Passover Persian-style in BostonHerald.com

Holiday delights from the ‘Non-Persian Bride’

SAVORY SEDER MENU: Reyna Simnegar shows off a variety of Passover dishes from her cookbook, including stuffed artichokes, haleg with matzoth and a veal stew.

On Passover, Reyna Simnegar and her family will enjoy a Persian Seder. Many of the dishes served will be out of Simnegar’s new cookbook, “Persian Food From the Non-Persian Bride” (Feldheim Publishers, $34.99).

Venezuelan by birth, Simnegar learned Persian cooking from her then-soon-to-be mother-in-law when she and her husband Sammy were students at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Persian cooking is romantic, it’s infatuating,” said Simnegar, welcoming a guest to her Brookline home. “Maybe it’s exotic for me because I’m not Persian but I find a lot of people feel the same way.”

What do you need to cook Persian?

“If you are going to be a non-Persian bride, you’ll need saffron, cardamom and turmeric in your pantry,” Simnegar said. “Sea salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe some grape-seed oil, which is really good for frying. Lamb, lots of eggplant, onion, fresh garlic, dill, cilantro, cinnamon, allspice, paprika.”

Rice is a big deal in Persian cuisine. It’s typically steamed in oil, which creates a lovely golden crust on the bottom of the saucepan.

“I always think of Persian rice as the fancy lady, the queen, because she needs all this pampering,” Simnegar said. “It’s very elegant, very fragile.”

Rice steamed with black-eyed peas and cabbage will be on the Simnegar table this Passover. Also on the menu — lamb stewed with prunes, veal stew with basil and parsley, stuffed artichokes, cucumber salad and almond brittle candy, a favorite of her mother-in-law’s.

Among the Persian traditions at the Simnegar Seder: The entire table is covered by a white sheet for the recitation of the 10 plagues to protect the meal from bad luck. Participants playfully hit each other with bunches of scallions during the singing of “Dayenu” to symbolize the whipping of the Hebrew slaves.

And the final matzoth of the night is eaten with the arm wrapped around the back of the head — a metaphor for the crooked path the Jews followed to their homeland.

This year, as in years past, Simnegar, her family and friends will gather around the long table in the dining room to celebrate Passover.

“The home has two hearts — the kitchen and the dining room,” she said. “My husband has a special chair, I have a special chair and each child has a special chair. The walls of the dining room hear a lot of words of Torah, a lot of words of friendship and camaraderie. It’s really important.”

For more information, go to kosherpersianfood.com.

Haleg (Persian charoset)
1 (6 oz.) package ground walnuts (1 1/2 c.)
1 (6 oz.) package ground almonds (1 1/2 c.)
1/2 c. pistachio nut meats, ground
1 c. date paste (available in Middle Eastern stores or make your own by pureeing dates in food processor)
1/2 c. raisins, ground
1/2 c. grape juice
1 banana, peeled and ground
1 apple, peeled and ground
2 T. charoset spice (available online or mix equal parts ground cardamom, ginger and cinnamon)

Grind together all the ingredients that do not come already ground. Then combine all ingredients very well.

Yield: 4 cups.

Lamb with Prunes Stew
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, pressed
3 T. olive oil
4 lbs. lamb stew meat, shoulder or neck, cut into cubes
1 c. water
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. ground saffron
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg or allspice
2 c. pitted prunes
2 t. cinnamon
1 T. honey (optional)
1 T. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

In a 6-quart saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onion starts to look translucent, about 1 minute. Add lamb; cover and cook until it no longer looks red, stirring occasionally. Add water, salt, pepper, saffron, ginger and nutmeg. Stir well. Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Add prunes, cinnamon and honey, if using. Cover and simmer for 30 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with optional sesame seeds and serve.

Yield: 8-10 servings.

Slivered-Almond Brittle
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. canola oil
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. crushed saffron threads
1 c. slivered almonds
1/4 c. crushed pistachios

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Pour honey, oil and sugar into the middle of a small saucepan. The ingredients should form a small pyramid; make sure they do not touch the sides of the pan. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, uncovered. Reduce heat to medium and add saffron and almonds. Mix well. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until a candy thermometer reads 285 degrees. Remove from heat immediately and quickly spoon portions of the syrup (forming pools about 2 inches in diameter) onto prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle each portion with crushed pistachios. Allow to cool at room temperature for 20 minutes, or until hardened.

Yield: 14 pieces.

(Recipes from “Persian Food From the Non-Persian Bride.”)

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