Persian Jewish food seems like the latest cuisine to tackle for adventurous cooks: exotic, a bit challenging and trendy. But what is it about Persian food that has inspired home cooks to take on the traditional fare? Perhaps it is the popularity of The Shahs of Sunset? Perhaps it’s the fact that traditional Ashkenazi Jewish fare has been taking center stage as the North American food scene focuses on comfort foods? Or perhaps it’s just something new that requires a slightly different perspective on cooking?
Reyna Simnegar was not born Persian, but is proud of her “adopted Persian heritage.” So much so that she blogs about her food and wrote a cookbook this year called Persian Food From The Non-Persian Bride. It is a beautiful cookbook with mouth-watering photos, and a perfect assistant for those trying master the art of Persian cooking.
Reyna puts a lot of herself into the book – not only her beloved recipes, but also photos and stories about (very large!) family. Her style is casual and warm – you really feel like you are sharing a glass of tea in her kitchen while she explains her recipes. She also includes some non-traditional Persian recipes that she has come up with over the years, things like “Persian Mussaka” and her favorite roast recipe that she assures are crowd-pleasers.
Her cookbook has a few unique features that makes the Persian recipes less daunting including a guide to herbs, ingredients and special tools commonly used in Persian cooking. Very helpful for those not as familiar with the array of new ingredients.
Reyna and her husband became Orthodox together as adults, and so to be honest, the cookbook at times has a bit of a religious undertone. But if you can get past this subtext, the recipes are accessible and interesting. And I do really enjoy Reyna’s candor and sense of humor.
I love Persian food, especially some of the traditional stews and crispy rice I have tasted with my Persian friends over the years. I also love the Persian culture, especially some of their over-the-top ways, which Reyna talks a bit about in her cookbook. We’ll be featuring one of Reyna’s traditional recipes later this week, but in the meantime, here was a quote from the cookbook that I enjoyed and thought got at the heart of what it means not only to enjoy this style of food, but also this incredibly special culture.
“Disclaimer: Throughout this book I relate many funny episodes and nuances I have experienced during the many years I have had the honor to be exposed to Persian Jews. Many of these episodes exemplify stereotypes, and throughout the book, I may seem to be mocking various behaviors and expressions. Often, I am making fun of myself and the people I love. Please take my words and memories as what they are: simply funny in the context they were expressed. I treasure my Venezuelan heritage, and I treasure my adopted Persian heritage with all my heart. Let us all laugh together at life!”
Indeed, Reyna, let us all laugh together at life and enjoy cooking some delicious comfort food, no matter the variety.