Persian treasures for Purim

Once upon a time, there was a Persian woman who fell in love with a prince. In order to win over his heart, she baked him a cake that was filled with a magical love potion.

(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
In Israel, you can feel that Purim is approaching weeks ahead of the holiday. Hamentashen are being prepared in bakeries on every corner and colorful children’s costumes are on sale everywhere you look. 
When my children were young, we would start brainstorming and preparing costumes the day after Tu Bishvat. Nowadays, it seems like people more often than not buy costumes rather than make them on their own. 
One of my favorite parts of Purim is the festive meal that families hold on Purim afternoon. Every year I love planning special recipes and treats I want to prepare. This year, I decided to ask Rottem Lieberson, author of Persian Kitchen (Hebrew) and a popular food blogger, to suggest a few of her favorite Persian recipes.
Lieberson grew up eating Persian cuisine, studied professional cooking at the French Culinary Institute and has worked in a number of high-end restaurants. After traversing different cultures and cuisines, Lieberson decided to return and focus on Persian foods she remembers from her childhood. 
Below, you will find an assortment of recipes offered by Lieberson to help us enjoy a very special Persian-flavored Purim this year. Enjoy!
Once upon a time, there was a Persian woman who fell in love with a prince. In order to win over his heart, she baked him a cake that was filled with a magical love potion. The prince immediately fell in love with her after tasting the cake. Below, you will find the recipe to this special magic love potion cake.
Use a 26-cm. springform pan.
70 gr. softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
4 medium eggs
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2¾ cups (225 gr.) ground almonds
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. rose water
¾ cup flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
2 cups (280 gr.) powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. rose water
2-3 Tbsp. pomegranate concentrate
1 Tbsp. chopped pistachios
1 Tbsp. rose petals
Heat the oven to 180°, line a pan with baking paper and grease it with butter. 
With a mixer fitted with a dough hook, whip butter with the sugar until it’s creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix the batter between each addition. Add the cardamom, ground almonds, lemon juice and zest, and rose water. Mix well. 
Add the flour and baking powder and mix. 
Pour the batter onto the pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until a toothpick comes out dry. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes and then remove cake from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool. 
When the cake has completely cooled, you can prepare the icing. Add the powdered sugar, lemon juice, rose water and pomegranate concentrate to a bowl and mix well. Add a little bit of powdered sugar at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Pour the icing in the center of the cake and let it drizzle down the sides. Sprinkle with pistachios and rose petals.
The combination of the beets’ and pomegranate sauce’s sweetness with the tangy dried Persian limes is incredibly powerful.
Makes eight servings.
8 medium beets
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
1/8 tsp. turmeric
2 cups cooked freekeh 
1 cup cilantro, chopped finely
1 cup parsley, chopped finely
1 cup scallion, chopped finely
1 tsp. ground chili pepper
½ cup zereshk currants (Persian raisins – available in spice shops)
1 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper
2 cups chicken soup or water
3 heaping Tbsp. pomegranate sauce
3 Persian limes, slightly crushed
1 quince, de-seeded and quartered
1 Tbsp. zereshk (dried Persian raisins – available in spice shops)
Ground black pepper
Peel the beets. Lop off the top of each one and set it aside to be used later to cover stuffed beets. Scoop out insides of beets.
To prepare the filling, heat olive oil in a medium frying pan. When the oil is hot enough, add the onion pieces and fry them for 5-6 minutes until they turn golden brown. Add the turmeric, mix and then transfer to a bowl. Add the freekeh, cilantro, parsley, scallion, chilies and zereshk. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
To prepare the stuffed beets, fill them with the mixture and then cover them with cut-off tops. (Alternatively, you can cover them just prior to serving.)
