Dip the Challah in the honey!

September 27th, 2011

Women are very fortunate to have an integral role in Jewish life. We have been blessed with a unique wisdom (called bina in Hebrew). This is the wisdom that enables us to have that “extra” sense and sensibility. It is also the wisdom that enables us to multitask! Just trust me on this—for a mother, multitasking is crucial, specially the last few days before Rosh Hashana!

As I make my Rosh Hashana menu this year, I can’t stop thinking about one of the most anticipated moments of the night…the moment when we dip our apple in honey?…Well, not really! I know, apples and honey are the staple, but when you like bread as much as me, you are looking forward to dipping your challah into honey! We exercise this marvelous custom until Sukkot and that is how long that pleasure will last you (unless like me you often make great excuses on how we should dip our challah into honey all year round)

I absolutely love shaping my round Challot for this special holiday! Unfortunately, a lot of people have trouble with the shaping and even with the recipe. Hence, I wanted to share with you a foolproof recipe for Challah along with various ways of shaping it. I find that water challah makes the best for honey dipping because it is not overly sweet on its own.

The following recipe can be made by hand or by using an electric mixer large enough to hold 15 cups of flour. You might be thinking, “That is so much dough!” Well, you can either freeze some of it for next week or give a few challot away…what a way to put a smile on someone’s face! The reason I am giving you a recipe for 15 cups is so that you are able to make the brachaL’hafrish challah teruma…[Who commanded us] to separate the challah [the portion consecrated for the Kohanim]….” Also, it is customary to give tzedaka (charity)…a few coins in a pushka will do…I just love that Yiddish word! Then, proceed to wash your hands three times each, using a washing cup, previous to making this special dough. Trust me, if I can make this, you can too!!

In Rosh Hashana it is customary to shape round challot.  I teach you in the video below how to shape the round challot and many other shapes I am sure you will all enjoy.

Shana Tova! Happy New Year!




Don’t be fooled by the name! Challah is not the fluffy cloud, the magical and satisfying edible sponge we savor Shabbat day. Challah is actually the piece of dough we burn because we don’t have a Temple or Kohanim to take their part of it. The challah we eat should simply be called bread…or perhaps absolutely delicious and enticing bread, that is!

Tricks of the trade

There is one gadget that I could not do without when making challah: my beloved Bosch mixer. It can handle huge amounts of dough and, while I agree that making challah by hand can be therapeutic, I find that my keeping my sanity can be therapeutic too. I definitely recommend a mixer to busy moms or anyone in need of sanity. In terms of yeast, I like using dry active yeast because it is very easy to find and store. I keep it in the freezer to make it last longer.

This dough freezes really well. Since it is a lot of dough, you can use a large clean plastic bag sprayed with oil to store it and then freeze it. You can make this dough as early as 3 days in advance and keep it in the fridge (punching it down as it grows) until you are ready to bake.

If the yeast doesn’t bubble after about 10 minutes, it’s not going to get the dough to rise. Either the yeast is too old or the water was too hot! Try again with another 3 tablespoons of fresh yeast and lukewarm water (about 110°F).

Note: The bracha provided below is said in the Sephardic community. It differs slightly from the bracha said by Ashkenazim. If you are Ashkenaz, please check in your Siddur for the proper bracha.

The separated challah must be burned, but not while the challot are baking. Some people save their bits of challah to burn with the chametz; before Pesach; follow your local minhag.

For the yeast

3 tablespoons active dry yeast (do not let yeast scare you, it just bubbles…it doesn’t bite!)

¼ cup sugar

1½ cups warm water (¾ cup boiling water mixed with ¾ cup cold water)

For the dough

1½ cups sugar

1 cup canola oil, plus additional for spraying on the dough

1 tablespoon salt

3 cups warm water, divided

1 (5–lb.) bag flour (approximately 15 to 15¼ cups flour)

