For me, Friday night dinners are a time we put the week behind us and come together as a family. After I light the candles and say my prayers, we sit around the table and talk about all the things we feel like talking about. Often, we remember stories from when my now-adult children were still kids in Hamburg, Germany, and from their life growing up as part of a very small but also very close Jewish community.
When the Shabbat Project asked me to reflect on Shabbat and the role it plays for me, both then and now, I began to reminisce about my own childhood. I was born at the height of the Second World War, and grew up in Kiel, an hour north of Hamburg. A harrowing journey brought my mother and I, the sole Holocaust survivors in our extended Lithuanian and East-Prussian families, to this picturesque town on the Baltic Sea.
There was, of course, very little Jewish life left in post-war Germany. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we attended services in Lübeck, where all surviving Jews of this region gathered for the High Holidays. On Shabbat, my mother and I were sometimes invited to the home of Heinz Salomon and his lovely wife Ilse, who headed the small Jewish community in Kiel. Those moments - sitting around the Salomon table, singing Shalom Alechem, eating chicken soup with matza balls – left a lasting impression on me. This is how I imagined Gemütlichkeit. This was family.
To me, Shabbat became a way of life, something I looked forward to as the week approached its end. When I moved to Hamburg and met my husband, an Iranian Jew who had come to the city to make a living with oriental carpets, we started “doing Shabbat” every Friday. There was no place to buy challah so we'd often have to say the bracha over sliced bread. The Persian ladies in this small diaspora community taught me Persian cuisine. I fell in love with the spices, the colors, the flavors, and especially the tadig crispy rice that forms at the bottom of the pot.
I continue this tradition now that I live in New York to be close to my children, who have settled here. I empty the rice out of the pot, then flip the pot on a table. It is considered the most desired, fought-over dish of the night, and thanks to Instagram, I get requests for Shabbat invites from around the world. I’ve become something of an accidental Instagram star.
I never learned by recipe. I still cook by instinct. People often tell me that my dishes feel like the European version of the Persian original – the flavors are less complex because I take a more measured approach to spices. Although I learned to speak Farsi and cook the cuisine, it wouldn't be a true Shabbat without honoring my own culinary heritage. Each week, I make gefilte fish, topped with a slice of carrot and consumed with horseradish.
Now I am blessed with four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, and nothing makes me happier than when we gather around the table to celebrate Shabbat. My granddaughters bake fresh challah, and the table is filled with joy. The Gemütlichkeit is passed to the next generation.
Miriam’s German-Persian Tadig Fusion:
* 4 eggs
* 2-3 potatoes, peeled and sliced.
* 1/4 teaspoon of ground saffron
* 4 cups of white basmati rice (7 oz. white basmati rice used for Tadig)
* Vegetable oil
1. Soak the rice in water with 3 1/2 oz. of salt overnight, then strain the rice.
2. Fill 3/4 of the pot with water and bring the water to a boil.
3. Add the rice to the boiling water. Once the kernels rise to the top of the water, strain the rice in a colander.
4. Use a whisk or fork to beat the eggs, and then add the saffron.
5. Mix the eggs and saffron with about 7 oz. of rice for a paste-like texture.
6. Cover the bottom of the pot with vegetable oil, and heat the oil slightly.
7. Line the circumference of the pot with potato slices. Allow time to fry the potatoes slightly.
8. Cover the bottom of the pot, with the egg and saffron paste on a medium flame. Put the lid on the pot for five minutes.
9. Add the white rice on top. When the pot steams, lower the heat for approximately 1 hour. Add vegetable oil to the rice.
10. Remove the white rice.
11. Place a plate on the pot, and flip the pot for the Tadig reveal!