Persian Holiday Tutorial

The 17th of Tammus

It is definitely kind of unconventional to start a Persian Holiday Tutorial on a fast day. However, do you know one day, according to the Talmud, all the fast days will become days of joy and food galore? It will be great not to be hungry any more!

I certainly hope, if you are fasting, you are at this moment having a meaningful fast. However, just in case, I am going to share a list of the sad things that happened to our nation today. That way, when your stomach hurts and turns, it will at least have some meaning.

1. A day like today, more than 3,000 years ago, Moses broke the tablets that held the 10 Commandments when he saw the children of Israel dancing with the Golden Calf.
2. A day like today the regular offerings in the first Temple were stopped because Jerusalem was under siege and Kohanim could not get animals to offer.
3. The walls that surround the city of Jerusalem were destroyed and the Second Temple was destroyed shortly after.
4. A Roman general by the name of Apostamos burned a Torah scroll for everyone to see.
5. An idol was set inside the holy Temple by our enemies.

WOW…I don’t know about you, but I am sure learning a lot today. I honestly didn’t know all these facts and I thank Rabbi Moshe Lazerus and for providing them. If you want to know more click here.

NOW, let’s talk about breaking this fast tonight.  I would like to share with you the few ways Persian Jews break their fast.  Today’s fast (6/29/10) ends at  9:18pm  or, as it gets darker, go out and see if you can spot 3 starts. Then you know you are ready to eat! Personally, I like to take a moment before I break my fast to meditate on the day and to give thanks to Hashem for all the blessings in my life.

In my husband’s family people tend to break every fast with a warm cup of sweetened water and a drizzle of rose water. Some other families break their fasts with Persian Halvah (recipe will be on the book), while others break their fasts with a mixture of chilled grated apples with a drizzle of rose water and sugar.

Persian Halvah shaped as little Stars of David..isn’t this cute?!

Have an easy and meaningful fast.

Rosh Hashana – The New Year Festival

The Jewish New Year is a grand celebration for Persians! But how did this feast start?  What is this holiday about? If your answer is “apples and honey” there are lots to learn my friend!

The first day of Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.  Isn’t that crazy?  And all this time I thought it was “The Jewish New Year!” If you think that is insane listen to this: On Rosh Hashana day Adam and Eve were created, they sinned -no time wasted here- and they were judged by G-d.  From that day forward, Rosh Hashana became the day that every single being gets judged by G-d HIMSELF.  Which is kind of cool because G-d loves us so much (just like a father/son love) we are able to really impress him by changing ourselves (if only that was an easy task). The tricks are repentance, praying (talking to G-d) and giving to others (charity). If you want to watch two inspirational videos that will really set the mood for the holiday click here and here.

This is the Persian Rosh Hashana Seder plate

Rosh Hashana is the day we get judged on a personal level. However, since on this day G-d judges us for transgressions committed against Him and not against other people, it is left to each person to call all those he might have wronged during the year and ask for mechilah (forgiveness). I admit this is very hard to do, but it leaves you feeling light as a feather! Try it!

This is Ariel (my oldest son) after asking for forgiveness…it leaves you exhausted, it is not easy to do, but it is worth it!

Can you believe Persians have an actual Rosh Hashana Seder! Back in Iran you could have seen a lamb’s head staring at you from the table, but today in America it is very hard to find. Although this year I was very lucky to find it! Thank you Specialty Provisions.  If you lack of a lamb’s head, a less gruesome item is used…a cooked tongue, of course! (Talk about getting rid of Lashon Hara -the evil tongue, i.e., gossip- for the rest of the year!) However, on a more serious note, Rosh Hashana is a special time to get closer to Hashem (G-d). It is said that in these times the King of Kings is more available than ever. No wonder the Rosh Hashana Seder is based on saying several “Yehi Ratzons” over symbolic foods. “Yehi Ratzon” means “May it be Your will”; we are asking Hashem to fulfill our desires through blessings. Many of the “Yehi Ratzons” are plays on words, so it is not very easy to translate them. Several Sephardic prayer books contain the Yehi Ratzons and their translations, along with explanations of the puns.  Here is a nice link to a list with the blessings and explanations. This list is not 100% accurate for Persian Jews, so contact your local Orthodox Persian Rabbi if you need guidance.

This is my son Yosef trying to blow a Shofar that is actually bigger than him! Thank you to the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, MA for lending us this gorgeous Shofar to take this picture.  It was close to a miracle, but I gave it back in one piece!

Here are the symbolic foods along with the Yehi Ratzons so you can celebrate Rosh Hashana à la Persian! This Seder is to be performed afterKiddush and before the blessing over the bread, so be sure to make the pertinent blessings on the different kinds of foods before eating them.

  • Apple and honey (The ever-popular Rosh Hashana staple…my kids’ favorite!)
  • Leeks (Tear a piece apart with your hands. Some people have the custom of eating it as well.)
  • Zucchini (Simply fry it in a little oil and sprinkle with salt.)
  • Black-eyed peas (I use canned peas and simply add caramelized onions.)
  • Lamb’s head or tongue (Persians love tongue…I can’t even look at it. See recipe for tong, below.)
  • Beets (I buy them canned, already cut up. Just add salt or make the beet salad that will be in my book.)
  • Dates (Make sure to check inside for bugs! I have even found worms in them!)
  • Lung (Lungs are hard to find in America. [Thank G-d!] Some Persian Jews use popcorn for this Yehi Ratzon. We use fish, especially if Rosh Hashana falls on Friday night. Some people, in the absence of lungs, skip this blessing).
  • Pomegranate arils (One of the highlights of the evening for Persians!)
  • After these blessings have been recited, the meal continues as usual. Since I consider the symbolic foods a fine appetizer, I serve dinner right after the challah is portioned out and the Yehi Ratzons have been said. As a good omen to have a sweet new year, many Persian Jews indulge in sweet foods on Rosh Hashana instead of the classic sour dishes. So, make sure to skip the dried lemon when making Persian Chicken Soup (Ab Goosht) for Rosh Hashana! Check out the delicious menu I suggest in the cookbook!

    Rosh Hashana Dinner Menu


  • Symbolic Foods
  • Entrees

  • Persian Chicken Soup with Dried Lemon and Cumin Seed — Ab Goosht (Rosh Hashana version)
  • Persian Steamed White Rice— Chelo
  • Rice with Orange and Carrots—Shirin Polo
  • Lamb with Prunes Stew
  • Potato Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs—Sald’e Olivie
  • Dessert

  • Persian Cram Puffs—Noon Chamei
  • Walnut-Stuffed Dates—Ranginak
  • Rosh Hashana Tongue with Tomato and Mushrooms


    You have to trust me when I tell you that I have eaten the grossest things in the world! Every summer my family would take a trip to Zaraza; the town where my father was born. Many members of the family would gather together at the family farm and cook many interesting dishes. Have you hear of a stew made from an animal that is related to rodents called capybara? How about turtle quiches? How about crocodile or iguana stew? I have eaten them all! However, I never, ever ate tongue! It was not until I became acquainted with Persians that I was put to the task of eating tongue once a year on Rosh Hashana! I hope you enjoy this recipe and the many more that I am sharing in the cookbook.  It is actually very delicious!

    Tongue Broth

  • 1 beef tongue
  • water as needed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • dash turmeric
  • 1 (13-ounce) can mushrooms sliced or stems and pieces, drained
  • 1 cup reserved tongue broth
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • fresh flat leaf parsley, for garnish
    1. Place the tongue into a 6-quart saucepan and cover with water until it reaches about 3 inches above the meat. Add the onion and garlic and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 3½ to 4 hours, checking periodically and using a small strainer or slotted spoon to remove the scum that accumulates on the surface of the water.
    2. Remove tongue from broth and set aside to cool. Reserve one cup broth and set aside. To make sauce, sauté olive oil, onion, and turmeric in a skillet until onion is translucent. Add mushrooms and toss together for one minute. Add tongue broth, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and cook for about 3 minutes.
    3. While the tongue is still warm, peel the surface skin off and discard. Cut tongue into ¼-inch-thick slices and arrange on a serving platter. Pour the mushroom sauce on top and sprinkle with chopped parsley for garnish.

    Yield: 6-8 servings


    Yom Kippur – The Day of Repentance

    Click here to find out when Yom Kippur starts and ends in your location.

