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Hey 'Mohn,' These Poppy Seeds Are, Like, Way Cool

February 23, 2012 By:
Rivka Tal, Jewish Exponent Feature
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A TASTE OF ISRAEL

According to tradition, when Queen Esther of Purim fame was moved into the king's palace, she became a vegetarian. In order to avoid eating non-kosher food, she confined her diet to nutrient-rich seeds, nuts and legumes.

So on the festive day of Purim, many Jewish communities observe the custom of including beans, chickpeas, nuts and poppy seeds (pereg) in Purim menus and sweets, especially those exchanged in mishloach manot, the sending of gifts of food to one's neighbors and friends.

Poppy seed -- mohn in Yiddish -- has become the seed most closely connected to Purim. Tradition tells us that the wicked Haman wore a tri-cornered hat. Each year on Purim, we echo this form with the triangular-shaped filled cookies, called hamantashen, which actually means "Haman's pockets"! This undoubtedly refers to the fact that hamantashen were traditionally filled with a mohn (poppy seed) mixture.

But poppy seeds are too good to be relegated to once-a-year usage. Their sweet, slightly anise flavor adds depth to many recipes from soup (well, almost) to nuts.

Buy them freshly ground or grind them yourselves in a coffee mill. If you prefer, you can also buy ready-made, sweetened filling for cakes and pastries.

Poppy Seed Dressing
(Parve)

Traditionally served over fruit salad.

1 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar (or less)
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
2 Tbsps. poppy seeds

Blend all the ingredients except for the poppy seeds for one minute. Add the seeds. Store in the refrigerator in a lidded jar or cruet. Shake well before serving.

Hamantashen
(Parve)

4 to 4 and 1/2 cups flour
3 tsps. baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup oil

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients and beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in oil. Mix well and form into a ball. Knead lightly for a minute or two or until smooth. Chill to ease rolling out.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Roll out dough 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds. Put a teaspoon of filling (recipe below) in the center, draw up two sides and then the third across. Pinch edges together to form a three-cornered pocket.

Bake on a greased or parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Poppy Seed Filling

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 cup water
1 cup ground poppy seed
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel
1/4 cup golden raisins

Place sugar, honey and water in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat for a few minutes until sugar dissolves.

Add poppy seeds to saucepan. Cook, stirring for one minute.

Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice, lemon peel and raisins.

Chill for at least 2 hours. Mixture should not be liquid: add more poppy seed or fine cookie crumbs, if needed.

Place a small "ball" of filling inside each circle. Bake as directed.

Almond Poppy Seed Muffins
(Dairy or Parve)

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 and 1/4 cups sugar
1 and 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 and 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 and 1/2 cups milk or soy milk
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 and 1/2 Tbsps. poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together.

In another bowl, whisk oil, milk, eggs and extract till smooth.

Add the dry ingredients, mixing minimally until moist. Stir in the poppy seeds. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake 30 minutes.

Poppy Seeded Noodles
(Dairy)

Middle Europe is the origin for this old-fashioned treat.

8 oz. wide egg noodles
water
1 tsp. salt
4 Tbsps. ground poppy seed
4 Tbsps. butter
3 Tbsps. sugar

Cook noodles in salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain well and stir in poppy seeds and butter (butter will melt).

Spoon immediately onto serving plates and sprinkle with sugar.

Poppy Seed Tea Bread
(Dairy or Parve)

3 cups all-purpose flour
31/2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup ground poppy seed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup margarine or butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 and 1/3 cups milk or soy milk

Preheat oven to 350°.

Stir the flour, baking powder and salt together. Stir in the poppy seed.

Beat the sugar, margarine and eggs together in a separate bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and milk. Add this mixture to the flour and stir only until ingredients are mixed.

Place on a parchment-paper lined (or well-greased) 9x5x3-inch bread pan. Bake for 1 to 11/4 hours until the tea bread tests done. Turn onto a wire rack and cool well before slicing.

Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 45 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at: [email protected].

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