There’s no better time to experience an authentic Persian meal than on Purim. Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride is Reyna Simnegar’s first cookbook and it’s an intriguing and fun read.
Reyna’s family history dates back to the Spanish Inquisition, when her family fled from Spain and eventually landed in Venezuela. Reyna was born in Caracas and moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to study at UCLA. There she met her Persian husband Sammy and when he decided to move to New York City to attend graduate school, Reyna decided to follow him. Sammy’s mother, afraid that her son would starve in New York without authentic Persian food, hosted Reyna for a week and taught her the intimate secrets of Persian cuisine. The rest is culinary history.
In spite of being from two different cultures, Reyna and Sammy eventually married and now live in Brookline, MA with their five lively boys.
Reyna writes, “It was crucial for me that all my recipes be as easy to make as possible without sacrificing taste. Marinate it overnight? The last thing I want to do with my evening is to be rubbing chicken legs with sauce! Forget it!
“I have witnessed with horror how much oil can go into Persian food. All my recipes are designed to keep the fat out of your food. Feel free to use my recipes as a starting point and make your own repertoire of recipes that will suit your family’s needs. There is life beyond kugel!”
Reyna’s recipes show step-by-step how to create meals for all occasions regardless of how pressed for time and how inexperienced you may be. Illustrated with more than 100 full-color photographs that accompany each recipe, Persian Food includes indispensable lists of must haves and menus for all of the Jewish holidays.
The day before Purim is a fast day known as “the Fast of Esther.” In Iran, Persian Jews traditionally broke the fast with delicious Persian Halvah, which is also one of the staple foods to give away in Mishloach Manot bundles. Whereas we use graggers when Haman’s name is mentioned, back in Iran they used to use firecrackers!
Reyna’s personality shines through on every page and the photographs are gorgeous. Her delightful cookbook will inspire you to broaden your culinary horizons and enter her wonderful world of Persian food, simplified. She suggests easily available options if you are unable to find ingredients which are not always available.
When Reyna and I spoke on the phone, she suggested the following recipes for your enjoyment!
VEAL OR LAMB CHOPS WITH PERSIAN PESTO
I can still remember my in-laws’ faces the first time I served this dish. The taste of this pesto is so Persian, thanks to the dried lemon (lemon omani), that they were totally fooled into believing I had found it in an ancient Persian cookbook! Let’s just say it was concocted very far from Iran!
Tricks of the trade
You can substitute the veal chops for lamb chops or chicken breast. By the way, make extra pesto because your guests will like it so much they will want to dip every bite of veal in it!
4 garlic cloves
1 cup parsley, washed and chopped
1 cup dill, washed and chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
3 scallions chopped
1 lime, juiced or 2 Tbsp bottled lime juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp lemon omani (dehydrated limes) or the zest of a lime
6 large veal chops
1 Tbsp ziadune (nigella) seeds or black sesame seeds
1. Preheat oven to broil. Spray 2 large baking trays with canola oil. Set aside.
2. Using a small food processor, mix all pesto ingredients together until fully combined.
3. Place the chops on the baking trays and spread pesto on both sides. Reserve some pesto for garnish.
4. Broil the chops for 8 minutes. Carefully remove pans from oven, turn over the chops, and broil for 5 more minutes or until nicely browned.
5. Serve on a platter, garnished with some of the pesto sauce, ziadune seeds, and fresh parsley.
Yield: 6 servings
TOMATO PERSIAN RICE (Polo Germez)
This is my husband’s favorite rice. However, the children love it as well. When people ask me how many kids I have, I usually tell them I have five boys (thank G-d.) That was the case until one day I caught my husband eating this rice and snatching some from the children’s plates while they were not looking. From then on, if people asked me how many kids I have, I answer, “I have five boys and a husband!”
Tricks of the trade
Make sure to have a colander ready in the sink to drain the rice. When cooking the tadig, make sure the paper towels are safely away from the heat.
3 cups basmati rice, checked and rinsed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
1/4 tsp ground saffron (optional)
1 large onion, chopped into small dice
1. Fill a 6-quart nonstick saucepan with rice, tomatoes, water, canola oil, salt, saffron, and onion. Mix together. Cover and bring to a boil over
high heat. Reduce heat to medium/low. Simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Uncover and place 2 paper towels (one on top of the other) over the rice. The ends will extend outside the pot. Replace the lid tightly. Reduce
heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Turn off the heat and tilt the lid to allow the steam to escape so that the crunchy bottom does not become soggy.
4. Serve on a shallow platter, mounding the rice into a pyramid, and garnishing with the tadig.
Yield: 8 servings
Persian halvah is not like the regular halvah you are used to. The word halvah refers to several dense and sweet desserts made with nuts or flour. In contrast to the more popular Israeli Halvah made of sesame paste, in Iran, Halvah is flour based with a hint of rose water. I actually think Persian halvah is way better! It has a soft, play-dough consistency that is very agreeable to the palate. The taste is heavenly and very exotic! Persian Halvah is intertwined in many areas of the life of Persian Jews. Halvah is the food of choice after fasts and also it is one of the essential foods to be given away on Purim for mishloach manot. It is very easy to make and very easy to eat!
Tricks of the trade
It is important to mix the dough very well. If too many flour lumps remain, process in the pot with an immersion hand blender until a thick paste is achieved. To serve, flatten dough into a shallow platter and garnish with slivered pistachios and almonds. Since this dough is very pliable, my children enjoy helping me shape halvah with cookie cutters in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Look at the stars in the picture!
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp saffron
1 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 cup rose water
2 cups flour
1 cup canola oil
Slivered pistachios and/or almonds
To make the syrup, bring water and sugar to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan. When sugar has dissolved, turn off the heat; add saffron, cardamom, and rose water. Stir and set aside.
1. In another 4-quart saucepan, toast flour over high heat for no more than 3 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to avoid burning. Watch carefully; as soon as the flour becomes light brown, reduce heat to medium and add oil. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
2. Add syrup and mix rapidly. Almost immediately bright yellow dough, similar to play dough, will form.
3. To serve, flatten dough into a shallow round platter and garnish with slivered pistachios and almonds, or cut into shapes and garnish.
Yield: 9 inch round Halvah
Norene Gilletz, Cookbooks, Culinary Solutions
Gourmania Inc., Toronto, Canada