I always have conversations about food when I go to see my hairdresser Fereshteh. “Iranians are feeders,” she says. “A bountiful table is essential, especially for Nowruz.” We swap recipes and enthuse about sumac, saffron and pomegranate molasses while she snips away.
Nowruz is a largely secular festival that signals the arrival of the spring. This year, it will take place under the devastating shadow of the unrest sparked by the death last September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini during her detention by the morality police for allegedly breaking rules on hijabs.
In turbulent times, food brings us comfort, but it’s also a powerful form of resistance. It’s a force for bringing people together and creating spaces for nourishment, conversation and protest.
#CookForIran is a volunteer-led human-rights campaign founded by entrepreneur Layla Yarjani to raise awareness for the people of Iran. It calls for a sort of culinary solidarity. “My hope was to build a space where Iranian people and their allies could unite,” she says. “By encouraging people to prepare Persian dishes, they may be more inclined to talk about the protests and then spread the word instead of getting desensitised to the news.”
Fereshteh fondly remembers celebrations in Tehran before her family fled post-revolutionary Iran for Britain. “Cooking gives me solace,” she says. “Celebrating something that reminds me of the good times brings me hope.”
Gathering to break bread is key to building communities and friendships. We take food to new neighbours or new parents. We eat together in celebration, and we eat together in loss. Now we must cook and eat together to fight oppression, for women, freedom and life.
Barberry chicken polow
Perfectly cooked rice is the culinary emblem of Persian cooking. This opulent dish celebrates the tradition of mixing meat with fruit, nuts and persistent but subtle spice.
Heat the olive oil in a wide casserole dish, then add the almonds and barberries. Fry until the almonds are golden.
Remove the almonds and barberries from the pan with a slotted spoon, then add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and bay leaf. Sizzle briefly, then add the sliced onion and garlic and fry over a low heat until caramelised.
Add the chicken and sprinkle in the ground spices. Once the spices are fragrant and the chicken is sealed, pour in the hot stock. Once it comes to a boil, add the dried limes and their soaking water, two-thirds of the fried almonds and barberries and sprinkle in the rice.
Cover and cook over a very low heat for 10-12 minutes until the rice has absorbed the stock.
Transfer the polow to a serving platter and drizzle over the saffron with its water. Scatter over the remaining almonds and barberries and the parsley, then serve.
Ravinder Bhogal is chef-patron of Jikoni. Follow Ravinder on Instagram @cookinboots and Twitter @cookinboots
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News Source: https://www.ft.com/content/e13e57a7-9267-460e-83f7-3acf958ce0fd