by Rivka Tal
Poppy seed plays a starring role not only on Purim, but on
other occasions in our mesora. We are told that while
living in Achashverosh's palace, Queen Esther did not want to
defile herself by eating forbidden food. Poppy and other
seeds constituted her diet. We eat seeds on Purim as a
reminder. Similarly, in Daniel we read that during their stay
in the royal palace in Bavel, Chananya, Mishoel and Azarya
were similarly nourished through the consumption of seeds
only. We find mention of the edible plant, pereg, in
Maseches Shvi'is 2 and 7.
Poppy seed, mohn, in Yiddish, is a play on words with
our Purim homon-tashen, or `mohn-pockets,' an
inevitable part of our shalach monos. The reason for
these `hidden' treats is the same as to why we eat
kreplach on Purim: because of the covered, hidden
miracle that occurred.
The poppy has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Scholars
argue about the origin of this mysterious and strikingly
beautiful herb. Some sources claim Asia as its original
habitat, others, the Mediterranean region. Recent research
seems to point at central and southern Europe as its first
home, from where it is believed to have spread throughout the
One species of poppy is used for the production of opium, a
dangerous, addictive drug prohibited by law. Morphine,
however, used to alleviate the most severe pain, is also
derived from the poppy plant. Throughout the generations,
variations of poppy have been developed that contain the
maximum number of seeds while lessening the possibilities for
use as dangerous drugs. Poppy is cultivated in most parts of
the world that have a temperate climate. It grows in Holland,
Australia, Romania and Turkey. The Dutch variation, with its
uniform slate, blue-gray color, is considered to be the
The small seeds of the poppy flower - which grows wild, red,
in Israel, by the way, and is a protected species - are
extremely tiny, measuring less than 1/16 inch in diameter. It
takes about 900,000 of them to equal a pound! Their color
varies from black, blue-gray to beige and brown, which are
more commonly available in Asian or Middle Eastern markets.
Flowers also come in blue and purple.
Common in the Western European kitchen, poppy seed is sold
whole or ground. Its crunchy texture and nutty flavor are
enjoyed around the world. They can be purchased whole or
ground. Because of their high oil content, all poppy seeds
are prone to rancidity. They should, therefore, be stored,
airtight, in the refrigerator and can keep for up to 6
months. In any case, they should be checked before use.
There is a vast difference between the plastic bags sold in
the supermarket and poppy seed ground before your eyes. Try
buying it fresh in spice specialty stores, especially around
Purim time, and you will notice the difference.
The seeds can be used in a myriad of ways: to sprinkle on or
decorate baked goods (especially challos), as well as
an integral ingredient in bread, rolls, cakes and cookies. A
rich filling, made of ground poppy seed in harmony with sweet
ingredients can not only fill homontashen, but other
baked goods like yeast cakes and strudels.
Sauces with butter, margarine or white cheese with whole
poppy seed add a subtle hint of nutty flavor to rice or
noodle dishes. Various vegetables such as carrot, squash,
cabbage or potatoes, along with your favorite fish recipe,
can also benefit from poppy seed sauce. Let's not forget to
mention the honey- poppy seed sauce for fruit salad. Poppy
seeds are used in a wide variety of exotic dishes in the
Middle East and India.
ALMOND POPPY SEED BREAD
Very good for shalach monos. Three small cakes can be
made at one time. They will fit onto an Israeli size oven
tray and can be baked together to speed up production.
1 cup unsalted margarine, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
3 tablespoons ground poppy seed, checked
3 cups flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups orange or white grape juice
For optional frosting:
1 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 3 disposable
17 by 23 cm. aluminmum baking pans.
2. Cream sugar and eggs until light. Add extracts and poppy
seed and mix well.
3. Stir together flour and baking powder in separate bowl.
Add to first mixture alternately with liquid. Mix only until
4. Pour evenly into prepared pans. Bake for about 30 minutes
or until cakes pass the toothpick test. Let cool before
4. For optional frosting: combine powdered sugar and orange
juice in a small pan over low heat. Stir until sugar
dissolves. Remove from heat. Mix in extract and pour over
POPPY SEED COOKIES
Light, fluffy and delicate.
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Cream margarine, sugar and egg yolks. Add flour, salt,
poppy seeds and vanilla. Mix well.
2. Chill dough, covered for one hour.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets.
4. Form dough into teaspoon sized balls. Place on cookie
sheet and dip the bottom of a juice glass into sugar and
press balls flat. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Yield: 4 dozen