My Persian ‘in-laws slash extended family’ number into the double dozens at an average get together. It took me a couple years to figure out which of the ‘cousins’ were actually cousins and which were, you know, ‘cousins’. It hardly mattered as once you are loved by one of them you are Family. Period. I really do consider my happy inclusion into this super-sized family one of the greatest unexpected pleasures of my life.
A large family gathering in my childhood usually just meant that my grandmother was coming for dinner thereby making it necessary to set the table for five instead of four. Now I have learned to skip the table setting altogether and prepare to feed twenty by buffet.
If you can think of a single culture where family celebration is not bound to eating food let me know. One of my favorite Persian feasting days occurs on the thirteenth day of the Persian New Year (“Norooz”). The day is called “Sizdah Bedar” which in English means “getting rid of thirteen”. It is easily my favorite Persian celebration day and while there are a lot of fun traditions associated with the day ranging from ritual evasion of bad luck to finding a husband the real point of the day is to be with your family outside of the home — in a park or in the wilderness. Think of it as something akin to our July 4th holiday — only it is held in April and without any natural blonds in attendance.
So why am I telling you all this when today’s recipe is Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars? Good question! I brought these All-American treats to the family’s Sizdah Bedar festivities when it rolled by a couple of weeks ago. Not being personally qualified to bring Persian food and being a natural blond, I decided instead to bring something uniquely American. What is more American than peanut butter and jelly?
Let me first say that bringing food to a Persian event can be a tricky endeavor for any Westerner. I didn’t always understand why some dishes I brought were devoured while others would sit untouched but I knew there were some unseen variables at play. It couldn’t have much to do with the quality of the dish (naturally!) since these same dishes would get devoured at my own events.
It only took a small amount of empathy for me to eventually realize that when my extended Persian family gets together as a group they are not only checking in with each other but also with their shared common experience and the culture they share but also left behind. So, the fire pits are set up at the park to make the Jujeh Kebab (saffron marinated chicken kebabs) and platters of traditional foods like kotlet and salad olivieh are brought to the tables once again for in this setting and in these moments they are back in the Iran they knew together.
PBJ bars don’t really further this scenario much do they? Its a bit like someone enthusiastically bringing egg rolls to Thanksgiving Dinner. These bars didn’t do badly though and I didn’t have any left to bring home. The little kids felt free to dive in and enjoy while the adults ate their French inspired Persian pastries. If my confidence weakened at seeing the bars sit out at the desert table vit quickly reversed its course when I saw person after person attempt to sneak a bar or two into their purse for later enjoyment.
By the time it was dark and time to go home the box had been empty for a few hours.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
Adapted from Bon Appetit
This is what you will need:
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
- 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup grape jelly or other jelly or jam
- 2/3 cup coarsely chopped salted dry-roasted peanuts
This is how you make it:
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with heavy-duty foil, leaving 2-inch overhang around edges and pressing firmly into corners and up sides of pan.
- Coat foil with nonstick spray.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in small bowl.
- Using electric mixer, beat peanut butter, sugar, and butter in large bowl until smooth.
- Add egg and vanilla; beat on low speed until smooth.
- Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend.
- Transfer half of dough to prepared pan (about scant 1 1/2 cups).
- Place remaining dough in freezer for 10 minutes.
- Using fingertips, press dough evenly onto bottom of pan.
- Spread jelly over in even layer.
- Remove dough from freezer; using fingertips, break into grape-size pieces and scatter over jelly layer.
- Sprinkle chopped nuts over.
- Bake bars until top is golden brown, about 35 minutes.
- Cool bars completely in pan on rack.
- Using foil overhang as aid, lift bars from pan.
- Gently peel foil from edges.
- Cut into 16 squares.
- Store airtight at room temperature.