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My Big Fat Bulgarian-Iraqi-Canadian-Sefardi Seder

My Big Fat Bulgarian-Iraqi-Canadian-Sefardi Seder

Rice on Passover? That's just the way Sefardis roll!

Longer days, melting snow and the Stanley Cup playoffs all heralded the coming of spring where I grew up . But for my sisters and me, it was my father's declaration that he and my mother were going to get fresh maple syrup that proved that winter had finally passed. Maple syrup is a key ingredient in my mother's special charoset, so we knew that Passover was just around the corner.

My mother was born in Iraq and received most of her culinary training from my grandmother in their bustling Middle Eastern kitchen. As I grew up, my friends would often clamor to visit me in order to sample some of my mother's exotic cooking. To me it was always just "cooking."  I was grateful but I certainly didn't think of it as exotic. Passover was entirely different. That was the one time of year when even I recognized that the flavors coming from my mother's kitchen were indeed unique.

You see, my Iraqi mother met my Bulgarian father in Israel and eventually settled in Canada. Our seders often took four times longer to complete than any of my friends'. While English was the one common language around the daily dining room table, there was no such thing as a common language around the seder table. Arabic, Hebrew, English, and even Bulgarian were all spoken—sometimes at once—to create our own little Tower of Babel.

Despite any linguistic division, we all awaited the arrival of the seder meal.  My mother's delicious cooking was sure to satisfy everyone's tastes. With all apologies to the seder plate, the centerpiece of our table was my mother's Tibts [pronounced: te–beets], a traditional stuffed chicken dish served on a bed of rice and customarily cooked overnight. Here's my mom's recipe:

Tibts (kitniyot)*


1 whole chicken, innards removed
Additional skinned, boneless chicken breasts
2 cups rice
1 cup water
1 onion, sliced
1 can tomato paste
Salt, pepper, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon to taste
Oil for frying
Butcher's twine


  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees F
  • Wash chicken inside and out; set aside
  • Wash and soak rice for 1/2 an hour; set aside
  • In a pan, fry the onion in a small amount of oil until golden brown; set aside
  • Cut chicken breasts into cubes
  • Drain the rice and combine in a large bowl with the cubed chicken breasts, 1/2 a can of the tomato paste and a pinch each of the spices.
  • Place stuffing inside the cavity of the chicken and sew the cavity closed with butcher's twine.
  • Place the chicken in an ovenproof pot with a lid
  • To the pot, add the second cup of rice, 1 cup of water, 1/2 a can of tomato paste and the a pinch each of the spices
  • Distribute the fried onions all around the chicken
  • Cover the pot and bake at 250 degrees F for 4 hours

*As sefardim, rice and other kitniyot are common at our Passover table. If you do not eat kitniyot on Passover, you might try this dish with quinoa, but you will have to leave out the cardamom and cloves, which also count as kitniyot.

Maple Walnut Charoset


6 cups of whole walnuts, shelled
Maple syrup


  • Chop walnuts in a food processor to a fine consistency. Do not over process!
  • Add maple syrup so that the walnuts are just covered by the syrup (or to preferred consistency)
  • Pour into a serving bowl and serve with matzah

You can modify this recipe to get any desired number of servings.

What special Passover traditions do you observe?