    Fasting is very much a part of the Jewish religion. Yom Kippur is the ultimate Jewish fast.  This day, we fast from sunset to the following day after three stars appear. This year Yom Kippur coincides with Shabbat.  We know Shabbat is the most important holiday and fasting is prohibited.  However, when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat we fast.  Yom Kippur is also referred as “Shabbat Shabatot” (the Shabbat of Shabbats). Hence, it precedes Shabbat and fasting is commanded. Some people, like my husband, also observe a “fast of words.”  Keeping silent for a long period of time is a great exercise that makes one appreciate the gift of speech.

    This is my son making an angry face…”Mami, do I really have to fast when I grow up?” How can I live without green apples (his favorite) for a whole day?!

    But why should we fast? What is the purpose? After all, fasting is painful and difficult. Well, let me explain. Putting a child in a time-out or reprimanding that child for negative behavior can be difficult for the child and the parent as well. However, if you are a mother, you know that the purpose of a time-out (for the most part!) is to have the child isolated in a quiet place to think about his/her actions and rectify the negative behavior. If the rectification and the repentance are not there, the time-out is worthless. Similarly, Hashem is our Father and sometimes we know we need a time-out. However, while the time-out (in this case, fasting) is not easy, the real purpose is for rectification and repentance of our behavior. Fasting gives us that certain amount of physical pain needed to get in touch with our spiritual self and get back on track. At the end of a fast, we should focus on how much we learned about our potential in life and have a plan of action on how to achieve it.  But, like with everything in Judaism, there is so much more to it. On Yom Kippur we are guaranteed to be forgiven for our sins as long as we repent.  Hence, we are like angels (angels do not sin).  Since we are like angles – beings with no physical needs – we also abstain from our regular physical needs (eating, drinking, etc.)  There are some people that even wear a white outfit on Yom Kippur because it is said that angels wear this color.

    I love this picture.  It is just so genuine.  I hope we all have this clarity and  authenticity this Yom Kippur. This photo is curtsy of Hebrew Discovery Center, Woodland Hills CA.

    Besides abstaining from food and drink, there are also other prohibitions that apply on Yom Kippur. One is not to wear leather shoes, bathe, apply ointments (like creams or lotions) or have intimacy. Since Yom Kippur is the “Shabbat of Shabbats” we also abstain from all the activities forbidden over Shabbat (like driving, cooking etc.)  If you would like tips on making your fast easier please click here.

    The meal preceding Yom Kippur is supposed to be quite the feast!  Indulging before Yom Kippur is even considered to be a mitzvah (commandment). Some Persian families choose to consume Ab Goosht (Persian chicken soup) before the Yom Kippur fast.  At our home, we indulge in many Persian dishes.  In my husband’s family people tend to break every fast with a warm cup of sweetened water with a drizzle of rose water. Some other families break their fasts with Persian Halvah, while others break their fasts with a mixture of chilled grated apples with a drizzle of rose water and sugar.  After breaking the fast, everyone joins is a joyous meal!  Yom Kippur is actually the day of joy! We have repented for our misdeeds and have been forgiven.  Nothing can bring more joy than a new beginning, and Yom Kippur is the day to start fresh and anew!

    Ab Goosh (Persian Chicken Soup) is traditional eaten by Persians before the fast of Yom Kippur. I share the recipe is my cookbook!

    If you are fasting, may you have an easy and meaningful fast! Sukkot is around the corner…I can’t wait to post some pics of our Sukka!

    G’mar Chatima Tova!

    Sukkot: The Festival of Booths

    I like tend think of this as the “forgotten holiday.” Celebrating Sukkot is not very popular in some circles, BUT is is so much fun! Just reading the word “Sukkot” makes me happy! If anyone has ever been in a sukka they know what I am talking about. Yom Kippur has just passed and we have been forgiven by Hashem; we have triumphed! The time to celebrate is here and we celebrate big. Celebrating is even a commandment in this holiday. We build nothing less than a special hut, outside our home, to invite family and friends over to eat themselves silly on scrumptious food. These temporary dwellings are to commemorate the very sukkot that Hashem crafted for our ancestors in the desert. There were clouds of glory protecting us from all sides from the dangerous elements in the desert. Being in a sukka today not only reminds us of Hashem’s generosity during those hard times, but also brings us back out into nature and forces us to put all our trust in the Ruler of the world, prompting us to be grateful for the warmth of our sturdy and stable homes.

