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In the JoyofKosher Kitchen with Reyna Simnegar


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We are so excited to invite Reyna Simnegar into our kitchen.  Another bride who learned cooking from her husbands’ family.  Reyna, who grew up in Venezula, took a crash course in Persian cooking taught by her mother-in-law to be so that her new husband wouldn’t starve when they got married.  She mastered the art taking short cuts when she could and then wrote it all down for her future daughters-in-laws and us to learn from. Reyna’s book, Persian Food from the Non Persian Bride will teach even the most inexperienced cooks to prepare delcious Persian meals in not time at all.

1. Tell me about your Jewish journey.

I didn’t know there was any “Jewish blood” in me until I was 12 years old.  At the time, my aunt Sarah told me our family was originally Jewish and that our last name had been changed from Peres to Perez to disguise us as Catholics due to the threats of the Inquisition. I thought this was crazy since Venezuela is such a friendly country to Jews, but considering the Inquisition was abolished in 1832 (352 years active) it really made sense that my great grandparents felt the need to remain hidden. There is a lot to the story and I am currently writing a book about it, but to put it in a “nut shell” at 15 I decided to convert to Judaism and today I am so grateful because that was the most important and powerful decision I have made in my life.

2. What did you really feel when your husband-to-be “politely suggested” it was time to pay a visit to his mother’s kitchen to learn the art of Persian cooking and what was it like spending that much time with you mother in law?

I was supper happy! You see, my Kallah (Bride) teacher taught me that in relationships it is much more important to be smart than to be right! Also, he was not suggesting in any way I needed to learn how to cook, or that my food was not good enough and I needed to learn from his mom. I was already a great Latina cook…but it was Persian food that enticed him! Making my husband happy has been tremendously rewarding and paying that “visit” to my mother-in-law’s kitchen allowed me to create a great relationship with her. Not only that, I am in love with Persian food…so it was a win-win situation!

3. How does your Venezuelan background influence your cooking?

My Venezuelan background is extremely important to me and I certainly make a lot of Venezuelan and Latin American food in my home. In fact, I am currently in the making of a Latin American Kosher cookbook. However, I am incredibly devoted to keeping Persian cuisine as genuine as possible. After all, I have to feed a true Shirazi man! Hence, no matter how Venezuelan I might be, there is no way I am making a “Basmati Arroz con Pollo.” Venezuelan cuisine is as genuine and legendary as Persian cuisine and they both deserve their respective separate places in my kitchen.

4. What advice do you have for the busy home cook?

I am a perfectionist, so when it comes to being a busy mother of 5 kids (and a husband) I must run my household like an army base! I have kept a diary of my menus for every single Shabbat and holiday for the past 7 years. I make notes of what was successful and what was pathetic. I make sure my table is always set a day before…that puts me in the mood and gives me time to be creative. I have a love affair with my freezer and even have pictures of how my drawers should be organized so that my cleaning help does not misplace my beloved gadgets. I plan the Shabbat menu on Tuesday, shop on Wednesday and cook on Thursday and Friday depending on how much company I have (usually over 20 people every Friday night). I think that cooking, even if it takes 5 minutes, has to be fun so I always play good music while I cook and dance a lot. I do not wear an apron and often cook on high heals because they make me feel fabulous. And last, leftovers are not my enemy; they are a source of inspiration!

5. I love the pictures of your kids cooking, what advice do you have for getting kids in the kitchen?

In all honestly it took me a long time for me to let my kids in the kitchen. I love cleanliness and neatness and my kids always make a big mess. It was therapeutic (and incredibly difficult) to finally allow my kids to get flour all over the place. I think in my case I just needed to “let go” and enjoy their sweet little dirty faces licking the bowl clean of cake batter. To get them interested, I treat food like toys. I use tons of cookie cutters in all areas of the kitchen…even when I make Tadig! They love checking eggs for me and also help me brading Challah. Even my 2 year old likes cutting onions (with a plastic knife)! Go figure! Since I have 5 little boys, I have to make sure they will be able to make amazing dinners for their wives!

