Celebrating Purim in Iran
Purim is one of the most meaningful holidays of the year for Iranian Jews, as the story of Purim took place in Iran. The heroes of the Purim story, Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, are burred in the northwestern city of Hamedan, and their graves are a destination for tourists and natives alike. Just as in the United States, where Hanukkah has an outsize importance because of its proximity to Christmas, Purim in Iran gets a boost from Norooz (Persian New Year), the biggest Persian holiday of the year.
Purim customs mirror those of Norooz, so like other Iranians at this time of year, Iranian Jews enjoy a feast of dishes that feature green herbs, they visit elderly relatives, and they give gifts of gold coins to the children in their families. The mishloach manot, or “Purim basket,” is a gift of food that’s sent on the day of Purim to friends, relatives, neighbors, and the needy. The tradition is based on a verse in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament stating that Purim in “an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.” According to custom, the basket should contain at least two ready-to-eat food items. In the United States, the basket usually holds a piece of fresh fruit and a hamantasch, the iconic triangle-shaped cookie filled with jam, chocolate, nuts, prunes, or other sweet filling.
If you’ve ever tried baking hamantaschen yourself, you know just how difficult they are to make. A simpler stand-in for hamantaschen is the Persian koloocheh, a cookie stuffed with a spiced mixture of nuts and dried fruit that’s made by Iranian Jews at Purim. Different variations of koloocheh are prepared all the way from the Arabian Peninsula to eastern Europe and are linked not only to Jewish celebrations but also to the Easter holiday in Christian countries and to Ramadan in Muslim countries. The streamlined koloocheh recipe that you’ll find in this book is a good deal easier to make than hamantaschen, and the cookies themselves are pretty to look at, too.
Although the Jewish culture that began so optimistically in ancient Persia is declining in modern Iran, the food traditions of Iranian Jews continue to flourish and evolve in the expats’ adopted countries like Israel and the United States. In Israel today, Iranian dishes like baghali polo (rice with fava and dill), ghormeh sabzi (green herb and kidney bean stew), and especially the Persian “matzah ball” soup known as gondi are all becoming familiar to the greater population via the many Iranian immigrants who have arrived there in the past thirty years. In the United States, a cultural barometer no less impressive that the New York Times has featured the Passover cooking traditions of Iranian Jews.