Editor’s Note: Heated has asked contributors to write about a dish they’re cooking that cuts through bleak headlines, forced isolation, and limited ingredients to bring them joy; we’ll be running at least one contribution a day through this social-distancing stretch.
I grew up in Queens. My mother was born in England to Persian parents who fled the country when Jews were persecuted in the 1920s. My dad was born in Brooklyn to Ashkenazi parents, who viewed cooking as an exercise in boiling things in pots of water into saltless oblivion. Obviously, I tended to gravitate toward my mother’s family’s cooking — more specifically, my grandmother, Bibi’s.
Bibi hosted nearly every family gathering around her 12-seat dining room table (who has those anymore?), cooking in pots so large they could have been used to bathe small children. In them, she made platter upon platter of rice — green rice flecked with dill; jeweled rice with sour cherries, pistachios, orange peel, and almonds; silken rice tossed with plump raisins, braised veal, and carrots; steamy white rice stained with saffron. There were tiny triangular sanbouseh (savory turnovers) filled up with beef, boat-sized terrines filled with slow-simmering stews called khoresh, and chelo galeyeh — a spinach soup made with bunches of dill, cilantro, and parsley served with fat moist meatballs called gondee, melt-away pieces of braised chicken, and eggs, dropped in raw and poached in the soup.
And after dinner came the platters of fresh fruit and trays of little round cookies made from groundnuts and rosewater, dusted in powdered sugar, and the glasses of tea with lump sugar. She cooked as fervently as she fed us, as though our lives depended on it.
So you see why I liked her cooking. Bibi was the best cook I have ever known. And I have known some good cooks over my life.
Bibi died the day before Christmas in 2009, the winter I was pregnant with my daughter…