Maheen's Persian Herbed Omelette
Shared by Ayala Hodak
Recipe Roots: Tehran, Iran > Holon, Israel > Tenafly, New Jersey
Our recipes are a map of where we have been and who we have cooked with. That’s true for Maheen Saadia who started her life in Tehran and now lives in Holon, a city near Tel Aviv. In the 1940’s in Tehran, Maheen learned to cook by her mother’s side. But their time cooking together was interrupted when Maheen was in her early teens and made Aliyah with two of her siblings, leaving her parents behind.
Representatives of Aliyat Hanoar, who recruited young Jews to move to Israel, told Maheen: “Israel’s a wonderful place,” her daughter Ayala Hodak, the co-owner of New York Israeli restaurant Taboon, explains. But, “Israel was a new country. It was nothing like she expected,” she adds. It was less developed, still forming itself. Maheen and her siblings were taken to Kibbutz Naan in the center of the country and had their names changed to sound Israeli—Maheen became Yafa. And, she was given a job, working in the communal dining hall.
When she was around 18, Ayala believes, she left the kibbutz and moved to Tel Aviv where she met her future husband Uri, another Persian immigrant, whose name had been changed—from Rohola to Uri. It was his mother, Dalia who would help Yafa learn to cook for her family. “I think that my mother remembered a lot of her cooking from her mother,” Ayala says. Recipes in Yafa’s home became a blend of the influences of the two matriarchs.
For holidays Ayala remembers her mother preparing traditional Persian recipes like the herbed stew ghormeh sabzi. And, at times of mourning, on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, she prepares kuku sabzi, a Persian omelette filled with fresh green herbs. “I don’t know if it’s a tradition in every home,” Ayaya explains. But for her mother. “It’s part of the blessing, all of the herbs come from the ground.”
The recipe has passed down to Ayala, who is thankful that she doesn’t have memorial days to observe in her home. Instead, she follows another lead from her mother, making it for shavuot alongside Masso-Cheiar, a Persian cold yogurt and cucumber soup with fresh mint. Other times, she simply makes it for big breakfasts. It is one of those dishes that is delicious at all hours and in all seasons.