For the glaze

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon oil

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the yeast mixture. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a large mixer, place the sugar, oil, salt, 2 cups water, and 7 cups flour. Mix until a smooth paste forms.
  3. Add the yeast mixture, which should be bubbling, to the dough. Then, add the remaining 1 cup water and 8 cups flour until a consistency like that of play dough is reached.
  4. Pinch off a piece the size of a lime and say this bracha: “Baruch Ata Ado-nay Elo-heinu Melech ha-olam, asher keedshanu be-mitzvotav vetzeevanu lehafrish challah teruma.” this means: “Blessed are You, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.” Then lift up the piece and proclaim “Hariv Zu’Challah” which means: “This is challah.” Wrap the dough in a piece of foil; it must be burned , but not while the challot are baking! Keep in mind that the doors of heaven open up at this point and you can pray for anything your heart desires.
  5. Spray the dough with canola oil and cover with plastic wrap.
  6. Let dough rise 1 hour and then punch down. Then shape the challah. You can make braids or just big balls of dough. Several small balls of dough placed together in a round baking pan that has been sprayed with oil make a pretty “pull-apart” challah. Remember that challah grows; so don’t make the balls too big. I shape 12 balls the size of limes and place them next to each other in a 9-inch baking pan.
  7. Place the challah on baking sheets that have been covered with parchment paper or sprayed with oil. Mix the egg and the oil and paint challot with the glaze. Let it rise another 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  8. Place into oven preheated to 350 °F for approximately 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the size. The challot should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Wait until the challot cool before putting into plastic bags. At this point you can use them, freeze them, or give them away. You can also wrap them in foil and warm them in the oven right before “Hamotzi.”




613 Mitzvah Store Cookbook Signing LA!

September 7th, 2011

This was a crazy and wonderful day! What to do with 5 little boys while I am at the cookbook signing? For sure I was not going to bring them to a store filled with breakable candelabras and Kiddush cups! Fortunately, my husband devised a plan.  Benadryl! Just joking…I can only imagine your face when you read that! The plan was more like Videos and snacks. YAY! Actually, it is pretty cool for kids that only get to watch videos once a week. They become immediately entranced with owe of that square box like machine (now a days more flat than square…actually) with funny moving objects inside…the wonders of television! WOW!

Mezuzah anyone? Everyone thought I worked here! And I liked it!

I was to get to the city (coming from the Valley) at 1pm…of course didn’t have lunch yet…so I had to stop by an amazing Sushi place. The service was incredibly fast and the sushi was superb.  It is called Sushiko. Inevitably, I stained my dress with soy sauce…if you only knew how clumsy I am! The worse part is that I didn’t realized until the book signing was over…jeje! You’ve just got a laugh it out.

This is Beth Firestone. By chance she came into the store and introduced me to her novel Candles in my Window…a novel for women and teenage girls. I don’t have daughter but I got it for myself!

I have been going to the 613 Mitzvah Store in LA for over 14 years since the time I went to UCLA undergrad. I go there every single time we are in LA because I love their products and let’s face it…it is the best Judaica store in LA. They simply have everything and if they don’t have it they will order it for you.

Here I am with Mrs. Kraft…I could totally hang out with her. She is so much fun!

What I didn’t know was that the owners were so nice! Rabbi. and Mrs. Kraft are just the nicest people! I felt so lucky to spend those 2 hours there. So many nice people came by and bought the cookbook. People that didn’t even know I was supposed to be there! In fact, the funniest thing is that since they placed me behind the counter, people started thinking I worked there. So many people asked me help them choose mezuzah’s for their home…I actually got really good at suggesting and even sold a lady 6 mezuzot (gorgeous crystals ones) for her son’s dormitory. I think I would totally love working there!! Too bad I don’t live in LA.

My kids love dogs. They really want one but I have enough diapers to change! In the meantime we play with Eddy’s cute doggy!

So nice sharing with family! My aunt Julie Simnegar (on my left) is the owner of the most fabulous flower store in LA. Her wedding flowers are out of this world! Visit her at Bouvardia Flowers on Pico Blvd.

After the signing we went to the Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills with the kids, in-laws and extended family…what a wonderful Sunday in sunny LA. Thank you Momon and Papa for watching over the kids while I was at the cookbook signing. Thank you so much to Rabbi and Mrs. Kraft for having me over. I had a great time! Also, thank you to Eli Hollander from the Feldheim Publisher’s family for making this shiduch for me.

This is my delicious oldest son! Even though he is 10 years old he is still lets me hug him. Thank goodness or I don’t know what I would do!