To prepare the sauce, add the soup or water, pomegranate sauce, Persian limes, quince pieces and zereshk to a pot. Mix well. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 
Place the beets inside the sauce and cover the pot. Lower the flame and cook for one hour. Uncover the pot and cook another 20 minutes until sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Stuffed beets. Credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBINStuffed beets. Credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN
This dish comes out best if you use extremely fresh and bright sumac. Sumac that is not fresh loses its color and flavor. You can sprinkle more purple sumac on meatballs just before serving.
Makes six servings.
½ cup split yellow peas (can be purchased in spice shops)
½ cup Persian rice
1 onion
½ kg. ground beef
½ cup chives
1 cup parsley
1 cup dill
¼ cup nana (mint)
¼ cup tarragon
2 eggs
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 Tbsp. sumac
1 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion
½ tsp. turmeric
2 Tbsp. sumac
6 cups water
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the yellow peas and cook for 10 minutes. Add the rice and cook for another seven minutes until it’s half-cooked. Drain and set aside. 
Grate the onion or shred in a food processor. 
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the rice and pea mixture, onion, ground beef, herbs, eggs, garlic, sumac, turmeric and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and then mix well. Prepare balls the size of tennis balls and set aside. 
To prepare the soup, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Grate the onion. When the oil is hot, add the onion and turmeric and fry for 5 to 6 minutes until golden brown. Add the sumac, salt and pepper, then cover with water and bring to a boil. 
Place the balls in the soup and bring back to a boil. Cover, lower the flame and cook for another 40 minutes. It’s extremely important that you don’t lift up the lid while the balls are cooking so that no steam escapes. When it’s done, taste and adjust seasoning.
Just before serving, sprinkle more sumac on top of meatballs. Serve hot. 
Meatballs with rice and yellow peas in sumac. Credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBINMeatballs with rice and yellow peas in sumac. Credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN
This is the most aromatic Persian rice dish. It hails from the ancient Persian city of Shiraz. 
Makes four to six servings.
2 cups rice
½ kg. ground beef or mutton
1 Tbsp. garbanzo bean flour
Ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped finely 
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
3 kohlrabi, peeled and sliced into french fry-shaped sticks
3 Tbsp. saffron water
1 packed cup of chopped basil
5 sprigs of tarragon (leaves only), chopped
Serving additions:
Tarragon leaves
Kohlrabi sticks
Oil for frying
Soak rice in a bowl of water for 30 minutes. Rinse and change water every 10 minutes until water runs clear. 
In a large bowl, combine meat with garbanzo bean flour, salt and pepper. Mix well. Form balls the size of walnuts. 
In a frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of oil over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the onion, turmeric, cumin and cayenne pepper. Mix well and fry for 5-6 minutes until golden brown. Add the balls to the onion mixture and fry until browned on both sides. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. 
Heat oil in a pot for deep frying. When the oil is hot, fry the kohlrabi sticks until they turn golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels. 
In a large pot, bring water to boil with 1 tablespoon of salt over high flame. Add the rice and cook for 7 minutes until it’s halfway cooked. Drain and transfer to a bowl. 
Pour oil into a large thick pot until oil is 1 cm. high. Add 1 tablespoon of saffron water and heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1/3 of the rice and flatten on bottom layer of pot. Next, add a layer of half of the meatballs on top of rice. Sprinkle on half of the basil, tarragon and kohlrabi sticks (save some for adorning dish just before serving). 
Add another layer of rice, then a layer of meatballs, a layer of herbs and kohlrabi. Add the last layer of rice on top without patting it down. Using the stick end of a wooden spoon, poke chimney holes in the rice so that the steam can escape. 
Cover the pot with a towel and then put the lid on top so that no steam can escape. Make sure to fold up the sides of the towel so they don’t get near the flame. Cook over a high flame for 6-8 minutes. Lower the flame and cook for another 50 minutes. 
Cool the pot in cold water. The extreme change in temperature will help release the rice from the bottom of the pot. Flip the pot over on top of a large serving platter and let cool down. 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
For more information in chef, baker, food journalist and author of recipe books Pascale Perez- Rubin click here.