“Exile, Food, and Identity,” anecdote and recipe by Angella M. Nazarian

I write in my family memoir, Life as a Visitor, “We didn’t bring furniture. Not many clothes. No art. If you’ve never had to leave your homeland forever, the importance of these ‘things’ might be harder to understand. Most people have family treasures collected

over a lifetime of patterned tranquility spent in the same town or the same neighbor- hood…. They offer their keepers a sense of identity and continuity.” The most valued treasure has been the Iranian-Jewish community’s love of ritual. Our love for keeping and celebrating our Jewish heritage with its Middle Eastern or Persian flavor has been the glue that has kept us together as community even after more than 30 years of leaving, or rather escaping Iran and setting roots in the US.

Not coincidentally, this love for culture enabled this Jewish community to preserve its unique identity in Iran for centuries. Shabbat dinners are congenial and oftentimes cousins and extended family are invited. It is not unusual for us to host around 40 people for Shabbat. It seems to be the best way to keep our connections to our family and friends—getting together and sharing a meal and catching up with one another.

Persian meals are elaborate. Hosts and guests alike take as a given that many kinds of stews and different rice dishes will be on display at the table, and that a good host will have plenty of leftovers.

Typically, white basmati rice is served with different kinds of stews. Here are two types of stews that are prepared.

Stew

(Serves 6 people)

2 pounds beef stew meat cut into cubes 2 medium onions
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 quinces

10 dried apricots
1 large can of stewed tomatoes, puréed 1 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon pomegranate paste
sugar, if needed
salt, pepper

Slice the onions and fry them in a stew pot. Salt and pepper the beef. Add the cubed beef when the onions are translucent. Continue browning the beef until all sides are brown. Then reduce the heat and cover the pot to render the juice of the meat for approximately 20 minutes. Lift the lid and continue cooking on medium heat until all the juices are evaporated. Then add 4 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder to cover the meat and continue cooking until the meat is tender (one hour or more if needed).

Meanwhile, wash and slice the quinces. Remove the seeds and fry the slices in a pan on each side, until golden brown. Set aside.

When the meat is cooked well, add the pureed tomatoes, 1/2 cup of the pomegran- ate juice, and the tablespoon of pomegranate paste. Add the 10 dried apricots to the pot and mix well and bring to a boil. Then add the quinces and cook on medium to low heat until the quinces are tender.

Taste to see if the stew needs more pomegranate juice (if you want the stew to be more sour). If it does, pour in the rest. It should be tart and a little sweet, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. You may add some sugar if it’s not sweet enough.

Adjust with salt and pepper to taste.