Author Archives: Reyna Simnegar

Turkish Coffee for the Crown Prince

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Earlier this week, Reyna Simnegar, the author of Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, wrote about Miss Venezela Material and Sephardim Strike Back!

It was a regular morning at my home, dishes to wash, laundry to fold, when I got a phone call from my husband. “Reyna, I am coming this afternoon with Reza Pahlavi.” Thinking it was a work colleague, I casually asked him, “At what time? Do you guys want to have dinner here?” That’s when he finally explained to me this “Reza Pahlavi” was not any “Pahlavi,” he was His Imperial Highness Crowned Prince Reza Pahlavi of Iran!

The Prince was visiting Boston and somehow my husband (if you know him, you know this is right up his alley) had convinced His Imperial Highness to come have dessert and tea at our house! My legs were shaking. “The crowned prince — here? In this messy house? I am going to kill Sammy!” I immediately recruited a cleaning lady and set off for a hunt to buy Persian desserts. As I was pulling off the driveway, I noticed the secret service searching the vicinity of my house making sure it was a safe place for the prince.

The more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. “We are Jewish, I wonder if he realizes he is coming to an Orthodox Jewish home…” My mind kept on thinking how this would probably have never happened back in Iran. I loaded the car with more sweets than an army could finish and tons of gorgeous fresh flowers. “Persians love flowers,” I told myself. I headed back home and started to get ready to meet the son of the Shah! I was so nervous. To calm myself, I started thinking, “He is just another human being, just like me, there is nothing to be nervous about.” I solemnly decided it was so silly of me to be nervous and I was going to even refer to him by his name: “We are in America, these nonsense titles are so passé!”

The doorbell rang. I could see from the window his armored car parked outside. I opened the door and there he was, in his entire splendor, tall-dark-and-handsome. He approached me with a smile, bodyguards on both sides, self-confident and impossible to evade, “Thank you for having me over, Mrs. Simnegar.”

I nearly fainted. I just stared at him and quietly blurted out, “It is my pleasure, Your Highness.”

I had surrendered.

The Prince was incredibly charming and kind. I figured I must offer him chai, since this is what most Persians crave after sweets. To my surprise, instead of tea, His Imperial Highness wanted coffee! Unfortunately, all I had was tea. I had never been a good coffee-maker, much less a good Turkish coffee-maker. Ever since this episode, I made it a personal goal to learn the secrets of Turkish coffee-making. A few years later I met the expert, Peleg Morris. Peleg learned the art of making Turkish coffee while serving in the Israeli Army and camping in treacherous deserts. He was even appointed the best Turkish-coffee-maker in his division. If His Imperial Highness ever honors me visiting again, I will surely be ready.

Turkish Coffee: Kahveh

Turkish coffee is traditionally made in a special long-handled copper jug called ibrik. However, a very small saucepan will also do the trick.

This coffee is served in tiny porcelain cups. After drinking this coffee, some people read the future by looking at the patterns the coffee grounds have left behind in the cup. I am not even kidding! We have no real fortunetellers in the family, but a few aunts are known for making great guesses.

1 cup water
2 teaspoons fine ground Turkish coffee
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cardamom seeds or ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder

1. Place the water in an ibrik or very small saucepan with a long handle. Bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Remove from heat and add coffee, sugar, and cardamom. Mix with a spoon.
3. Reduce the flame to medium. Return the ibrik to the heat and boil until the coffee rises to the top of the ibrik just like lava in a volcano.
4. Immediately remove from the heat before “eruption” occurs and serve.

Yield: 4 (¼-cup) servings

Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Posted on March 18, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Miss Venezuela Material

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On Monday, Reyna Simnegar, the author of Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, wrote about Sephardim Strike Back! She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

It had been 9 years since I had not seen my beautiful cousin Isha. She lives a busy life in Florida working in the restaurant industry and going to school. It was my turn to feed her, and I decided to invite her for Shabbat dinner. After all, is there a better time than Shabbat to impress anyone with delectable dishes?

Isha is half Venezuelan and half American. She is the perfect combination of Latin American charm and American beauty. As we were reminiscing about the past (over a slice of my favorite dessert, Persian Roulade), it was impossible not to talk about how much we suffered starving together in the name of our modeling careers. You see, both Isha and I were part of a Venezuelan modeling agency that recruited girls for the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant.

