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Faith Kaplan

Faith Kaplan's Non-Persian Chickens

AVIVA COHEN: Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride

And Other Kosher Sephardic Recipes You Will Love By, Reyna Simnegar

by Aviva Cohen, October 6, 2011


After reading Faith Kaplan’s delightful review of this particular book, I’ve decided to weigh in with my impressions as I am truly the target audience that the author intended to reach. I am the non-Persian bride.

My husband’s family has lived in Canada for over 40 years, but their rich heritage and culture originates in Bombay and before that, in Iraq. Over the 20 years that I’ve been a member of this family, I’ve learned so much of where my in-laws came from, about the businesses they ran, the schools that were attended, the games the children played, the synagogues and youth groups that kept their Jewish neshamas bright and focused. My father in law has always been able to spin a tale into pure gold, transporting his listener to a new world, a place as rich and sensuous as pure silk and exotic and flavourful as saffron.

Then there’s me. I’m as white bread as they come. I’m from Winnipeg. My parents were born in Winnipeg. My grandmothers were born in Winnipeg. I grew up in the north end on Kelekis and my grandmother’s noodle kugel.

As the red haired, green eyed, fair skinned, freckled mother of six beautiful children with huge brown eyes and enviable golden skin, I stick out like a flashlight aglow when surrounded by my family. I’m often mistaken as anyone but the mother of my own children. The one story that best illustrates this is when my second daughter was born. My husband was in my room waiting for my return from a short walk when the nurse wheeled our sweet baby in. She chatted with him until my return in order to match our ID bracelets. A few minutes later I came in and the nurse took one look at me and said, “Oh, I was expecting a much darker mother”. Such is my life.

My Ashkenazi background was quickly swallowed up by the Sephardic customs of my husband’s family in almost every area, except when it came to food. My mother in law introduced me to stuffed grape leaves, kubeh in rich sauces of carrot or beet or okra, dahl and rice, curries of every colour and spices of every intensity. I wouldn’t eat any of it. I was afraid of the flavours, the spice, the unusual textures, all of it. I wasn’t adventurous at all.  Thankfully, they accepted me and loved me anyway….and Mom always made Shake & Bake just for me.

In our early years of marriage, my husband patiently ate from my very elementary selection of dinners. I was not bold or exciting nor was I willing to try and expand my repertoire. If he asked me to “make something (ANYTHING!) like Mom”, I’d tell him that he needed to go ask Mom! I couldn’t cook these foods because I wouldn’t eat them. I didn’t know how to season and spice something my palette had never experienced. I refused to try.

Over the years, I picked up an item here or there that vaguely passed. I made yellow rice with fruits and nuts and once I made a red chicken soup. In the meantime, my husband built himself quite the reputation as an excellent cook, probably purely from necessity. Nevertheless, he mastered Sephardi dishes and Ashkenazi ones as well. I’ve never made cabbage rolls…those are strictly his own.

One day, just recently, he brought home a new book, Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride by Reyna Simnegar. I immediately dismissed it. It wasn’t for me.

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The book is so descriptive and humourous and simple enough to follow. It describes what things are supposed to taste like. It’s honest about mild versus spicy. For this bit alone, I’m very grateful.

The recipe we all enjoy very much is called the Persian Chicken Shabbat Stew. It’s a light, flavourful, non-spicy rice cholent made with chicken. It’s not heavy like a traditional Ashkenazi cholent and takes barely five minutes to prepare in the crock pot. Though it’s seasoned with cumin, turmeric, garlic and pepper, this rice stew is mild enough for a child. Or for me.

Simnegar’s book is a pleasant read and a very functional cookbook. Being photographed as it is, it would also make a wonderful gift to anyone, even an actual Persian Bride, which is why my lovely Mother in law also has a copy.

Shana tova from my family to yours,

Aviva Cohen

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