The symbolic foods, as well as the dishes served at the meal, are, of course, different from those served at Passover. To understand the differences, I spoke with Shenaz Tehrani and Shideh Bina, both born in Tehran, but now living in the United States.
Tehrani, 46, a vivacious, petite blonde, is the mother of four children. (And she herself is the fifth of 10 children.) In Tehran, there would be 50 or 60 people at her home for Rosh Hashanah. She recalls that "Jews lived everywhere … there was freedom, you could travel all over the country with no restrictions.
"On Shabbat and holidays, the synagogues were packed."
Life changed with the Revolution. In 1979, her family left everything and, after a nine-year stay in Israel, arrived here.
"My mother was always cooking for a crowd," she says, "but, most important, everything had to be cooked fresh that day. We had enormous pots and pans … all the women relatives — aunts, sisters, cousins –would come and help."
Tehrani, who lives in Broomall, insists that "food is one of the most important things to pass on from one generation to another, and I want to teach it to my children."
And so, although she works as the supervisor of a local health club, whatever she cooks for Shabbat or Rosh Hashanah is freshly made that day.
Tehrani shops at places that carry only the freshest fruits and vegetables and, if possible, ones that have been locally grown. Carrying on her mother's example, she will be up before dawn to cut, clean and prepare the food. She's adamant that she "never freezes anything — everything must be freshly prepared, no matter how much time it takes."
If there were a Persian Julia Child, it would have to be Shideh Bina, 47, who bursts with energy and vitality. Bina adores Persian food, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her kitchen cabinets are filled with Persian spices — items you can't easily find in local markets. She buys them from shops in New York and says, "Whenever friends go to Iran, they bring back a supply."
"Cooking is in my blood," she says. Shideh and her husband, Dr. Shabab Bina, love to entertain, cooking together for 20 to 40 guests, especially when it comes to holidays like Rosh Hashanah.
Bina notes that one of her favorite dishes, and a staple of Persian cuisine, is Persian white rice complete with crunchy tahdig, the crisp, brown layer on the bottom. It can be cooked easily in a rice cooker with a browning element, though the recipe below uses a heavy nonstick pot.
For savory dishes, she uses turmeric, a yellow-orange plant related to ginger, and powdered sour grapes, which she buys in bulk. Rose water perfumes the sweeter dishes, like compotes.
"Holidays are an excellent time to cook so many of our Persian dishes, some of which may take a lot of preparation," Bina says, adding, "I want everything to look beautiful when served."
Bina was 3 years old when she came here with her parents, just before the Revolution. And although her mother and grandmother continued to cook Persian dishes, she admits that she didn't really learn from them.
Chuckling, she explains, "They added a bit of this and some of that — never any measurements. So I bought Persian cookbooks, tweaked the recipes and experimented to make them better."
Although Shideh and Shabab Bina are wine mavens, with an enviable variety of wines stored in their home, Manischewitz is Shideh's favorite for the holidays, "evoking memories of family holiday gatherings."
The Rosh Hashanah seder may take hours to conduct, since the prayers must be recited and explained. The symbolic foods are set about the table and are passed around every so often so that the children (of all ages) can nibble and not get too hungry.
Included are the prayers and explanations for the four meanings of Rosh Hashanah; the New Year celebrating the birth of the world; Yom Hadim, the Day of Judgment; Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance; and Yom Teruah, the day of the shofar.
At the Bina home, family and guests take turns reading in Hebrew, Farsi or English — "whatever they're comfortable with," says Shideh Bina. Platters of food are passed around as symbols of prosperity, peace, fertility and leadership, and a prayer is recited, asking that hatred against the Jewish people disappear.
After the tasting and prayers, the main meal is served. Instead of matzah balls, fluffy chicken and chickpea balls called Gondi, will be floating in the soup.
Shenaz Tehrani uses limes instead of lemons in her dishes, explaining that "the fragrance and flavor is sweeter and cleaner." The chicken stewed with lime juice is cooked on the stove.
For dessert, trays of fresh fruit, such as melons and berries, and pound cake are passed around.
An extensive list of kosher Persian spices is available online at Sadaf.com. or from the International Food Market, 212 Mineola Ave., Roslyn Heights, N.Y., 11577-1953, telephone: 516-625-5800. A rice cooker with a browning feature can also be purchased at Sadaf.com.
Gila's Best Gondi
Gondi is the Persian version of matzah balls. Shideh shared Gila Cadry's most-requested recipe for these chicken/chick pea balls. Dried chick peas are available at spice markets. Grind them finely in the food processor.
2 cups ground turkey or chicken
3 cups very finely ground unsalted dried chickpeas
31/2 cups finely chopped onions
1 tsp. turmeric or to taste
2 tsps. cardamom or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Mazola or other vegetable oil
1/4 cup cold water
In a large bowl, mix the ground turkey or chicken, chickpeas and onions.
Knead well. Add the spices and knead to mix. Add the oil and water, kneading very well to combine.
With wet hands dipped in cold water, make balls of gondi, about 11/2-inches in diameter. Drop into hot chicken soup and cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until they float and are cooked through.
Serves 8 to 10.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 296; protein, 13 g; carbohydrates, 26 g; fat, 16 g; cholesterol, 20 mg; sodium, 33 mg.
Khoresht-E Sib (Apple Stew)
This is a superb stew originally made with quince, a fruit commonly found in Iran. Duck breast, lamb, veal or beef may be substituted for chicken.