6. What are the most popular misconceptions about Persian cuisine?

Most people, even some Persians, tend to think Persian food is difficult to make. Some also tend to think it takes a long time to achieve. Both are wrong. Persian food is extremely easy to make when you have the right ingredients and a user-friendly recipe.   Up until now, there was no Persian cookbook out there that allowed for both.  I feel blessed to be able to share the short cuts to Persian cuisine keeping it genuine. I get so many incredible letters from young Persian brides that felt apprehensive about making the food of their ancestors and were finally able to conquer it using the cookbook.

7. What is your favorite food?

I love all food. Period. I am a huge fan of dining and one of the highlights when I travel is to eat at Kosher restaurants all around the world. My favorite restaurant is Darjeeling in Paris. This is the only place where I allow myself to over eat to the point of no return! I was just in Chicago and I have to say that Shallots was amazing! I love Sassi Sushi Bar and Café in Encino, CA. There are way too many fabulous restaurants to be able to mention them all…I am getting terribly hungry now!

8. What is your least favorite food?

I like everything. I really do. Even gefilte fish and kugel! I love it!

9. What was your most memorable cooking moment?

I must say my best cooking memories come from my childhood and teenage years while learning to cook from my Mother and Grandmother. Specially learning to make Venezuelan desserts and Paeya. Another of those moments was learning to make Persian Dolmeh from my husband’s Grandmother. However, the most memorable cooking moment must have been when I struggled to make Turkish Coffee for the Crown Prince of Iran HIH Reza Palavi. I was so nervous and I had no idea how to make it…but at least I tried!

10. What is your earliest memory of cooking?

I honestly feel I was born in a kitchen! I come from a very traditional culture where women spend much of their lives in the kitchen making their families and husbands happy. These same women will assure you the man is the “head” but the woman is the “neck” and you know how the rest goes! My earliest memory from cooking is licking cake batter from my Mother’s old Electrolux mixer. She is the best baker in the world, although my aunt Anna (the French Pastry Chef) is pretty good too! By age 10 I was already an expert at making desserts and at eating them too!

Here are few recipes from my book for you to sample:

Tomato Persian Rice

Chicken Kebab

Refreshing Lime Syrup

***GIVEAWAY*** In order to have a chance to win a copy of Reyna’s Book “Persian Food from the Non Persian Bride” leave a comment below telling us your favorite kosher ethnic dish. Winner will be picked at random. US residents only. Contest ends July 13 2011 at 9 am EST.


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About Tamar Genger MA, RD


Tamar lives in New York and is the mother of three amazing children, a Registered Dietitian, professor of Nutrition, and as you can probably guess, a foodie! Tamar loves to travel with her family and visits kosher restaurants wherever she goes. Although she loves the sights, she spends more time talking about the restaurants and food she ate! As a mom and a nutritionist, Tamar tries to balance her passion for healthy cooking with her insatiable desire for chocolate!




88 Responses to In the JoyofKosher Kitchen with Reyna Simnegar

  1. avatar says: Sarah

    My favorite kosher ethnic dish is shwarma.

  2. I agree with Sarah – I absolutely love schwarma.

  3. I love the answer to question #4. What a great idea to journal Sabbath menus. I think I will try this. I love to get creative when I cook but sometimes my ideas aren’t always good so journaling would help. And to set the table the day before? That is incredible. I usually set the table early on Friday but never thought of the day before!

  4. avatar says: Sarah

    My husband would love it if I learned to cook something different. I guess my favorite “ethnic” dish is chicken soup with matzo balls. Simple but comforting

  5. avatar says: Esty

    My favorite kosher ethnic dish is potato kugel!!
    I also love the idea of a food diary. I don’t quite have that, but whenenver I try new recipes, I keep a paper in my cookbook for all the various changes/corrections/variations that I’ve tried.

  6. avatar says: Yonitdm

    My current obsession is Indian food! Curries are my quick go to meal instead of pasta. But comfort food for me is generally Mexican or Tex-mex.

    I’d love to add some Persian to my repertoire!

  7. avatar says: Melissa

    My husband is Sephardi (SP) and makes amazing fish enchiladas with green chili. Though another household favorite is my traditional chicken soup, which gets spiced up a bit by being served with fresh jalapeno and lemon.
    Needless to say, we’d love to add Persian food to our repertoire, and I’ll be buying this cookbook if I don’t win it!

  8. avatar says: Ruchama

    my favorite ethnic dish is a vegan version of bastilla. I love the combination of chicken flavored seitan, crispy filo, cinnamon and almonds. A close favorite is a vegan version of chicken circassian. When i serve this for Shabbat my omnivore guests also enjoy the original chicken versions. Besides these two, almost anything using pomegranate syrup is on my lists of top favorites.

  9. avatar says: Amy

    My favorite kosher ethnic dish is made by my Syrian mother in law (but she is going to teach me!): warheneb (stuffed grape leaves). Yum!

  10. avatar says: Deborah

    Kosher Indian food

  11. avatar says: Sabina

    Our family loves sushi, even the kids :)

  12. avatar says: Abraham

    Apple Wood smoked salmon with maple glaze. Hickory smoked set it and forget it Chicken. Banana Creamed Tilapia. Kentucky Fried Gefilte Fish. Chinese smoked Lamb Ribletes. Buffalo Chicken Wings. Espinaka (Turkish Spinach). Turkish Burekas. Biscochos. Rosemary Burgundy SilverTip.

    Take your pick.

  13. I would love to get this cookbook.

  14. avatar says: SarahG

    yum, i love persian rice

  15. avatar says: Rachel L

    Almost anything Moroccan. I love the spice cumin–it adds so much depth to a dish. And sushi, of course.

  16. avatar says: FAL

    One of my favorite ‘ethnic’ foods is babaganoush, the more garlic the better. My other favorite is my mothers brisket that my son now makes for me. Of course that makes it extra special. I would love to win this cookbook. My son and daughter in law really enjoy cooking all types of foods and entertaining and I would love to win this cookbook and gift it to them. Thank you for your consideration.

  17. avatar says: Ilene

    My favorite kosher ethnic food? Tough to narrow it down to just one. Knishes (which I had for the first time this weekend grilled = YUM), charoset, and noodle kugel are some of the top choices.

  18. My favorite kosher ethnic dish is sushi. I took a sushi class a couple of weeks ago, and have tried it a few times. They’s so pretty and tasty!

  19. avatar says: Alex

    My favorite dish is Bukhran Quwrighan. It’s french fries which are steamed over chicken. And of course Uzbeki Osh Pilov, when done right.

  20. avatar says: Isaac

    I love ghormeh sabzi! Its the best, especially when you put it on top of Tahdig (crispy rice) :)

  21. Abma, the yellow slimy looking sauce at falafel stands, is the best!

  22. avatar says: Susie

    My husbands family is Persian so I’ve tasted many Persian dishes when we go to his parents house… My favorite would have to be Pollo Shirin but my mother in law says its very complicated to make. I would love to win the cookbook in order to impress my husband (and my mother in law)!

  23. avatar says: ellen

    iraqi kubbei! fried, not boiled. preferably made in israel (while we’re visitng)!

  24. avatar says: Frances

    My family is Lebanese and my favorite is Lahmajin

  25. avatar says: Malka

    My favorite ethnic food is Kishke made from scratch, like my mom A”H made. She bought the intestines from the butcher, cleaned it for more than 3 hours, and then stuffed it with flour and chicken fat (griben). Then she put it in the Cholent on the top of the potatoes. It was the most divine dish. I couldn’t wait for Shabbes. That is one of the reasons I don’t eat the store bought Kishke, because I tasted the original recipe. By the way this was in Europe, where you were able to buy all the parts of the cow, like the feet for Petcha (Galerete), also from scratch. Which is also one of my favorites.

  26. avatar says: penina

    My favorite ethnic food is kosher Italian

  27. avatar says: Linda

    My husband spent a few years in Spain growing up, so we love Paella! He also grew up in South Florida so we eat fish tacos, rice and black beans, fried plantains and various other Latin-inspired goodies. I personally like Indian food so we go through a lot of curry, garam masala and turmeric.

  28. avatar says: Lynne

    What fun to read everyone’s answers!
    My current favorites include Moroccan preserved lemons, Ethiopian gonen with cottage cheese, and brisket made on the cooktop rather than in the oven (obviously not at the same meal). For Pesach, my family starts the seder meal with soup bowls of cold “egg water” made with hard-cooked eggs, onions and salt. Does anyone else have that tradition? We also dip potatoes instead of parsley.

  29. avatar says: efraser

    It’s so hard to pick a favourite! But I really like pea soup. Instead of ham or back bacon, I use fried, salted pieces of crumbled tofu.

  30. avatar says: Judith

    Seriously – so few people make real European potato kugel anymore! I’m talking about the kind that’s got a nice brown crust and is creamy white on the inside and weighs as much as a four year old. The kinds of kugels they sell at the deli (made with ‘fake’ potatoes) just don’t cut it. (and don’t even get me started on the ‘apple’ kugels – kugels shouldn’t be sweet!)

  31. avatar says: helen

    one of my favorite is Chalah Kugel made with leftover chalah. Can be served room temperature. My mother-in-law use to make mock gefitle fish. She used chicken breasts. for years I didn’t know it was not fish. I wish I had the recipe.

  32. avatar says: Chrik

    My favorite ethnic food is def sushi!

  33. avatar says: cindy

    Boy this is hard! I tend to love Middle Eastern Jewish food. I love Harira – Yemenite Beef soup.

  34. avatar says: Rivka

    My favorite kosher ethnic dishes are tadik (a Persian dish which is basically the fried rice at the bottom of the pot – so unhealthy but so yummy) and lachmajin (syrian meat patties – I love pizza and meat and this covers both bases in a bite size yummy treat. Not sure if I spelled the dishes correctly as I’m totally ashkenaz and never made them but love eating them.

  35. avatar says: Hindel

    I love Morocan spiced salmon and gomez sabzi

  36. avatar says: dena

    Chinese food! I seem to make some at least once a week.

  37. avatar says: Elizabeth

    I, too, married a Persian and learned to cook his favorite dishes. Of course, taidik (the crunchy bottom of rice), is a favorite of my whole family….three kids, my in-laws and even my Pennsylvania-born parents. Khoreshte ghemeh is another favorite, as it goes on top of the crunchy rice. I make an amazing vegan version with mushrooms instead of beef.

  38. I love Moroccan couscous.

  39. avatar says: Daniela

    I love Italian food, especially pesto…and the different Persian rice dishes with orange peel, and the one with lima beans, and with saffron

  40. avatar says: Dodi

    Can I have the recipes for everyone who commented before me?! Wow. I’ve been eating a lot of little tacos lately for lunch–so this week, anyway, I think it’s tacos. (corn tortillas, scrambled eggs, fresh salsa, dab of guacomole, tiny bit of cheese-yum)

  41. It’s been many, many years since I had the honor of being a guest in a (kosher) Iranian home – I was bowled over by everything that was served, but my absolute favorite was the ice cream made with saffron and rosewater.

  42. avatar says: Beccs

    It’s difficult for me to pick just one dish – even a single cuisine! My current favorite is Indian.

  43. avatar says: sarah

    My fave ethnic food is challah with dips. It goes with anything! I’d love to learn some new recipies – all the old ones are so boring already. We need kosher ethnic alternatives to many foods.

  44. avatar says: Chaviva

    My favorite ethnic dish is Matboucha….I actually crave this sometimes on challah its so good!

  45. My favorite ethnic foods are (a) my double gefuilte fish, where I layer regular gefuilte fish (with lemon juice and herbs) and salmon gefuilte fish (with line juice and herbs) & (b) fellafel.
    Once when a friend, who had spent time in in Iran as a bride, was visiting for a few days she cooked me a Persian meal which I really enjoyed.

