By Esther Amini
I’d love to contribute a recipe that came from my Jewish-Iranian mother who was born and raised in the city of Mashhad.
“Goosh-e Fil" is a delicate pastry she was taught, from early childhood, to make in Iran and continued to serve us, on special occasions, in Queens, New York.
In my memoir, Concealed, I make reference to this Mashhadi pastry since it is such a large part of my childhood memories.
Here’s an excerpt from Concealed by Esther Amini:
Home was a beehive on Sunday afternoons: baking day in Mom’s kitchen. Persian wives filed into our kitchen in click-clacking heels, cotton stockings rolled halfway up their calves, sleeveless house dresses revealing fleshy upper arms, all the while buzzing in Farsi. Each member of Mom’s platoon tossed on a neck-to-knee yellow apron she supplied and dutifully stuffed her coiffure into a black hairnet. Every woman was swift and meticulous, taking great pride in her assigned task. Some threw their weight on top of wooden rolling pins, flattening dough tissue-thin. Others used pastry wheels to cut sheets of dough into diamond-shaped patterns and tossed the cut-outs, one by one, into sizzling oil. Using kafgirs, perforated metal skimmers, designated women scooped out the fried Goosh-e Fil, while others rapidly sprinkled them with powdered sugar….For Mom and her kitchen brigade, it was a reliving of what they loved and missed most about Mashhad: leaving husbands behind, gathering under one roof, communally baking, and allowing tongues to wag fast and furious. These steamy afternoons were an odd mixture of juicy chunks of gossip and heartbreaking tears, as women baked, fried, talked, laughed, and cried.
My parents were Orthodox Jews from the Iranian city of Mashhad. Orphaned at birth, my mother was strong-armed, at age fourteen, into marrying my then thirty-four-year-old father. In Mashhad, Iran they lived underground lives, like the Marranos of Spain. Due to life-threatening anti-Semitism, my mother wore the black chador and my father prayed from the Koran in public squares, each posing as Muslim. However, within the privacy of their home they lived as devout Jews. At the end of World War II, incensed by persecution, my mother dragooned my father and two brothers to immigrate to the States. Freed of the chador, she could reveal who she was: brazen of tongue, contemptuous of Persian husbands, and feeling utterly deserving of all she desired. After all, she’d had no mother. What she wanted most, then, was the mother of her dreams. Once she had me, her only daughter—the first of the family born in the United States—my role as substitute mother was ordained.
Within her American kitchen, my mother would joyfully whip up all sorts of Iranian dishes and desserts. Since she was a phenomenal cook and baker, she wanted me right by her side, captivated by her culinary skills. And I certainly was.
One and a half cups of flour
1/2 egg shell filled with Mazola Oil
1 teaspoon whiskey
(Very fine confectioners’ sugar used to sprinkle on top)
Mix flour, eggs, oil, and whiskey very well by hand.
Split dough into two balls.
Sprinkle flour on your working table so dough doesn’t stick.
Knead the dough, one ball at a time.
Using a rolling pin, spread one ball of dough very thin.
Flip it over and with rolling pin, flatten and make it even thinner. As thin as possible.
With a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut dough into diamond shapes.
Roll out each diamond, one at a time, before frying it in very hot Mazola oil.
My mother fried the diamonds, one or two at a time, in a large deep wok.
Leave them in the bubbling oil for only one or minute and then flip them over.
Take them out while they are still a dark yellow color. Don’t let them turn brown.
Use a metal spatula with holes to take them out, which will allow excess oil to drain.
Place each diamond-shaped “Goosh-e Fil” in a metal colander, one on top of the other, to continue draining.
After all the diamonds have been fried, turn off the flame beneath the wok of oil.
Take each pastry and sprinkle both sides with fine confectioners’ sugar. Then place in a large container.
Repeat all of the above with the second ball of dough.
Hope you enjoy the thin, delicate, sweet taste.
A taste of Mashhad.
Esther Amini is a writer, painter, and psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice. Her short stories have appeared in Elle, Lilith, Tablet, The Jewish Week, Barnard Magazine, TK University’s Inscape Literary, and Proximity. She was named one of Aspen Words’ two best emerging memoirists and awarded its Emerging Writer Fellowship in 2016 based on her memoir entitled: “Concealed.” Her pieces have been performed by Jewish Women’s Theatre in Los Angeles and in Manhattan, and was chosen by JWT as their Artist-in-Residence in 2019.
Esther Amini lives in New York City with her husband.
Concealed is her debut memoir.
For for information about hidden Jews of Mashhad, please refer to: Jadid al-Islam: The Jewish "New Muslims" of Meshhed (Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology)