Rey­na Sim­ne­gar is the author of the recent­ly pub­lished Per­sian Food from the Non-per­sian Bride: And Oth­er Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love. She will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

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

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 Sim­ne­garPer­sian Food from the Non-per­sian Bride: And Oth­er Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available.