  46. I had a friend who married a Persian man. She made a delicious beef with prunes dish one time when we visited. Delicious. Everything I have ever had that was cooked by “Persians” has been wonderful. The first time I had “kookoo”, which was a wonderful dish of vegetables and eggs, I thought it was definitely a variation of kugel. I still think so! yummy!

  47. avatar says: Marsha

    I used to make kishka from scratch with my mom from real intestines when I was a child, some 50 + years ago. We also made helzel from the chicken neck skin…But my absolute fav would be falafel with garlic sauce and tehina in a pita with lots of veggies. Yum! I LOVE being Jewish!

  48. avatar says: sim

    I love sushi. It was a gradual progression. We had it at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, 24 years ago, and didn’t even eat it. Started with veggie sushi- and now, bring the raw fish on, the spicier, the better.

  49. avatar says: Sarah

    I love Morrocon Fish. My girlfriend, Elise, gave me the recipe. Her mother-in-law is Morrocon and she swore to me it is better than her mother-in-law’s. It is great, Thanks Elise!

  50. avatar says: Rivkah T

    I think my favorite kosher ethnic food is pita falafel….

  51. avatar says: Jean

    Egg Foo Yung!!!

  52. avatar says: elisa

    for the first time I tried the Persian food, not long ago in a coocking class, I was very good impresed by it. I would love to have a cook book to learn how to

  53. avatar says: EF


  54. avatar says: Sharon

    Pad thai with tofu. I got the recipe from this web site and it’s better than any restaurant!

  55. rice with potatoes.

  56. This is a difficult decision, but I will say that my favorite kosher ethnic dish at the moment is: leben (middle eastern style yogurt) with fresh fruit.

  57. avatar says: Samantha

    Can’t go wrong with falafels!

  58. avatar says: ck

    persian green stew!!

  59. shwarma is my favorite.

  60. rice with a tadeek and bourekas…yum!

  61. avatar says: Debby

    Curried chicken with basmati rice.

  62. i love adding cumin and raw chickpeas to my chulent to give it a mediterranean flair. BK

  63. avatar says: Pegah

    i love dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves).

  64. I must say I love my Persian daughter in law Sadaf’s Tadig (rice where the bottom is made crisp) and Chorosh (delicious Persian stews). Lovely!

  65. avatar says: Dena

    faludeh (a frozen sorbet made with thin starch noodles and rosewate

  66. avatar says: Joe K

    a tongue sandwich

  67. avatar says: Amber

    I love a Kosher seafood gumbo – creole style!

  68. avatar says: Malya

    Chorush Beh

  69. I love mondle bread.

  70. avatar says: Leah K.

    Persian rice – the kind that’s crispy on the bottom. Yum!

  71. Persian Yellow Split Pea Stew (Gheimeh)


  73. avatar says: Sarah

    I love lachmagine

  74. avatar says: Ilyse S

    bagels and lox

  75. avatar says: tallcapp

    My favorite kosher ethnic dish is cholent. It is the best stew ever.

  76. Sorry, I have no idea

  77. avatar says: Tamar

    Ethnic dish – - Chlodnik, a chilled soup (Summer Borscht). Polish background! So good, light and healthy. This recipe was made by my grandmother, passed down to my mother, to myself/sisters, and g-d willing the next generation!

  78. avatar says: ben

    potato kugel

  79. Latkes are the best! I would love to learn how to cook some Perisan food. Best of luck everyone, and thanks for giveaway.

  80. avatar says: Sand

    Vegetarian Cha-Siu Bao!

  81. Moroccan Chicken “Marrakesh” is my favorite.

  82. i love stir fry

  83. avatar says: Jamie

    My grandfather was born in Turkey and taught us how to make dolma lik. I don’t know how to spell it, but I know how to make it and love eating it. It brings back memories of cutting the stems off the leaves while my grandfather and father rolled them , and now our sons make them.