Cooking Iranian food with a prayer in my heart
January 12, 2020
I don't think it was a conscious decision. Consciously, I was thinking: I brought dried limes home from a recent trip to one of the markets in Albany. What can I do with them? Oh, I know. Samin Nosrat talks about dried limes in Persian food; I'll make something Persian! A few days of comparing recipes led me to this slow cooker Ghormeh Sabzi / Persian herb stew recipe.
But once I was cooking -- inhaling the scent of onions and garlic and turmeric, and then leeks and bunches of parsley and cilantro and last summer's frozen chives chopped and sautéed -- it occurred to me that I was making Iranian food. And I wonder whether the pull toward this recipe came from somewhere deeper than just "what can I make with dried limes."
There's so little I can do about the actions of my nation's government. I know that refreshing the New York Times and the Washington Post and my Twitter stream as often as I habitually do is probably not good for my mental or emotional or spiritual wellbeing, and yet... And yet I do those things anyway, on days that are not Shabbat, and therefore my heart keeps being broken.
My heart is broken by the state of America's body politic. By disinformation and misinformation. By fake news and propaganda. By threats and bluster. By fear for what this administration might do. By the knowledge that war is not an abstraction to military families -- nor to innocents who will be traumatized, or will die, simply because they're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And I can't do anything about any of it. Sure, I can write to my Congresspeople, and I can volunteer toward electing a president whose values align better with mine, but neither of those will help now. But I can hold the people of Iran in my heart -- and the people of Iraq too, for that matter. I can pray for them (and us) to know hope and connection, health and prosperity.
I would love to visit Iran. To taste the food, to wander the markets, to see the Pink Mosque, to see the ruins of Persepolis, and most of all to meet Iranian people. I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. But I imagine that if I were able somehow to make it there, people would be warm and welcoming. People are warm and welcoming everywhere I've ever been.
I remember traveling in Jordan the year before the Iraq war began, fearful that people would be angry about the actions of my nation's government. And yet when I acknowledged where I'm from, every single person I met welcomed me. Some of them indicated that they weren't fans of President Bush (hey, neither was I!) but none of them held my nationality against me.
When we meet each other as human beings, with curiosity and openness, we can learn so much about each other -- and also about ourselves. That's why travel is so broadening. And even if we can't travel, we can seek to meet others in the places where we are. My understanding of my religious tradition calls me strongly to welcome the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger.
There's so much brokenness in the world today. It breaks my heart that my nation now accepts fewer refugees than ever before. And that this week my nation veered close to the brink of war with Iran. And that we are living in times of rising xenophobia in so many places. I can't fix any of these. Today all I can do is cook Persian food and hold the people of Iran in my prayers.