Iranian American Jewish Federation Luncheon

September 2nd, 2011

I felt incredibly honored to have been present at this amazing Luncheon. After all, one of the reasons I wrote this cookbook was to precisely share it with the next generation of Persian Jews…what better place to feature it than at the Iranian American Jewish Federation? Right?

This is the stunning home where the event took place…Ben Porat Yosef!

However, I have to admit part of me was scared. The event was in Beverly Hills (which by the way is more than 50% Persian…even the Mayor of BH is Persian)…did I even have a big enough engagement ring to fit in?! When I arrived I realized most of the ladies were middle-aged ladies…although they all looked a lot younger (more on that later). My first thought was, Persian women don’t need my cookbook! These ladies are probably all amazing cooks! Well, needless to say, I was a little nervous. Not to mention the luncheon was made of, yep you guessed it, Persian food! I was also running late, the event had already started and they wanted me to speak…in front of all these ladies (more than 100 women) Yikes!


It was so hot I honestly would not have minded accidentally falling into this pool!

All I could hear was Farsi everywhere. All I could see was Chanel and Hermes. Fortunately I had my savior with me! My mother-in-law! She navigated all the Persian bureaucracy for me and I felt so much better. We waited until two speakers were done giving their thoughts…one of them was a plastic surgeon…yes, I know. The other was a psychologist …yes, I know that too. And then it was my turn. All those eyes on me! How was I to sell a book to these women filled with the food they already know how to cook?! I needed a miracle! Fortunately, my proceeds from the book are going to charity; that always helps. However, what they liked the most was the chapter in Persian Jewish Holidays…even these accomplished cooks wanted that ingredient! How do Persians celebrate and maintain vibrant their Persian Jewish Heritage? How do we pass it on to our children? Will we be blessed to see our great grandchildren saying Kiddush Friday nights and eating gondy?

Recipes for all these rices are in my cookbook! I feel like licking the computer screen!

In retrospect, I now realize that it doesn’t matter how much you know Persian food. It doesn’t matter how delicious and lavish your food is…when you are a Persian Jew what makes the food special is its purpose. What are you making gondy for? Is it for Shabbat? Then is has served its purpose! Same for all the other lavish Kosher Persian dishes out there…when they are served in the honor of a holiday or even to honor someone special they have all served their purpose.

This presentation is so Persian! Yum!

After my short address I was amazed at how excited these ladies were about the cookbook! I think they liked me even better than the plastic surgeon! So many of them came to me and hugged me and thanked me…I felt so overwhelmed that just writing about it brings tears to my eyes! All of the sudden, my fears were gone! They were all so nice, so normal, so incredibly stunning inside and out! We were speaking the same language, we were wearing the same clothes, we all had the same old bling…we were all Jewish mothers focused on one goal…our eternal nation!


From the bottom if my heart I wish every single one of them countless pride from all their descendants! I wish to extend my most sincere gratitude to Farzaneh Farnoush, Jilla Yousefi, and Shahla Javdan not only for having me over but also for making a difference with IAJF. Last, thanks for the best mother-in-law in the world, Shahla Simnegar.


This is my lovely mother-in-law…thank you!

Persian Cooking Demo, Deal NJ

July 11th, 2011

Deal, NJ…have you ever been there? I was a little scared of the long 5-6 hour drive from Boston…not to mention the uncertainty of meeting people I have only spoke to over the phone. The only thing that calmed me was the fact that my guardian angel, Cheryl Sanders, was coming with me. Nothing can happen to me if Cheryl is there! She is the know-it-all and do-it-all! Thank you Cheryl!

In the stunning gardens of Nina Cohen’s home

Is it possible for two women to schmooze for 5 hours straight without even listening to music once? Well…yes! It is! We talked the ride away! It felt like an hour ride except for the fact that we were starving by the time we got there! We, of course, decided to go to a dairy restaurant the second we arrived to Deal. The place is called Down to Earth…a sweet little restaurant with great service and amazing food! For dessert we had warm lava cake topped with real vanilla (full fat!) ice cream! YUM! I cannot remember the last time I had full-fat ice cream!

