Do you think I might be sexist—or at least maybe used to be? I’m thinking of a conversation when I was in grad school at Ohio State--nearly three decades back. It was one of those get-to-know-you conversations you might have with someone you’re attracted to. In my case, that person was Mahmoud: fellow dorm-dweller, floor mate, and first friend from Iran. I was intrigued—both by him and the world he came from . . . but, okay, maybe more by him at that point. He was friendly, down to earth and wonderfully sensitive.
With Mahmoud being from Iran and all, the good thing was that there was always fodder for conversation--which brings me back to the one I was thinking about, the time we were talking about one of my favorite topics: food.
So, I said, I don’t know anything about Iranian food; do you like to cook?
Oh yes, he answered, I like to eat so I like to cook.
I could relate. Really, I answered, Do you have a favorite dish, some specialty you like to prepare?
Yes, he answered, without hesitation. Rice and potatoes.
Rice and potatoes… rice and potatoes. Rice and potatoes? I’m sorry… does that sound good to you? For all I know it does, but to me it sounded like a wet, bland concoction of starchy white overkill. Not appealing at all. So his answer threw me.
I didn’t have a comeback, other than to parrot his words politely. “Rice and potatoes?” I said to him. “Wow...” But No, I actually thought to myself, that‘s no example of Iranian cooking . . . just a sad commentary on bachelor helplessness in the kitchen—in any culture. I didn’t say it… just thought it. Did that make me somewhat less sexist, anyway?
“I’ll make it for you sometime,” he promised.
I forgot about his promise--until six months later, when he found an Iranian roommate and an apartment off-campus to invite me to. And that lovely man made dinner for me.
And what did he make? A tender stew of lamb and split peas, nestled on a bed of deep-fried
eggplant. It was bathed in tomato sauce with a lovely lime undertaste and garnished with the tender crunch of french fries--and I wondered when I’d ever smelled anything more heavenly.
He served it with a side dish of . . . rice and potatoes. Still heavy on the starch perhaps, but it didn’t match the image I had in my head.
Imagine a pyramid of steaming rice: crusted golden with slabs of potatoes on the outside and filled with tender white grains on the inside. It’s infused with the fragrance of butter and saffron, which mingles with the smells of the simmered stew. Smelling it should be feast enough—but then you’d miss out on the pleasures of seeing and tasting it.
Thirty-seven years later we’re happily married. Sometimes he cooks and sometimes I do. But whoever ends up doing the cooking, you can almost be sure there’ll be one thing on the table--and that, of course, would be rice and potatoes. That comes to about three hundred sixty-five servings times thirty - three (the number of years we’ve been married) in all—including those incredible four years in Iran, when Mahmoud’s sisters taught me their cooking secrets. And still I’m not tired of rice and potatoes.
Rice and potatoes . . . doesn’t that sound good to you?
(Click here for the recipe for rice and potatoes)*
*From the blog In Search of Yummy-ness, by Shareba
Dr. Leslie Ahmadi discovered her intercultural calling in her parents’ home at age four--where between the jazz, the spirituals, and the rock ‘n roll music, she heard folk songs in languages from around the world. Thirty years later she had a doctorate in foreign language and culture education--and her folk song guitar never far away.