Friday, January 27, 2023

Like many others, Fair Lawn native Oshrat Emrani took the onset of the global pandemic as a chance to pursue more of her hobbies. And as it turns out, the joy she gets from feeding others is more than just a hobby—it’s a passion. Along with her close friend Yael, Oshrat began documenting her culinary creations on a joint Instagram account, @spicebetweenus, which in just two short years has close to 10,000 followers. The account boasts accessible, interesting recipes with a healthy approach, and mainly focuses on Middle Eastern cuisine.

“I was newly married at the time, and was thinking about what I wanted to do during the lockdown,” Oshrat told The Jewish Link. “I started documenting my cooking and writing down the recipes along with my friend Yael, who was also a newlywed at the time.” Oshrat explained that after schools began to reopen, Yael returned to work as a teacher but still contributes recipes as often as she can.

Without her friend, Oshrat teamed up with her older sister, Rinat Lahijani, for collaboration on @spicebetweenus. Having grown up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, the sisters attended the Moriah School as well as Yeshivat Frisch. Even as the years went by, the duo never lost touch with their upbringing and cultural traditions, which Oshrat described as a mix between Ashkenazi from their mother’s side and Syrian from their father’s.

“Everyone says this about their own mom, but we really believe that our mom is the greatest cook ever,” said Oshrat. “When we were growing up, her dishes were the excitement of the whole neighborhood. I never realized how special that was until I moved away from home and didn’t have it. So I set out to recreate what I saw growing up.”

The challenge of recreating her childhood food memories came when Oshrat was living in Israel after high school. “I would talk to my mom on the phone a lot, and she would give me verbal instruction … and I was trying to recreate based on taste alone, which was challenging in a place like Israel where the supermarkets are different,” she said.

A seedling of passion was planted when Oshrat's friends began giving her the feedback that her mother received when she was growing up—phrases like, “I’ve been waiting so long to have this!”—and she knew she was onto something.

Along with plenty of Persian food, the @spicebetweenus account explores Syrian, Moroccan, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern cuisines, as well as other fun recipes like waffles and knishes. The common denominators? They’re all easy to make and err on the healthier side.

“A lot of traditional dishes are intimidating to people,” Oshrat explained. “We want to make them approachable. This way, the traditions can be handed down for generations.”

She demonstrated this idea with the Syrian miniature spiced meat pie, lahamajin, several different iterations of which are featured on @spicebetweenus.

“A lot of people say, ‘Wow, lahamajin must be so difficult to make!’ and we want to show them that it’s not.” Oshrat clarified that for many home cooks, approachability includes being healthy, and people become turned off when they see a recipe using too much oil or sugar. “With lahamajin, many suggest adding lamb fat to the dough; it’s delicious, but we know that it can be made with plenty of spices and some acids instead of the additional fat. That’s how we like to make our recipes.”

Of course, the sisters know that many Middle Eastern dishes simply can’t be made without frying—and that’s OK, too. “An air-fried Moroccan cigar just isn’t the real thing,” Oshrat joked.

Another common denominator for the recipes on @spicebetweenus is that they are all kid-tested and approved, thanks to Rinat's four children. “When Rinat makes a recipe, she also feeds it to her kids, and they prefer these dishes to things like mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. We love that the traditions are being passed down.”

Oshrat and her husband moved from Manhattan to Miami during the pandemic in search of more space, and ended up staying. Rinat, on the other hand, lives with her family in Great Neck, New York. So how do the two sisters collaborate on recipes so seamlessly?

“We have a shared virtual notebook where we jot down content ideas,” explained Oshrat. “We each try out recipes individually, and then share our feedback with each other. We refine it until it works. It’s a really fun bonding experience we get to have as sisters.”

Another benefit of the space—or “spice”—between them is adapting recipes to regional ingredient availability, which varies between New York and Florida. Oshrat was surprised to learn that even in our modern era, there are items that still cannot be found in certain places, and so all of the recipes are created with availability in mind.

Though food blogging and recipe development is not Oshrat’s full-time job, she shared that it is what makes her happy. “This is where I get my energy from,” she said, and continued that she hopes she can continue balancing her professional career with her culinary aspirations.

“When I started this account, I didn’t want it to be a business from the outset because I didn’t want it to stop being fun. Now that we’ve gotten some requests for collaboration and recipe development from food brands and supermarkets, I can see our food having a real future,” Oshrat shared.

She noted that one day, she hopes there will be a @spicebetweenus cookbook, a necessity for prepping big Shabbat and Yom Tov meals. Until then, she and her sister will keep it up on Instagram—with plenty more delicious recipes to come.

Follow @spicebetweenus on Instagram.

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