8 Tbsps. vegetable oil
4 small onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 lbs. skinless and boneless, chicken breast, cut into thin strips
2 tsps. salt or to taste
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper or to taste
2 tsps. ground turmeric
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
2 Tbsps. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsps. brown sugar
1 tsp. saffron threads dissolved in 4 Tbsps. hot water
8 tart cooking apples (may use Granny Smith)
2 cups pitted dried tart cherries (optional)
In a large pot, heat 4 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the onions and stir-fry 5 minutes or until translucent.
Add the chicken and fry for 15 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the salt and pepper. Add 5 cups water, the turmeric, pomegranate juice, lime juice, brown sugar and saffron water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut into wedges.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Fry the apples for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all sides are golden brown.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Transfer the khoresht to a deep ovenproof casserole. Arrange the apples and cherries (optional) on top. Cover and bake for 30 minutes until the apples and chicken are tender. Taste. The khoresht should be sweet and sour. Adjust seasonings, adding sugar and lime juice as needed. Serve hot with saffron-topped steamed white rice.
Serves 8 to 10.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 369; protein, 22 g; carbohydrates, 24 g; fat, 22 g; cholesterol, 65 mg; sodium, 67 mg.
Persian White Rice
Cooked quickly and easily in one step using a ROYAL brand rice cooker with the rice browning feature. Not all rice cookers cook Persian-style rice — that is why the brand is so important. Here is the method without using a rice cooker. Nonstick pots are essential.
Use 1/2 cup Basmati rice per person, plus one for the pot
Place the rice in a large bowl and rinse in cold water 5 to 6 times until the water is clear and the starch has been washed off.
Cover the rice with salted water; soak for 2 hours or more.
Bring a big pot of water to boil (ratio is 1 cup rice to 2 cups water). Add the drained rice and mix.
As soon as the first grain rises to the surface, cook 6 to 8 minutes. Rice should be tender and expanded in length. Drain in a fine mesh sieve. Do not use a colander as the rice will be squashed and much will come out through the holes.
Rinse the pot and add enough Mazola vegetable oil to cover the bottom by about 1/4-inch. Do not use olive oil as this may add a green tint to the rice. Add a layer of rice and pat down gently. Then add scoops of rice to form a pyramid. Place two layers of paper towels or a dish cloth over the pot. Close tightly with a lid and steam for about 30 minutes on low to medium. This will produce a crunchy bottom crust, the tahdig, a sought-after delicacy.
After 30 minutes, remove the cover slightly so steam can escape. Continue on low heat to make a crunchier bottom layer.
Remove and serve in a pyramid shape. Decorate with a few spoons of rice mixed with liquid saffron.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 357; protein, 8 g; carbohydrates, 78 g ; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 8 mg.
Stovetop Lime Chicken
1 chicken (31/2-4 lbs.), cut in 8 pieces
juice of 1 lime
2 cups water
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 head garlic
Place the chicken in a large pot. Add the remaining ingredients.
Bring to simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce heat to slow simmer. Cover tightly and cook for 2 hours or until chicken is tender. Serve hot with Persian rice.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 283; protein, 24 g; carbohydrates, 78 g; fat, 20 g cholesterol, 99 mg; sodium, 92 mg.
Shenaz's Rice With Carrots and Red Beans
11/2-2 cups basmati rice
7 cups boiling water
1/2 tsp. turmeric
3 medium carrots, diced and cooked
1 can (15 oz.) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
21/2 tsps. cinnamon
11/2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
Rinse the rice three or four times in cold water. Add to the boiling water. Cook 15 minutes over medium heat or until barely tender. Drain off any water. Stir in the turmeric.
Add the carrots, kidney beans and cinnamon.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the rice mixture. Stir and reduce heat to low. Cover tightly and cook 1 to 11/2 hours or until rice is tender and there is a golden-brown crisp layer on bottom of pan.
Spoon onto a large serving dish and top with chunks of the crispy bottom layer.
Serve with Stovetop Lime Chicken, coleslaw and any other salads as desired.
Serves 6 to 8.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 206; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 40 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 157 mg.
(Dairy or Pareve)
From Claudia Roden's New book of Middle Eastern Food. These are little, light pastries that melt in the mouth.
2 sticks (8 z.) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 cups plus 2 Tbsps. cake flour
blanched almonds or pistachios
Preheat oven to 325°.
Cream butter or margarine and sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the flour gradually, mixing until well combined (may knead by hand). If dough is too soft, add a little more flour. Make walnut sized balls.
Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly. Press an almond or pistachio on top of each. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not let even slightly brown. They should remain white. Cool on wire rack and serve with tea or coffee.
Makes 30 to 32 pastries.
Approximate nutrients for each: calories, 111; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 11 g; fat, 7 g; cholesterol, 17 mg; sodium, 1 mg.
Rose-Scented Pound Cake
(Dairy or Pareve)
May bake in a 10×4-inch tube pan or two loaf pans 9x5x3-inches. This freezes beautifully, so can be made ahead. Rose water is available in specialty food stores.
21/2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
21/2 tsps. rose water
3 cups all-purpose flour
21/2 tsps. powdered cardamom
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk or nondairy creamer
3 Tbsps. chopped pistachios
Heat oven to 350°. Spray bottom and sides of the tube pan or loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray with flour.
In a large bowl, beat the sugar, butter or margarine and rose water at high speed for 2 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs with about 1/2 cup flour. Beat for 4 minutes longer until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides often.
Add the cardamom, baking powder and 1/2 cup flour and beat to blend. Add remaining flour and milk or nondairy creamer alternately at low speed. Spoon into prepared pans. Sprinkle chopped pistachios over.
Bake for 70 to 80 minutes; if using loaf pans, bake 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes. run a knife around the sides. Turn out onto a wire rack, top side up, and cool completely.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 233; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 34 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 66 mg; sodium, 20 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.