For many Venezuelan little girls their dream is to become a beauty queen. I am not talking about the kind-hearted queen that has a talent and visits orphans, I am talking about a queen whose attributes are completely based on outer beauty and her talent in memory; that is how talented she is to be able to memorize the right answers to any possible question the jurors might have.

Isha, with her exotic mixed looks and height, actually made all the way. When she refused to have plastic surgery to add a little here and take a little from there, she was let go. I was a little less “lucky,” I was simply too short to make the cut. No plastic surgery would have helped with a height problem! These castings are the most humiliating situations anyone can put herself through, and your self-esteem, if completely based on your looks, becomes absolutely shattered.

Going through that experience really helped me understand the concept of modesty in the Jewish world. Having grown up in a country where clothing is an option, it never occurred to me that by the simple act of covering certain parts of my body I would regain an incredible amount of self-appreciation I had lost during my upbringing. I am not going to deny that in the beginning modesty was a really difficult concept to grasp, not to mention to embrace. However, the longer I covered certain parts of my body, the more sensitive and special they became.

Seeing myself as more than just a body or a face really helped me comprehend how I am not really what people can see, but I am the soul that lives inside. And, even though I always knew that true beauty lies inside, I was never really able to grasp this concept until I stop focusing only in the outside.

I love looking good, working out, feeling healthy and beautiful. However, I love it even more when I go to sleep knowing I have worked equally hard on making my inner beauty, that is my true beauty, equally presentable.

A woman’s inner beauty shines through and permeates into her outer beauty, and I hope I can be an example of this concept, even if I don’t make the height requirement!

Persian Roulade

This is by far the most popular dessert at my Shabbat table! It is amazing to see people’s eyes when I bring it to the table—and also to witness their puzzled faces trying to figure out the unfamiliar flavor they can’t decipher (rose water).

Versatility is what is great about this recipe! You can use the same cake recipe I provide you, but the fillings are endless. Since I usually serve this cake after a meat meal, I use pareve (nondairy) whipping cream (such as Rich’s Whip). Other fun fillings are raspberry jam, Nutella (if dairy), and even date butter. I also like to use rum or brandy mixed with a bit of water to moisten the cake if I do not have rose water handy. I promise, this will be a hit! Check out more videos at my website.

Tricks of the trade

The eggs should be at room temperature so that you can whip them to maximum volume. The secret to making the parchment paper stay in the baking pan is to spray the pan with a little oil or water before lining it. Cut slits in the corners of the paper for a snug fit. This cake freezes beautifully—just wrap in parchment paper and then in foil. Also, it is important to use parchment paper and not wax paper; these are not the same product. Make sure not to overbake this cake or it will crack. You can drizzle some powdered sugar on the cake before rolling it so it doesn’t stick to the parchment paper. For a cleaner look, you can cut off both ends of the cake…I’ll bet you can’t resist eating them!

Cake
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup flour
1/4 cup rose water (to moisten cake)

Cream
1 pint pareve whipping cream, divided
1 cup powdered sugar

Garnish
powdered sugar
4 strawberries
parve whipping cream
chocolate shavings or melted chocolate chips (optional!)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 17”x12”x1” jellyroll sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Beat eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer for 1 minute or until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn pale yellow.
3. Gently and thoroughly fold in baking powder and flour with a flat spatula, making sure not to deflate the eggs. Spread batter evenly onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until center springs back when lightly pressed.
4. In the meantime, whip pareve whipping cream until peaks form. Add sugar and combine. Set aside.
5. When cake is ready, hold the corners of the paper and remove from tray onto a flat surface. Peel cake off paper. Roll, 12-inch side in, along with the parchment paper. Set aside for a few minutes.
6. Unroll and use a pastry brush to moisten the top of the cake with rose water. Spread cream evenly on the cake, leaving some for garnish. Roll again
7. Place on a platter, seam side down, and garnish with powdered sugar, melted chocolate, pareve whipped cream, and strawberries, as desired. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Yield: 10 slices.

Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Posted on March 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Sephardim Strike Back!

