Profile: Pre-School Teacher Fariba Sameyah
Fariba Sameyah is a very good cook. One recent Friday evening, along with Fariba’s husband Shlomo, her daughter Gabriella, and her sons Ben and Elisha, I partook in their weekly Shabbat dinner.
At a festive, 10-foot long dining table that could easily sit 30, Shlomo—a genial man with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes—presided over the evening’s rituals. After prayers, singing and Kiddush (red wine is poured into a goblet and then blessed), we all washed our hands in the kitchen sink using a cup with two handles (pouring three times over the left hand, then three times over the right hand) while reciting a blessing. Back at the table, Shlomo tore a piece of challah—a yeasted, braided, eggy bread—and passed it to every one of us. There is no speaking until you eat a piece.
A procession of flavor-packed, mouth-watering Persian dishes followed, all homespun by Fariba—who was born in Tehran and grew up in Israel—in her kosher kitchen. Appetizers consisted of an elegant orzo-spinach salad; tangy marinated cremini mushrooms scattered with fresh dill; sharp pickled daikon; bulgy puff pastry filled with seasoned ground tofu; and crisp, chopped romaine with tomatoes in a creamy dressing. The three mains featured roasted chicken with saffron rice; a vegetarian version of khoresht karafs (a pretty, all-green stew of celery, parsley and mint, usually made with lamb); and tah-dig (large, hardened pieces of crunchy, golden-crust rice from the bottom of the cooking pot). For dessert, we had a fluffy, rose water-scented roulage filled with silky frosting.
“I usually shop on Wednesdays and start cooking on Thursdays,” says Fariba of the elaborate menu, which changes every week. “On Friday, I have to be done by 4pm.” During the resting day of Shabbat—from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday—most activities, including cooking, are not allowed. It’s a relaxing, 24-hour period of family time, prayer and being unplugged. “We light candles at 4:30 pm, we get back from the shul at 6:00 pm, and we sit down to eat at around 6:30 pm.”
Age 49 — Hometown Tehran, Iran and Tel Aviv, Israel — Where do you live? Los Angeles, California — Occupation Pre-school teacher — Signature dish Cumin rice — Who taught you how to cook? Myself — Favorite kitchen tool Not sure — Always in your pantry Cumin — Go-to snack Almonds — Favorite cuisine Italian — Do you diet? Always — Food addictions Don't have any — Food allergies None — Food fad pet peeve Raw foodists — Who’s your sous chef? My sons — Drinking while cooking? I don't — What’s for dinner tonight? Pizza — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? Of course — Best meal you ever had There were so many, I can't remember!
Persian Turkey Thigh With Tomato Rice
Here is a superb recipe for an easy weeknight dinner. Seasoning the turkey with turmeric and cumin takes it into a new, unexpected direction; pot roasting it produces moist, tender meat.
Fariba serves it with brown rice cooked with the same aromatic spices as the turkey, which is not only economical, but also makes the whole dish intensely flavorful and succulent.
- Serves 4
- 2 cups brown rice, rinsed in water
- 4 cups water
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes, divided, juice preserved
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons turmeric, divided
- 2 teaspoons cumin, divided
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided
- 2 turkey thighs, skin removed
- Combine the brown rice with water in a medium pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover and simmer. After 20 minutes, add half of the tomatoes, 1 bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon each of turmeric, cumin, salt and black pepper. Stir well and continue to cook until rice is done, about 15 minutes.
- Heat the canola oil in a Dutch oven or large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 bay leaf and 1 teaspoon each of turmeric, cumin, salt and black pepper.
- Pierce the turkey thighs in several spots—they will cook faster—and place them on top of the onion. Add ¼ cup water and cover. After 20 minutes, add half of the tomatoes, and continue to cook until the meat is soft, about 30 minutes.
- Carve the meat and serve with its sauce over the rice.