry. Place the pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
5. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the bottoms of the pastries are lightly browned and the tops remain pale. Sprinkle the ma’amoul with the remaining 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar before serving.
Yield: 30 pastries