The Arty Semite

Sephardim Strike Back!

By Reyna Simnegar

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Reyna Simnegar is the author of the recently published “Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love.” Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Sephardic Jews are really something to ponder. According to Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, “The Sephardic way is a paradox: to keep tradition but to stay open. The Torah is not there to put handcuffs on you. We try to find solutions. We put unity first.” I am including under Sephardic all Jews that come from Middle Eastern Countries (although these are actually Mizrahi Jews) and Jews from Spain Italy and some other countries in Europe.

I was waiting to receive Rabbi Haim Levy at Logan Airport. I have been to the airport many times to receive prominent Rabbis…but never a prominent Sephardic Rabbi. I was so excited to finally meet the author of what apparently is the book that has revolutionized Sephardic Halacha (laws) and finally brought it to the hands of the regular people like me: Anshei Chayil.

Rabbi Levy was to speak that night at my home. He runs a program called “Go Sephardic” which brings Sephardic youth to Israel and helps them increase their closeness to their rich Sephardic heritage. Rabbi Levy is very typical of the new generation of Sephardic leaders who are dynamic, energetic and motivated to “return the crown to its place” as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says.

The more I see people like Rabbi Levy, the more I realize Sephardim are ready to “strike back.” We have been in the shadows for hundreds of years, but our glory and incredible traditions have always been thriving. I think that the world is yet to see the grandeur of our people and the treasures that will come from the descendants of the Rambam and the Ben Ish Chai, to name a few.

In my humble opinion I think Sephardim are the chilly peppers of Judaism. Our tour guide in Masada was a Sephardic man with wild curly hair and an equally hairy chest where a large star-of-David dangled. When it came time to visit the ruins of the Synagogue at Masada he managed to pull out a kippah that was “baking” flat in the back pocket of his very tight jeans. He placed proudly on his head and said, sorry I only carry one so if you need something to cover your head before you enter the sanctuary use a napkin!

I am sure many of us have stories where we see an unexpected spark of a holy neshama (soul) shine through at the moment we least expected. However, when it comes to Sephardim, even people in bathing suits reach out to kiss the mezuzah! Many Sephardim keep some semblance of kashrut and have an enormous respect for anything holy. Just like Rabbi Amsellem suggested, we are a paradox…dark people (for the most part) that shine bright!

Fried Eggplant
Chatzilim

This is one of my favorite Sephardic appetizers. However, preparing this dish also became a nightmare, because just by looking at all the oil I was using I could feel my arteries clogging! I decided to broil the eggplants instead. The secret is to use oil spray and to cut the eggplants thin enough to produce a crunchy and delicious result. Below I give you both options and you can make the choice! My Moroccan friend Michal Bessler, is the genius who taught me this recipe.

Salting the eggplant before frying will extract the excess liquid from the eggplant so that the pieces absorb less oil when fried and expel no liquid when broiled. Salting will also produce a crispier result. Please be careful and keep your children away from the sizzling oil!

2 eggplants, unpeeled, washed, and cut into slices 1/4-inch thick
5 tablespoons kosher salt
canola oil or spray
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Garnish Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons lime juice or the juice of 1 lime
4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed

  1. Layer the eggplant slices in a large colander, sprinkling generously with kosher salt between layers. Let stand for 30 minutes.
  2. Rinse the eggplants in the same colander to wash off the extra salt. Dry with paper towels.

Frying method

  1. Add canola oil to one-quarter of the depth of a very large skillet. Place over medium heat until the oil sizzles when a drop of water is drizzled onto it.
  2. While the oil heats, make the garnish sauce by combining all ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Fry the eggplant slices in a single layer for 1 minute on each side or until slightly brown on both sides.
  4. Drain on paper towels and serve with parsley as garnish, or drizzle garnish sauce on top.

Broiling method

  1. Preheat the oven to broil.
  2. Spray 2 cookie sheets with oil. Place the eggplant slices on the sheets in a single layer and spray with oil.
  3. Broil on rack closest to the flame for 5 to 7 minutes or until the eggplant slices are slightly brown.
  4. Carefully remove the cookie sheets from the oven and flip the eggplant slices with a spatula or food tongs. Spray more oil on the eggplants and return to the oven to broil for additional 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Make the garnish sauce by combining all ingredients.
  6. Remove eggplants from the oven and serve with the garnish sauce and chopped parsley.

Yield: serves 4 to 6

Reyna Simnegar‘s “Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love.” is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit devoted to the reading, writing, and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books, book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history, and more.


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