Demoing Polo Shirin (Persian Rice with Candied Carrots and Orange Zest) at Lottie’s Kitchen, Deal NJ

We then headed to the home of the Cohen Family where the event was to take place. I have to say I was amazed at the beauty of their home (Ben Porat Yosef) and the charm of this amazing family. Their house has nothing to envy the mansions of RI, but the warmth and hospitality is what is truly special! Even their daughter helped schlepping and prepping for the event. To them, I am so grateful.

My incredible friend Cheryl sanders helping me prep for the demo at the Cohen’s garage!

I love you Cheryl! Thank you!

I also so honored to have been hosted by Nina Cohen. I could not have hoped for a better host! Nina and her gifted daughter-in-law were both darlings! I cannot get over how down-to-earth and sweet these ladies are. Nina is one of the 4 daughters of the original, the one and only, Lottie Chalom. Lottie Chalom along with her husband Haim Chalom (both of blessed memory) started the famous charity: Lottie’s Kitchen (Ezer Mition) which prepares hundreds of meals, sandwiches and snacks every day for families of sick and hospitalized patients. Dedicated Ezer Mizion volunteers deliver the food to hospitals and the homes of sick people, bringing encouraging words and emotional nourishment along with the nutritious food. What a legacy! It was truly an honor to be part of this charity and fundraiser event!

The best daughter-in-Law anyone can wish for! Nina Cohen’s daughter-in-law who was baking until the very last minute to make the event a success!

The fundraiser was organized to perfection. These ladies are such an inspiration to me! They had a gadget boutique organized my Kitchen Kaboodle.  Oh my gosh! It was like going to Disneyland! I am obsessed with gadgets! Find their website here and visit them in Brooklyn, NY! They also have a store in Deal for the summer.  The owner was such darling! I had a great time getting to know so many ladies.


The owner of Kitchen Kaboodle! Visit them in Brooklyn, NY…what an amazing store!

I also met with the team of www.JoyofKosher.com magazine and Blog: Tamar Genger and Hadassa Milner. So inspiring to see so much “girl power” in one place! These are the women that make it all happen! I also saw Kim Rosenberg Amzallah, Director of Sales and Marketing for Kosher Inspired Magazine!

With the team behind www.joyofkosher.com Tamar Genger and Hadassa Milner

There were over one thousand women attending this event. I cannot get over how successful it was! There were many ladies sharing their family recipes and teaching all of us how to make their best dishes. I feel honored for being invited and for the opportunity to share the beauty of Persian cuisine with all! It was an incredible experience! My favorite part was seeing how these ladies, who seem to have everything possible in the material world, have also managed to achieve everything in the spiritual world.  Knowing that the source of all your blessings is G-d and sharing this blessing with the world is real humility. That is the lesson I learned from the wonderful Syrian ladies in Deal, NJ. Thank you!


Persian BBQ! On fine china please!

July 5th, 2011

A Persian BBQ for 4th of July is not like anything you have ever experienced in your life!


Let me illustrate…

Persians are thrilled when they see a park filled with flowers and fitted with barbecue stands, tables, and running water. By running water I don’t mean drinking fountains; I mean a stream. When my husband invited me for the first time to “a BBQ in the park” with his family, I never thought I would end up transported to Iran! When we arrived, the park was already overflowing with Persians [fine, it was L.A., but still], to the point that most Americans must have felt like foreigners in their own backyards! All of a sudden, his mom whips out a small barbecue, a large pot of Chelo (Persian White Rice), freshly made Chai (tea), fresh cut-up fruit, nuts—and a mini reproduction of her kitchen! I was stunned! I looked to my side, and to my amazement his dad had already set up several feet of sitting room…meaning several blankets on the ground, along with a few cushions and, of course, a giant backgammon board and a deck of cards. In the blink of an eye, Sam’s mom was already shaping Kebab into large (and slightly scary) swords and the smell of Persian cuisine was filling the air. If you think a Persian 4th of July BBQ consists of hamburgers and hotdogs you are in for a surprise. You will most likely be served Persian Rice, Kebab, roasted tomatoes and onions served on fine china!