    Here are two of my kids helping set-up our Sukka! They are so proud and excited!

    The Persian Sukka and How We Shake the Lulav!

    Many Persians are known for decorating their sukkot with beautiful Persian Rugs (making sure to roll them back home when rain starts to fall!) I have seen exquisite sofres (tablecloths) displayed on the walls of Persian sukkot. However, the most interesting and absolutely adorable decoration I have witnessed (besides children-made décor, of course) are cone-shaped cups hanging from the schach (ceiling of the sukka) filled with a delicious mixture of chickpea flour and sugar. It is customary to hang these treats for the kids to enjoy at the end of the holiday….as long as they have survived the squirrels! Below you can find the recipe and the way I use this beautiful tradition.

    Here is the Sukka…half-way there.  This is great bonding time with the kids!

    Have you ever seen a Persian shaking a lulav? In case you might not know, a lulav (palm tree branch) is bundled with willow and myrtle. When I didn’t know any better, I though it was some type of musical instrument! Along with the lulav, a beautiful and aromatic citron (etrog) is shaken as well. It is the most expensive citrus fruit one can buy. If you haven’t seen a Persian shaking the lulav, get ready for a surprise! They point their lulavim and turn their bodies toward the direction to which they shake them. In general, Sephardic women do not say a blessing when shaking the lulav.

    Here is the Sukka! Finished and decorated! I love it because it is very “home-made” and it was the hard work of my family! My aunt Julie Simnegar makes the most beautiful Sukkot for grown-up taste.  Her Sukka is the most beautiful Sukka in all of LA with velvet draperies and hanging flower arrangements! I must post a pic soon! She is an extremely talented florist and the owner of the popular Bouvardia Flowers and Gifts (310) 470-9100

    Sukkot Chick Pea and Sugar Treats

    Sar’e Gandak

    Here is a little sweet bundle for the Sukka!

    These are little bundles of chick pea flour and powdered sugar that are hung in the Sukka at the beginning of theHag and eaten when the Sukka is put away. My mother-in-law has beautiful childhood memories of reaching up to these bundles and eating the treasure inside! Doesn’t it sound great? Well, maybe that worked in Shiraz, but we live in a different climate in the US. Where we live, it rains every single Sukkot. Also, the squirrels would have a feast the second I hang the treats! So, I decided to hang them right before the Sukka is taken down. The kids have a blast looking for them between all the decorations! I like using white paper cone cups, which the kids decorate. This is a great way to reward the children for helping out while putting the Sukka away.  You can also buy the cones already made or make them yourself with any paper you have at home.  See this link for ideas and a good template. If your kids don’t like chickpea flour, you can fill these treat with colored sugar or any treat you’d like!

  • ½ cup chick pea flour
  • ½ cup powdered confectioner’s sugar
  • paper-cone cups or cone-shaped favor boxes
  • 1. Combine chick pea flour and sugar and fill each cone cup with approximately 2 tablespoons of the mixture.
    2. Wrap in foil, attach a string, and hang from the schach in the Sukka!
    3. To serve, pluck cones from the schach, give one to each child (or help yourself to one!). Snip or tear off the pointy end of the cone and suck out the tasty powder.

    Yield: 4-5 treats, depending on cone size.

    Sukkot is a great time to spend with family and friends! In this pic my kids and their cousins are making “eatable” Sukkot out of crackers, pretzel sticks and sour sticks! The “glue” is marshmallow fluff!

    Have a wonderful Sukkot everyone!

    Chanuka: The Festival of Lights!

    Just saying the word Chanuka gives me the munchies for a steaming hot latke and a few presents, of course! I know, we always give ourselves much guilt over what we indulge on Chanuka…just give it up, eat and have a good time! Life is way too short to start counting calories on these special days!

