Just like the elements of the seder plate or oil fried latkes, most Jewish holiday foods recall the story of the holiday. Purim is no different — we feast on hamantaschen that represent Haman’s hat (or pockets, or ears, depending upon which story you buy). But one of the central themes of Purim, hippuch or sudden reversal, is often left out of our celebratory food for the holiday. By adding dishes that include an element of reversal we can recall the story of the holiday at our own banquet. This year, I will serve Shirin Polo, a traditional Persian rice dish, which is served upside down to tell the Purim story through food.
Throughout the Megillah, things are reversed and turned upside down, over and over. Haman holds a great deal of power, until in a split second during a banquet, Esther changes everything, and his plot to annihilate the Jews is foiled. The very gallows Haman built to hang Mordechai was used to hang himself. Finally, fact that Esther, a Jew (even in hiding) was the queen of Persia is a reversal of expectations and norms of the time. So it seems only fitting to eat meals of foods that incorporate the idea of hippuch.
Shirin Polo, made with Basmati rice topped with rosewater infused orange zest, is a dish that is served upside down, from the bottom up, where the candied oranges are served at the top symbolizing the sweet turn of events for the Jews. In addition, this rice dish has a crispy crust cooked at the bottom of the pan where it is cracked and flipped over facing up on the serving dish. This symbolizes the evil plot of Haman, broken into pieces. Eating this culinary delicacy known in Farsi as tadig, is symbolic of enacting the mitzvah of destroying Amalek, the ancestor of Haman. By eating the tadig, we are are fulfilling the commandment (figuratively) of destroying Haman. The crunch and flavorful rice, recalls this theme of Purim and is the perfect centerpiece for a festive table.
The rosewater, which flavors and scents this dish, is a crucial element of Persian cuisine and so fitting for the Purim meal. In the Megillah, Mordechai who was related to the patriarch Jacob is referred to as the Rose of Jacob (Shoshanat Yaakov), when he refuses to bow to Haman.
Finally, I will serve this dish because it is may be similar to something Esther had prepared for the feast that plays the central role in the Purim story. According to the Talmud, in order for Esther to disguise her Jewish identity, she subsisted as a vegan. Shirin Polo could have been a typical festive dish that she would have eaten at her own banquet. It is for this very reason that the holiday of Purim is connected to feasting — to pay homage to the many banquets thrown by the king and queen in Shushan. By serving at our banquet it helps recall the story of the holiday where sudden reversals saved the Jews of Persia.
Persian Sweet Rice
3 cups Basmati rice
8 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup finely slivered orange zest
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups water
Pinch of saffron threads
¾ cup roasted slivered almonds
2 tablespoon rose water
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
4 tablespoon vegetable oil
pinch of saffron
2 tablespoon water
1) Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Soak in cold water and let stand for at least 3 hours. Drain and rinse.
2) In a large heavy saucepan, bring 8 cups of water to a boil with salt. Add the rice and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse again under cold running water.
3) To make the orange layer: Fill a small saucepan with cold water. Add the orange zest, bring to boil, drain, then repeat.
4) In a medium saucepan, combine the zest, water, sugar and saffron and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until syrupy, about 20 minutes. Let cool, then stir in the rosewater and cardamom.
5) In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over high heat. Stir in the turmeric, then 2 tablespoons water.
6) Spread one-third of the rice in the saucepan. Scatter half of the orange zest over the top, cover with half of the remaining rice, then the remaining filling, and finally the balance of the rice. Poke 7 deep holes into the rice. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil.
7) Place a paper towel over the top of the saucepan and cover with the lid. Cook over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender and the bottom is crisp, about 30 minutes.
8) Carefully remove the orange layer from the top and set aside. Remove the rice layer and place on serving platter. Place orange zest on top of the rice. Break crust from the bottom of the pot and scatter over the top of the orange layer and garnish with the roasted almonds.
Dahlia Klein, teaches challah baking workshops to teens emphasizing the spiritual components of this mitzvah. She is in the process of writing a vegetarian cookbook on Silk Road cooking for the contemporary kitchen. Her foodie blog is http://vegetarianhostess.blogspot.com