When I was a teenager, my first real job was at a local cafe and bakery. They were well-loved in the community: for their wedding cakes, their fancy pastries, and their delightful and new-to-me Persian treats. I learned on my first day to not smear brown avocado on a sandwich (duh!); I learned what Dutch crunch bread was. I discovered Persian desserts, cooling and fragrant with rose water: faloodeh and balmieh, and I fell in love with zoolbia, a deep-fried treat whose crisp shell burst with a sweet rose water syrup.
I remember listening to the owner in conversation with his friends while he painstakingly decorated marzipan-sheathed wedding cakes, or worked out layer upon layer of a delicious sesame-specked flatbread, barbari. Sometimes, folks would come in on a Sunday morning and buy 5 or 10 at a time. Once, he remarked out of the blue, glass of water in hand, All we need in life is water and bread. That has always stayed with me.
Sometimes, it seemed, the entire local Persian community would come through on a weekend, to stock up on their favorite desserts, and that amazing flatbread, to say hello to friends and gossip about who was getting married.
What I don’t remember, though, is anyone at the cafe talking about how or why they came to the United States from Iran. I think we tend to forget that Iran, a country so deeply mischaracterized and politicized in the United States, is the same cultural powerhouse that was Persia, with all of its art, commerce, philosophy, poetry. Their food ways are as rich and nuanced as their history. Why did so many Iranians come here? The story of Iran’s revolution, and the many thousands of people who were forced to leave in the late 70s, is a hard one. Let’s not follow their lead.
Rick Steves says it best: Most Iranians, like most Americans, simply want a good life and a safe homeland for their loved ones.
Here’s the thing: this is a country of immigrants. Except for the native people who were here first, among which few of us can lay claim, most of us hold family stories of an uncomfortable or perhaps frightening journey, away from what we have known and loved, away from our community, our people, our food, our language, our place, to another place. Let’s remember that we are humans, first and foremost, with the same needs, desires, and hopes. Let’s not let petty tribalism get in the way. We are better than that.
Immigrant Food Stories: A group of food bloggers collaborated on a series of posts to share stories of immigrants through the lens of food. This is the beginning of a new series. Interested in joining? Let me know.
Our first round of stories:
Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem
Lily Diamond, Kale & Caramel
Karen Chan, Honestly YUM
Emma Galloway, My Darling Lemon Thyme
WINTER SQUASH FRITTERS
Adapted from Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Cuisine
(And read her lovely essay on her trip to Iran last year.)
The only thing I was unable to find for these amazing little fritters were dried rose petals, alas. If you can find them locally, add two tablespoons. I love how flavorful these are for being so simple. I love that they are inherently gluten-free; the chickpea flour’s distinctive, nutty flavor is perfect here. And what a great way to make use of winter squash at the end of its season.
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
3 green onions, diced
2 cups grated winter squash (butternut, acorn, etc)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup crumbled Feta
Olive oil or ghee
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the walnuts and the green onions. Add the squash, eggs, flour, cumin, sea salt and black pepper and mix thoroughly. Gently fold in the Feta.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add enough olive oil to coat. Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter into the pan, giving about one inch of space between each. Flatten gently with a fork, and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until golden and crisped. You may need to lower the heat as you go. Drain the fritters on paper towels, and place in the warmed oven.
To serve, top each fritter with a dollop of yogurt. Enjoy!
Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,
For your mother and my mother