My immigrant mother taught me that there is no better way to enjoy life than to cultivate friends through food.
During my Detroit area childhood, the Eastern European accents and food of my parents, family and their friends set the stage: I became a collector of the foreign and exotic.
As a young woman, I traveled to foreign countries and developed a passion for other cuisines. When traveling became less frequent, I collected cookbooks and prepared meals from other cultures; eventually I turned to teaching and writing about them. Hearing a slight accent in someone’s English is reason enough for me to beg a new foreign acquaintance to cook with me, or to issue him or her an invitation for dinner.
Imagine my delight when long-time friend, colleague and chef, Lynne Brach, asked me to join in preparing a Persian meal with Iranian student Nayereh Doosti for her fellow students at The Leelanau School. My heart leapt at the chance to meet this young Iranian and try my Persian cooking skills on her experienced palate and at hearing her stories of life in a very foreign culture — hers and ours. Although many in the United States have negative associations with Iran and other cultures, I have found that by shifting my focus from divisive politics to everyday people I’ve been able find warm and meaningful cultural connections.
Iran is a small part of what was the great, ancient Persian Empire, which at its height encompassed three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. At its greatest, the empire included modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of Central Asia, Asia Minor, Thrace and Macedonia, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and ancient Egypt as far west as Libya. In 1935 Persia officially changed its name to Iran (Land of Aryans), which is its name in Farsi.