    Here is one of my delicious boys helping mami clean our Chanukiah (Chanuka menorah)

    Chanuka is a celebration of freedom. On Chanuka we commemorate many amazing miracles. At the time Chanuka was instituted, Jerusalem was in the hands of the Syrians, who lived the Greek way…I guess this must mean the soldiers were tall, dark, handsome and wearing togas!  Our tiny army was able to defeat them with the guidance of Yehuda Maccabee and we were able to take back the Temple that had been ruined. The Jews were able to find just enough oil to perform the rededication of the Temple (the Hebrew word for dedication is Chanuka…did you know that?), and that oil lasted eight days. The Jews were once again free to practice their religion, vanquish assimilation, and discredit Greek “wisdom” –no offense to all my Greek friends! We light the Chanukiah (Chanuka menorah) to remember the rededication of the Temple.

    Here I am teaching the kids the correct way to place the candles…read on to find out!

    Today, we celebrate Chanuka by doing the very things the Syrian Greeks forbade us to do! We learn Torah and rejoice by singing beautiful Jewish melodies. Some give the children money or little presents to reward them for all the mitzvot (commandments) they perform. We eat lots of delicious oily food to remember the miracle of finding the oil. And last, we light a chanukiah in our front windows. This way, everyone is to witness that we have remained and triumphed and our lives are devoted to Judaism more now than ever!

    You can almost read his thoughts, “FIRE! What else can I do with this fire!!”  Boys will be boys!

    The lights in the chanukiah are set up from right to left (as you face the candelabra) but lit from left to right. That is, on the first night, the light is placed to the far right on the chanukiah; on the second day, we place the first light in that same spot, the far right, then add a candle to its left. But we light the second candle first. Persians (and most Sephardim) light only one chanukiah for the whole family.

    A delicious Sufganiah…worth every single calorie!

    Chanuka Menu

    This time of year many friends and family members drop by to indulge in Chanuka celebrations. During the eight days, I probably fry hundreds of latkes and the dinners are very informal in nature. While latkes are not the traditional Chanuka food eaten in Iran, Persians have wonderful fried dishes that are easy enough to make at the last minute in case an extra handful of friends show up! I have (of course) included Sufganiot, Israeli-style doughnuts, in the cookbook. Sufganiot are not traditional Persian Jewish food, but if they are filled with vanilla pastry cream they become Pirashkee.  Besides, how can anyone survive Chanuka without them?! Here is a list of foods that would make anyone’s mouth salivate on Chanuka!

  • Persian Potato Latkes—Kookoo Sbzamini
  • Sour Apple Latkes—Kookoo Sib’e Torsh
  • Traditional Chanuka Latkes—Levivot
  • Jelly Doughnuts and Pirashkee—Sufganiot
  • Golden Dough Spheres Soaked in Rose Water Syrup—Bamieh
  • This is Bamieh…I like to call it the “Persian Churro!”…absolutely delectable!

    I wish you all a very happy Chanuka!

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    9 thoughts on “Persian Holiday Tutorial

    1. Wow this is wonderful I read your story and it is truly wonderful. My mother is from Shiraz. Much success with your book

      1. You can get it at or at many Middle Easter shops. Try find it in as well. Good luck!

    2. Hi Reyna,

      When I saw your spread in the Kosher Inspired I got so excited. I am a non-Persian bride too! My husbands parents are from Shiraz. I love to cook but my husband loves Ashkenaz food and since we lived near my in-laws and always went to them for Shabbat, i never even attempted persian food. However, we just moved to a different city and my in-laws are coming to us for Shabbat for a change. My mother in law is insisting on bringing rice (since it’s not in my Easter European blood) but i’m so excited to surprise them with a Choresh A Lappe! I’m also looking forward to trying more recipes from you book! Thank you

    3. Hi Reyna!
      my name is Meira, from Mexico and I’m also a none Persian bride who met the husbend in L.A moved to Miami live there for seven years, come back to our roots, did Aliya to Eretz Israel almos nine years ago and live in Bene-Brack with my husband and our five (Persian) boys.

      If you can contact me please it’ll make me very HAPPY.

    4. Thanks for the quick and easy recipe for tongue. This will be my first Iranian cooked dish for the Iranian husband.

    5. Hi Reyna,

      My name is Melissa Abesera.I am a food enthusiast.When I saw your book I was extremely impressed with the outstanding ,and informative work you have done.I have bought this for my daughter in law and several friends. I am producing an upscale kosher food show for television.Its about celebrating great food that happens to be kosher.Great chefs, restaurants and home chefs.Once we have our schedule for next year I would like to include you.

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