With scents and flavors that tantalize—and the country having renewed ties to Israel as part of the Abraham Accords—now is the time to celebrate North African traditions.
By: Ethel G. Hofman
Purim, which is celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar (this year starting on March 16), commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman’s plot to kill the region’s Jews in a single day. His plan was foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai.
Purim is a holiday for Jews of all ages to rejoice and have fun. Little ones are showered in treats and those over 21 can enjoy a drink or two. Indeed, they are told to do so. The sages of the Talmud assert that “a person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between “blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman.” (If imbibing, be sure to have a designated driver!) Kids and adults dress up to parade around in costume. When the Megillah is read, it’s absolutely required to make noise when Haman is mentioned—spinning groggers, stamping feet and loud booing drown out Haman’s name.
It’s also customary to deliver shalach manot—platters of pastries and sweets—to friends, neighbors and family. (The mitzvah is fulfilled by giving to one person, though people often go all out and arrange basket upon basket of goodies. Also on the mitzvah list is listening to the Megillah, the book or scroll of Esther; donating to the poor; and celebrating a festive meal.) At a recent Jewish theater performance timed near the holiday, instead of the usual splendid array of cakes and cookies following the show, the audience was sent home with a zippered plastic bag containing just a sampling of cookies with a fresh tea bag.
Take note: Tuck some meringues and squares (see recipes below) in paper muffin cups, along with some chocolate kisses and a few dried apricots in a plastic bag, along with a couple of teabags, for your deliveries this year. No foil or elaborate decorations are needed. Scale the items down for one- and two-person households and up for larger families.
Northern Morocco was part of ancient Persia where spices, such as cinnamon, cumin, ginger and coriander were used liberally. On a pre-COVID trip to Morocco—and that was before the country signed on to the Abraham Accords in the fall of 2020 to renew ties with Israel—I came back with some of the recipes below. Include one or two in your festive Purim meal.
Moroccan Tea, also called Maghrebi, is fragrant and syrupy sweet. There’s an art in serving it. With one arm raised, the tea is poured into small decorated glasses to aerate and create a light foam. When offered, always accept to avoid insulting your host. Tagines are a traditional Moroccan dish served everywhere and eaten any time during the day. You’ll find the colorful pots filled with meat and vegetable stews, livened with mouth-watering spicy aromas at roadside stands as well as on upscale menus. The conical shape of a tagine creates a hot, moist environment for whatever is cooked. The base is wide and shallow, and the lid fits tightly inside. As the food cooks, steam rises into the cone, then trickles down into the dish.
No worries. You don’t have to own a tagine; a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid or a Dutch oven works just as well.
I first tasted Brown Boiled Eggs in a Casablanca souk, a mellow, tasty street snack. Oil keeps the water from evaporating during the long cooking process. You’ll find Pickled Lemons in every Moroccan kitchen; it’s the essential zest to savory dishes, like couscous, soups and stews. Add a smidgeon to cakes and desserts as well to elevate them from ordinary to the divine.
The similarity between mohn in Yiddish and the name “Haman” made poppy seeds popular at Purim. For meringues, I simply fold a spoonful of poppy seeds into a basic meringue mixture. Don’t be intimidated. There are only three ingredients, so whisk and leave overnight in the oven. Just be sure all utensils are scrupulously clean and not a speck of yolk gets into the whites. Separate each egg over a cup before adding the whites to a bowl. That way, if you break a yolk, it won’t spoil the rest of the whites.
And for the easiest dessert eaten at a fancy restaurant, simply fold yogurt into pomegranate kernels. It makes for a delicious contrast: crunchy and creamy.
Chag Purim Sameach!
Moroccan Mint Tea
Brown Boiled Eggs
Simple Pomegranate Dessert
Moroccan Mint Tea (Pareve)
*No need to search for gunpowder tea; tea leaves rolled into tiny balls. Green tea is just fine.
*Instead of loose tea, use 3 green tea bags.
- 4 cups boiling water
- 10 sprigs (about ½ cup tightly packed) fresh mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon green tea leaves
- 3 tablespoons sugar
Swirl about ¼ cup boiling water around in a pot to warm.
Add the mint, pressing with a spoon to release flavor. Add the green tea and sugar.
Pour the remaining water over top. Stir to dissolve the sugar, cover and brew for 3 minutes. Stir lightly.
Pour into small glasses (shot glasses work fine) and serve.
Brown-Boiled Eggs (Pareve)
Makes 12; can be made 1 to 2 days ahead of time
*No need to brew coffee. Stir 1 tablespoon instant coffee into 1 cup hot water.
*Cool before use. Or use leftover coffee, adding 1 teaspoon instant.
*Substitute 2 teaspoons loose tea for two tea bags.
- 12 eggs
- 1 cup of cold strong coffee
- 2 tea bags
- brown skin of 2 large onions
- ⅔ cup vegetable oil
Place eggs carefully in a large, heavy saucepan.
Pour enough cold water over to come about 2 inches above the eggs.
Add the coffee, tea, onion skins and oil. Bring to simmer over a medium heat.
Cover and reduce heat to simmer. The liquid should never be more than barely simmering.
Cook for 4-5 hours, adding more water as needed. Remove from liquid. Refrigerate.
Serve cold, in the shell.
Pickled Lemons (Pareve)
Makes 1 quart
*Lasts up to 6 months or more in refrigerator as long as brine is covering them.
*Add to dishes such as stews, dressings and couscous.
- 8 lemons
- kosher salt
- vegetable or olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Add lemons and boil for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Cut 7 lemons in quarters leaving the wedges attached at one end.
Sprinkle a rounded teaspoon of salt into each lemon. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon salt over the bottom of a clean 1-quart canning jar.
Pack the lemons into the jar, pressing down to fit snugly.
Cut the remaining lemon in half. Squeeze the juice into the jar.
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt into each cut half. Add to the jar, cut side down and press.
Pour enough olive oil into the jar to cover lemons. Cover tightly with lid. Let stand at room temperature for 10 days or until the skins are translucent.
Store in refrigerator 3-6 months. Use as needed.