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Reyna Simnegar is the author of the recently published Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Sephardic Jews are really something to ponder. According to Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, “The Sephardic way is a paradox: to keep tradition but to stay open. The Torah is not there to put handcuffs on you. We try to find solutions. We put unity first.” I am including under Sephardic all Jews that come from Middle Eastern Countries (although these are actually Mizrahi Jews) and Jews from Spain Italy and some other countries in Europe.

I was waiting to receive Rabbi Haim Levy at Logan Airport. I have been to the airport many times to receive prominent rabbis…but never a prominent Sephardic rabbi. I was so excited to finally meet the author of what apparently is the book that has revolutionized Sephardic halacha (laws) and finally brought it to the hands of the regular people like me: Anshei Chayil.

Rabbi Levy was to speak that night at my home. He runs a program called “Go Sephardic” which brings Sephardic youth to Israel and helps them increase their closeness to their rich Sephardic heritage. Rabbi Levy is very typical of the new generation of Sephardic leaders who are dynamic, energetic and motivated to “return the crown to its place” as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says.

The more I see people like Rabbi Levy, the more I realize Sephardim are ready to “strike back.” We have been in the shadows for hundreds of years, but our glory and incredible traditions have always been thriving. I think that the world is yet to see the grandeur of our people and the treasures that will come from the descendants of the Rambam and the Ben Ish Chai, to name a few.

In my humble opinion I think Sephardim are the chilly peppers of Judaism. Our tour guide in Masada was a Sephardic man with wild curly hair and an equally hairy chest where a large star-of-David dangled. When it came time to visit the ruins of the Synagogue at Masada he managed to pull out a kippah that was “baking” flat in the back pocket of his very tight jeans. He placed proudly on his head and said, sorry I only carry one so if you need something to cover your head before you enter the sanctuary use a napkin!

I am sure many of us have stories where we see an unexpected spark of a holy neshama (soul) shine through at the moment we least expected. However, when it comes to Sephardim, even people in bathing suits reach out to kiss the mezuzah! Many Sephardim keep some semblance of kashrut and have an enormous respect for anything holy. Just like Rabbi Amsellem suggested, we are a paradox…dark people (for the most part) that shine bright!

Fried Eggplant
Chatzilim

This is one of my favorite Sephardic appetizers. However, preparing this dish also became a nightmare, because just by looking at all the oil I was using I could feel my arteries clogging! I decided to broil the eggplants instead. The secret is to use oil spray and to cut the eggplants thin enough to produce a crunchy and delicious result. Below I give you both options and you can make the choice! My Moroccan friend Michal Bessler, is the genius who taught me this recipe.

Salting the eggplant before frying will extract the excess liquid from the eggplant so that the pieces absorb less oil when fried and expel no liquid when broiled. Salting will also produce a crispier result. Please be careful and keep your children away from the sizzling oil!

2 eggplants, unpeeled, washed, and cut into slices 1/4-inch thick
5 tablespoons kosher salt
canola oil or spray
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Garnish Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons lime juice or the juice of 1 lime
4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed

1. Layer the eggplant slices in a large colander, sprinkling generously with kosher salt between layers. Let stand for 30 minutes.
2. Rinse the eggplants in the same colander to wash off the extra salt. Dry with paper towels.

Frying method

1. Add canola oil to one-quarter of the depth of a very large skillet. Place over medium heat until the oil sizzles when a drop of water is drizzled onto it.
2. While the oil heats, make the garnish sauce by combining all ingredients. Set aside.
3. Fry the eggplant slices in a single layer for 1 minute on each side or until slightly brown on both sides.
4. Drain on paper towels and serve with parsley as garnish, or drizzle garnish sauce on top.

Broiling method

1. Preheat the oven to broil.
2. Spray 2 cookie sheets with oil. Place the eggplant slices on the sheets in a single layer and spray with oil.
3. Broil on rack closest to the flame for 5 to 7 minutes or until the eggplant slices are slightly brown.
4. Carefully remove the cookie sheets from the oven and flip the eggplant slices with a spatula or food tongs. Spray more oil on the eggplants and return to the oven to broil for additional 5 to 7 minutes.
5. Make the garnish sauce by combining all ingredients.
6. Remove eggplants from the oven and serve with the garnish sauce and chopped parsley.

Yield: serves 4 to 6

Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Posted on March 14, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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