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A Perfectly Persian Pesach


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“Mommy, when are we going to whip each other again?” Those are the lovely words of a child being raised in a Persian Jewish household! Now, before you go on and call family services on me, I urge to keep on reading!

The first thing my kids get excited about after their Purim-sugar-overdose is Pesach. Not necessarily because of the matzah with chocolate spread they get for breakfast every single morning (due to the fact that Pesach cereal tastes exactly the same as the carton in which it comes) but because of our annual beating! Hard to imagine, I know, but it is truly something to watch. You see, Persians have many interesting customs for Pesach, but nothing comes close to the pandemonium during the song of Dayenu. Please, sit back and imagine kids and grownups fighting for the biggest scallions on the table and then proceeding to beat each other up. If you think this is a polite beating you are quite mistaken, even grandmas on wheelchairs get involved. Even little babies get a few whips. Puzzled? Disturbed? Both? Well, that is exactly how I felt during my fist Persian Seder! Welcome to the club!

According to tradition, the reason we beat each other with scallions during Dayenu is to remind us of the suffering our brethren experienced in Egypt. The scallions represent the whips the Egyptians used on the Jewish slaves.  However, why should we do this during Dayenu? Isn’t constipation due to matzah consumption enough of a pain to remind us of all kinds of suffering? Well, Dayenu is written as a poem to show gratitude to Hashem over all the big and little things He did for us during these times. But let’s be honest, who can ever really say a proper “thank you” for something that happened thousands of years ago? Hence, It is only by going through a little bit of the affliction (by the way of smelly scallions) we felt when we were slaves that we can actually be thankful today and realize from what we were spared. Plus, imagine the opportunity we have to get back at anyone in the family for anything they might have done during the year (including your mother-in-law!)…the experience is incredibly cathartic!

Persians, depending on their city of origin, do a lot of other different things at the Pesach Seder. In my husband’s family we cover the whole table with a white tablecloth (yep, right on top of the food) while reciting the 10 plagues. This is so that any evil omen from the plagues should stay away from our food. If you think that is very “Sephardic” just wait! The only one allowed to spill the wine at the mention of each plague is the leader of the seder. The wine is spilled into a separate bowl, which is then discarded down the drain as fast as possible because it is thought to contain all kinds of evil powers.  I know all the thoughts going through your mind right now. I share your feelings too. Hey, at least there is one sure thing: you will not fall asleep at a Persian Seder!

The very best part of a Persian Seder, to me that is, is the Hillel Sandwich.  Nothing comes close to the amazing taste of Persian Charoset also known as Haleg in Farsi. I am sharing my mother-in-law’s recipe for Persian Charoset with you. I “beat” you will love it!

Have a wonderful Pesach!


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About Reyna Simnegar


Reyna was born in Venezuela and moved to the US in 1995 to pursue her degree in Interior Design at UCLA. When Sammy, her future husband moved to NY to attend graduate school, she moved there to be closer to him. Before Reyna left Los Angeles, Sammy's mother, who was afraid Sammy would starve in NY without authentic Persian food, taught her the intimate secrets of Persian cuisine so she could cook for Sammy. (This was a super investment for Sammy's mom, because it obviated the need to FedEx frozen Persian food to NY!) She lives with her husband and five lively boys in Boston, MA.




2 Responses to A Perfectly Persian Pesach

  1. We tunisians used a romaine lettuce leaf instead of scallions at my parents house when my father was leading the sedarim, he also was the only one to spill the wine. I remember my mom standing next to him and pouring water into the bowl after each spill of wine, diluting all the evilness of the plagues, then pouring the contents of the bowl in the sink. I miss my rice and fresh peas on pesach since my husband is ashkenaz.

  2. I am totally taking this custom on, can’t wait to introduce to everyone this year. Thanks for sharing.

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