As my grandmother Esther Moreh remembers, growing up in Iran under the monarchy was a progressive time. In the 1920’s, up until the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the country offered much promise to an Iranian Jewish woman. My grandmother was an activist and pioneer for Israel, paving many opportunities for other Jewish Iranian women while raising awareness for Israel through the Jewish women’s Zionist organization, Hadassah. She was able to freely speak her mind and voice her opinions in public, something that would not be tolerated by the current Iranian regime. Today, my grandmother resides in Long Island, where she has recreated and established a better Jewish life for herself. She carries with herself the bittersweet memories of the home she was forced to leave behind, with love and enthusiasm for Israel, family and cooking.
Cooking, however, and Iranian-Jewish cuisine in particular, continue to influence her support for Israel and involvement with Hadassah. My grandmother recently published Iranian Kosher Recipes as a fundraiser for Hadassah, bringing the warmth and spice of Iranian cooking into American households in order to raise support for Israel.
Rachel Moreh: Who or what got you involved in Hadassah?
Esther Moreh: As I was the only daughter among seven children, my mother and I were very close. My mother was one of the founders of the first Iranian Jewish organizations. I would accompany my mother to the Hadassah meetings and was exposed to her vision of a better quality of life for the Jewish women and children of Iran.
RM: How did your mom become involved in Hadassah?
EM: My mother’s love and dedication to the Jewish people had always been an inspiration for me. Following World War II, many Jews who had survived the Holocaust came to Iran. During that critical period, my mother, together with other Jewish women, had welcomed these refugees into their homes, fed and comforted them with great compassion.
RM: What was your motivation behind wanting to be involved in Hadassah?
EM: It was my passion; helping other people makes me happy. We worked with an American joint organization in Iran with the common goal of raising money for Israel. Our main mission is raising money for the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, Israel. There are more than 3,000 members in Hadassah. What caught my interest with Hadassah is that the organization pays no attention to where you’re from; they will help you out no matter what.
RM: How old were you at the time when you became involved in Hadassah?
EM: I became involved with Hadassah from the age of 12 and continued to do so for 30 years. I was a chalutz (pioneer) for Israel, with the mission of spreading the idea for Iranian Jews to make aliyah (emmigrate) to Israel. We worked for women’s rights and many programs in support of the State of Israel.
RM: As an Iranian Jewish woman, did you feel as though you had a voice to make a change? What were some setbacks you faced?
EM: I did not think about attempting to change the world but I wanted to do whatever was in my power to help people. I felt no complications — it never felt like I was doing work because I loved what I was doing and wanted to make everyone happy.
RM: How did you begin working with Hadassah once again, after moving to America from Iran?
EM: After coming to America, I missed working for a Jewish organization. I began working for the Ester Chapter of Hadassah in Great Neck, New York, holding 350 members. We would hold meetings, gather all the women, and plan events that would raise money for Hadassah.
RM: How did you decide you wanted to write the cookbook?
EM: One day during one of my Hadassah meetings, I brought a variation of Persian dishes to the meeting. Within a few minutes, all the Pyrexes had been wiped clean from all the women who had indulged themselves in my dishes. Having been satisfied from their polo shived (dill rice) the women then encouraged me to write my own cookbook. As I went home that night, pondering the idea, I decided I would take on this arduous project, only with the means of donating all the profits to Hadassah. Despite my poor English, with the help of my dictionary and friends, I decided I would write the cookbook.
RM: Where did your love of cooking come from?
EM: My love for cooking came from an early age. I loved the way the aroma of spices coming from my kitchen had the power to gather my whole family at the end of each day to come together.
RM: How are you continuing your legacy with Hadassah?
EM: Today, I am still active in Hadassah. With my old age it is difficult for me to be as active as I used to be; however, I make an effort to attend meetings and share my experience with the new generation.
RM: What is your favorite dish to make?
EM: I don’t have a personal favorite dish of my own; however I’ve noticed that a favorite among many of my friends and family is polo shived.
RM: What is the secret to your amazing cooking?
EM: There is no secret to my cooking, except that what motivates me to make my dishes tasty is making people happy. Food is a basic necessity that many take for granted. It holds the incredible power to nourish a life and bring people together.
Recipe for Polo Shived (dill and rice):
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 cups rice
- 1 cup fresh dill chopped or 4 tablespoons dried dill weed
- 2 tablespoons frozen lima beans or green peas
If the rice is Basmati, wash three times and soak in salt water for two hours. Drain rice. Boil 8 cups of water, add rice. Boil on a high heat for about 10 minutes and drain.
Pour oil in a heavy pot and add the rice at the bottom of the pot. Mix the rest of the rice with dill, lima beans and pour into the pot. Cover it. Cook on low heat for about 40 minutes.
You many serve polo with fish or chicken or you can put cooked meat in the middle of the rice before steaming it. The bottom of rice will be crispy and golden.
*Recipe from Iranian Kosher Recipes by Esther Moreh