I have lived this experience many times. I have seen innumerable Persian men, old and young, take their shoes off and stick their feet into a stream of questionable water while smoking water pipes as I would hold my breath, hoping the police would not come—because, even though it is just tobacco, it looks too much like something else! I have seen random people in the park coming and sharing their Kebab with us because they felt like they belonged to the same big family. I have seen the same old man, who seems to clone himself from park to park, playing the violin while Sam’s grandmother sings basunak (wedding songs). I have witnessed many poem recitals that neither Sam nor I could understand because the Farsi is so advanced that only a few people in the park have the intellect to comprehend it. I have been harassed by cute old Persian ladies trying to convince me their son is a good candidate for marriage—until the moment they realize I am not Persian! So, although I honestly do not look forward the swarm of flies, the mosquito bites, the leaves that fall in my rice, and the general mayhem of being in a park filled with Persians, I still can’t help being mesmerized at this people’s ability to transport me to the infamous private gardens of Shiraz!

I hope you enjoy my favorite Persian Kebab: Chicken Kebab (Joojeh Kebab). Serve with Persian Rice…check out the video in my YouTube channel HERE. Don’t forget to purchase my cookbook “Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride” by clicking HERE. Thanks!

Happy 4th of July to everyone and to my wonderful Persian family in LA…I will miss having a BBQ with you today!


Chicken Kebab

Joojeh Kebab

When I first tasted this absolutely moist and tangy chicken, I could not figure out what gave it that little “kick.” When I learned how to make it, I found out it was lime! I never would have thought of marinating chicken in lime! In my country we marinate fish in lime. But, what a clever thing to do, indeed!

You are what you eat

To lime or to lemon? That, my friend, is the question at least in my mind! Limes are closely related to lemons but are smaller, green with a sour pulp, and a bit juicier. Limes are usually cultivated in tropical countries, so they are the most familiar to me. Lemons are larger, with bright yellow skins. In the past, lemons were used as cosmetics to make lips red and acquire a pale complexion.

You might think I am biased toward limes because I grew up consuming them, but research shows that while both fruits have antioxidants and anti-cancer properties, limes in particular contain flavonoids that can prevent the contraction of illnesses such as cholera. Not too bad for such a tiny sour fruit!


1.5 pounds boneless chicken (breast or dark meat) cut into chunks or 6 drumsticks


1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

3 cloves garlic

½ onion, grated

½ teaspoon saffron

½ teaspoon turmeric

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon parsley flakes

¼ cup olive oil


metal skewers or wooden skewers soaked in water for 15 minutes

Place the poultry into a one-gallon ziptop bag. Mix all marinade ingredients and pour into the bag. Shake the bag to coat all the chicken and place into the refrigerator for as little as 20 minutes or as long as overnight.


From this point on there are 2 choices: grilling or broiling


  1. Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to 400°F.
  2. Thread the chicken chunks or drumsticks onto the skewers. Place on the heated grill. Cook each side for about 10 minutes or until no longer pink. You can also check for doneness with an instant-read food thermometer, which should read 160°F.
  3. Remove the chicken from the skewers and divide into portions.



  1. Preheat the oven to broil.
  2. Slice the pieces of chicken or drumsticks into chunks and thread them onto the skewers. Place the kebabs on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with oil. Place under the grill and cook each side for about 10 minutes or until an instant-read food thermometer reads 160°F.
  3. Remove the chicken from the skewers and divide into portions.


Yield: 6 servings



SHAVUOT=Cheese Cake?!

June 7th, 2011

So, what is this Shavuot thing all about? Do we just eat dairy food, gain a few pounds and call it a day? Well, nope! Shavuot is probably THE most important holiday for the Jewish Nation…after all, without the giving of the Torah (Bible) there would be no Jewish Nation…do you want to know more? Check out this amazing Shavuot crash course at Aish.com, know all the facts about Shavuot and be the envy of all of your friends!

Shavuot Crash Course from Aish.com

Wait! What about food! Here is my favorite Persian dip – Borani Esfanaaj– for you to enjoy over Shavuot…and if you like it, don’t forget to buy my book! Click HERE for the best price ever!

Happy Holiday! Hag Sameach!


Yogurt with Spinach

Borani Esfanaaj

This is my favorite dairy Persian dish! It is just so easy to make and so delicious! I feel so healthy when I eat this dish. It is obviously a lot more convenient to make if you already have frozen spinach in the freezer! Spinach can be hard to clean and check for insect infestation, so make sure to get the kosher frozen kind, such as Bodek brand.


