Cooking Aubergine Stew with Halleh Ghorashi

(Or as we Americans call it: Eggplant)

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Before going to Iran, I had eaten only stale, tasteless turmeric that added colour rather than flavour. On my first full day in Iran, I had a dish of eggplant stuffed with ground lamb, topped with unripe grapes, and seasoned with turmeric. I thought it was cinnamon, even writing in my diary that it was a different kind of cinnamon, “deeper and more earthy tasting. It isn’t as light or sweet. I guess you could say that it tastes as though it was grown with cumin…”

Now, every time I taste turmeric, I think of those early days in Iran, when I hadn’t yet overdosed on kebab and hospitality, and every meal was rife with new flavours and observations.

Food is a bridge to the past, and the best dishes come accompanied by good stories. This week, I cooked a stew of eggplant and chicken with Halleh Ghorashi, an influential scholar in the Netherlands, who I know came there as a refugee. Among her friends, however, she is more known for her cooking than for any of her academic accomplishments.

“When I cook, I cook with love,” she said. “I think of it like a painting that I compose with care.”

The dish she chose to cook was one that provided an enduring link with her mother and her own troubled childhood. When she cooks her eggplant dish, Halleh can’t help but remember the strain of growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia.

“It was always a painful relationship. Her life was dominated by her sickness and there was a direct connection between her miserable life and me, since her schizophrenia emerged with my birth. From that moment, my mom was never normal like other moms. I was often embarrassed of her sickness. She was fighting all the time with her family, with the neighbours, with my father, with everyone.”

Read the whole article on Tehran Bureau, The Guardian