In Jazzie Einalhori’s family, there is no Friday afternoon without shami, a Persian potato fritter made with caramelized onions and turmeric, that’s paired with a spinach and onion spread and spritzed with lemon just before it’s devoured. Everyone in the family has their preferred way of eating the fritters. Some opt to sandwich them into a baguette, others with pita — Jazzie’s sister likes them with ketchup. In the family, Jazzie’s grandmother Esther is the keeper of the shami. In college, when Jazzie would fly from New York to Los Angeles to see her family, she would call her grandmother to let her know when her flight would land so the shami would be fresh. “I’ll call you, so it’s hot,” she would loving and jokingly tease her grandmother.
The recipe and Friday tradition are traced back to Esther’s mother Rachel, who lived in Shiraz, Iran. Rachel brought the recipe with her when the family moved to Be’er Sheva in southern Israel in 1949. Here, Esther reconnected with Itzchak, who she knew in Shiraz, in the ma’abara, or absorption camps for immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. Itzchak arrived with a razor to cut hair and opened a barber business in the camp. “He made it through because he was the only guy with a razor,” Jazzie explains. The pair married and lived in Israel, but left after the Six Day War in 1967 for North America, bringing the shami recipe and tradition with them.
When Jazzie was little, her grandfather, nicknamed papa joon, or sweet papa in Farsi, would bring fresh shami from Esther to the school where Jazzie was a student and her mother Lily worked, for them to enjoy on Friday afternoons. Shami wasn’t the only recipe Esther made on Fridays. Shabbat dinner was always a bountiful spread of Persian recipes like gondi, a chicken soup made with dumplings, colorful rice, and a stew or khoresh. Even when Esther and Itzchak didn’t host, and an aunt did, her grandparents still “they owned the presence” of the shabbat meal, Jazzie explains.
When she was 18, Jazzie left Los Angeles to live in Israel — and the shami tradition continued there. On Fridays, cousins of her mother would make shami or aruk, a Iraqi sibling of the fritter made with potato and parsley that one aunt learned to make for her Iraqi husband. “In Israel it’s normal to have a Friday snack,” Jazzie explains, to tide everyone over to dinner.
Jazzie didn’t start making the recipe until she moved back to the U.S. and was in school at NYU with her brother. She called her grandmother for instructions and even in her first attempt it was “pretty spot on”, Jazzie explains. “I think I have hands like a safta,” she adds. Today, she uses them to make schnitzel, sabich, and salted tahini chocolate chip cookies for Sage Kitchen, a restaurant and catering company where she is the co-founder and executive chef.
As for the shami, it’s not on the menu yet, but Jazzie’s considering adding it to lineup as a special — on Friday afternoons, of course.