2 cups onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced

3 tablespoons canola oil

¼ teaspoon turmeric

1 (16-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 cups low-fat plain yogurt



1. In a small saucepan, fry onions, turmeric, and garlic in oil until slightly golden (about 10 minutes).

2. Add spinach, salt, and pepper and cook for additional 5 minutes, mixing well. Set aside to cool.

3. Once cooled, add the yogurt and mix well.

4. Serve in a bowl and decorate with fresh or dried mint. This dish is absolutely delicious accompanied by lavash bread and potato chips.


Yield: 3 cups


My first Cookbook signing (behind the scenes)

April 27th, 2011

I am super excited to share with you what it feels like to be an author at a book signing! After all, how many of us really get to this stage in our lives?

My first ever book signing was scheduled to be on a pretty Sunday with unlikely phenomenal weather. It was hosted at 1pm at the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, MA. This made me very happy because I really wanted my kids to be part of it. My husband and I had the perfect plan. We would go for lunch at Rami’s (the best falafel in Boston) with all the kids, and from there we would go to the book signing. I had packed snacks, extra wipes and diapers and a nifty black sharpie marker to make book signing a breeze!  I had this dream I would just seat there and my kids would seat next to me, looking up to mama and thinking wow. Of course, this was another one of those parenting dreams we parents like to orchestrate in our minds. The cruel, inescapable reality of real-life parenting followed.

The best husband in the world is mine! (Ben Porat Yosef)

We were super lucky to have had tables available at Rami’s. This place is so popular I was afraid we would not be able to seat. However, I do have to admit having the owner as a friend is a huge benefit (wink, wink). My kids are picky eaters, but there is one thing they all love: fries. We started with the ordering and you know how it goes…this one cries, this other one needs the bathroom, this other one wants more ketchup.  And of course, the inevitable LOUD tantrum occurred forcing us to make a quick exit with most food to go. To make a long, painful story short my dream of having a wonderful pre-book-signing lunch with my family ended up being a quickie lunch in the car with the kids strapped to their respective seats while being serenaded by the infamous uncle Moishy!

Well, if you think things got better after the kids were fed you are simply VERY wrong. When we got to the bookstore book-signing-nightmare part II began. The reality was my kids were running around the whole time, taking books out of the shelves and trying to snitch bazooka bubblegum from the register. My poor husband was going nuts keeping track of each kid all over the store while making sure my 2 year old didn’t break a ceramic menorah or hit one of his brothers with a Shabbat candelabra!

However, with all that said, I did have my moment of bliss. My oldest child came to me in the middle of all the commotion and told me he was proud of me! He is really one of my biggest fans! My dear husband quickly realized having the kids at the store was, well, a very stupid idea. He called my sister and, as always, she came to my recue. I am so lucky to have my relatives close by! Thank you sis!

Sephardim do not have Bedekins. For those of you who are not familiar with Orthodox Jewish weddings, a Bedekin is a formality performed before the wedding ceremony where the bride seats like a queen surrounded by her mother, mother-in-law and bridesmaids. Guests come to wish her a Mazel Tov and she graciously gives them a blessing.. After a while, the groom comes before the bride escorted by his friends, father and father-in-law. He approaches his bride, blesses her and puts her veil on. I always wanted to have a Bedekin! My first book signing turned out to be just like that! My friends came from here and there to wish me a Mazel Tov while I dedicated each cookbook with a shower of blessings to them.  And at the then end, just like a beautiful Ashkenazi Bedekin (involving a handsome Sephardic man) my husband came to get me. It was a magical moment I will never forget…even if it meant we both had to clean the mess my kids made at the Israel Book Shop!

Thank you all that came to see me that day. It really meant the world to me. I could not post everyone’s pics…but you are posted in my heart! If you want your pic removed just email me. LOVE YOU ALL!


Passover Persian-style in BostonHerald.com

April 14th, 2011

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.”)

Great radio interview with Henry Santoro-WFNX

April 7th, 2011

Persian cuisine ‘a dance of flavors on your tongue’

April 7th, 2011