Persian Cuisine as Art
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Persian Cuisine as Art

Gilda Shemtoob expresses her hospitality and love of food through catering.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

This eggplant dip with fried onions and fresh mint is a work of art.
This eggplant dip with fried onions and fresh mint is a work of art.

The flavors of turmeric, saffron, and cumin waft though caterer Gilda Shemtoob’s kitchen. Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Shemtoob grew up surrounded in hospitality and food preparation as “how people showed their love and care for each other.”

Now, Shemtoob manifests her cooking into precise displays of art and taste — some by necessity, some after marriage. Shemtoob said, “By virtue of our culture, I was in charge of the cooking.”

Gilda Shemtoob’s own children grew up going to The Epstein School and Camp Barney Medintz. In turn, she likes cooking for the Jewish community.

Arriving at this point took a circuitous route. After living in Italy for almost a year, while waiting for visas from HIAS (originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), she moved to the U.S. in 1989. She recalled, “Honestly, my first destination was a culture shock in all aspects, including the culinary consciousness. A new life and a new beginning were exciting and terrifying at the same time.”

To be an independent woman, she began working at a pizza shop at Lenox Mall. She then started as a cashier at Bob Ellis Shoes, where she was promoted and remained for 32 years. After owner Jeffrey Kalinsky closed shop in 2020, Shemtoob seized the opportunity to follow her dreams to cater.

Saffron and blood orange roasted salmon makes a hearty entrée.

Cooking all along the way, she stated, “My inspiration comes from the rich culture and heritage of home cooking in Iran with tons of earthy spices, fresh herbs, and vegetables. Persian cuisine offers the most aromatic and mouthwatering dishes. The variety is endless, and each region has its own specialties.”

Posting her dishes on Instagram and Facebook gave her the attention to cater Shabbat dinners, birthdays, anniversaries, High Holidays, and Passover meals. She has also catered events at local synagogues, fund raisers, and in cooking demonstrations.

Shemtoob said, “I’m a big believer in using top-quality ingredients…[it’s] imperative in making delicious dishes. From appetizers served with Mediterranean-style breads, Persian dips, soups and salads to kababs and famous Persian rice dishes and traditional dessert like Persian baklava and ice-cream.”

Kookoo sabizi — Persian frittata rolled in labneh and barberries and walnuts is a Shemtoob specialty.

Shemtoob is not AKC certified, but she will prepare kosher and/or vegetarian options in a client’s home as a personal chef.

Working in the kitchen, food shopping, and experimenting give her satisfaction.

She concluded, “In my culture, food is life. So many of our traditions and celebrations are centered around food — none would be complete without a feast. We have varying traditions for Jewish holidays and Shabbat. As I grew up celebrating my culture, my hobby turned to an obsession.”

Shemtoob believes in fresh ingredients shown here in her pomegranate fresh orange salad.

Recipe for Adas Polo (Lentil rice)

Basmati Rice, 2 Cups
Green Lentils, 1 1/2 Cup
Large onion, 2 thinly sliced
Carrots, 2-3 large (cut to small cubes)
Cumin, 1 tbs
Olive oil, ½ cup
Salt, 3-4 tbs
Saffron, ¼ tsp
Turmeric, ½ tbs
Potatoes, 3 medium (cut to ½ inch slices)

Rinse the rice thoroughly a few times until the water is clear. Soak the rice for 4-5 hours.
Cook the lentils on medium heat with 1 cup of water and two tablespoons of olive oil and some salt until the water is absorbed. They should retain shape and have a nice bite.
Sauté’ the carrots with olive oil and saffron and cumin.
In a frying pan, heat 3 tbs of olive oil, ½ tsp turmeric and the onions, sauté’ until lightly golden brown.
In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water to the boil. Add the salt (3- 4 tbs) and drain the water from the soaked rice then add the rice. Boil for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the brand of rice.
The rice should be cooked al dente. Drain the rice in a colander with small holes, not to lose the rice.
In a nonstick pot large enough for all the ingredients, add the rest of the olive oil and a pinch of saffron and the potato slices. (You can substitute turmeric)
Layer ¼ of the rice, ¼ of lentils, carrots, and sprinkle some of the onions. Continue the layering. Make a mountain, avoid touching the rice with the walls of the pot.
Sprinkle the rest of the saffron on the top. Pour ½ cup of water around the rice to create a steam to achieve fluffiness.
Cook on medium heat for 45 min to an hour.
Serve rice on a platter.
The potatoes on the bottom will be golden and crispy.

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