Edible Archives: Cooking with Maman Akhtar

In our modern age, recipes are most often written instructions for preparing a dish that we find online or in a published book. The internet superhighway and websites like All Recipes and Pinterest give us infinite access to recipes from around the world. And while we surely appreciate the opportunity to teach ourselves how to make Vietnamese egg crepes or Guatemalan tamals, we’re missing out on an integral aspect of how recipes were historically captured and shared…through story.

The stories that are woven into a recipe create a type of time capsule for tradition, family history, culture, and sometimes even political climate that cannot be itemized, e-mailed, or repinned. The oral tradition of recipe sharing embodies the art of intuitive cooking wherein food preparation is guided by the senses rather than measuring cups and teaspoons. The methods of tasting, smelling, and eyeballing give a heightened consciousness of our food and builds a new relationship with what we put into our bodies.

Beyond the sharing of foodways that occurs with oral recipes there is a building of relationships and community that occurs. The unifying power of food–growing, cooking, and eating it–is more easily shared in plurals. The single dimension of receiving instructions from print robs us of the exchange of stories, experiences, and history.

The Edible Archives series seeks to preserve the art of oral and experiential recipes by capturing foodways in action. Paired with a written recipe, these videos provide a deeper dimension to foods from around the globe, while giving you the opportunity to test a recipe (ideally in the company of others!).

Preserving our Familial Foodways

We figured there’s no better place to start archiving than within our our own familial foodways, featuring our beloved Maman Akhtar–grandmother (in-law), chef, and bastion of love and nourishment. Filling the tummies of her grandchildren, sons, nieces, nephews, and siblings is something Maman Akhtar has done since her teenage years back in Iran.

Now, with most of her family stateside, cooking ghormeh sabzi, fesenjoon, and khorest ‘eh karafs is a cultural lifeline for many of her family members who haven’t been back to Iran since the revolution that occurred in the late seventies. For her American born grandchildren her food is one of the most tangible connections to their Iranian identity.

Khoresht ‘eh karafs (celery stew) is a beautiful display of what we love most about Persian food. The use of fresh, light ingredients like mint, lime juice, and celery are perfectly balanced by the thickness and piping hot temperature that ground and recenter you. Archiving Maman Akhtar’s method to cooking allows us to not only capture and practice her intuitive sense, but also share her history and wisdom with the generations who do not have the privilege to cook with this spunky and silly bastion of love.

Please enjoy!

Khoresht 'eh Karafs (Persian Celery Stew)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 to 6 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch of celery, chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 cups chopped parsley
  • 2 cups freshly chopped or dried mint
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 large rhubarb stalks, chopped into 2-inch pieces or 2 dried limes with knife punctures
  • **Optional: 2 cup precooked meat (stew beef or shredded chicken) or kidney beans

Directions:

Simmer 4-5 cups of water to in a large pot. At the same time, pre-heat a large skillet and add vegetable oil to coat the surface to allow you to sauté the chopped celery for 2-3 minutes. Transfer sautéed celery to the simmering pot of water. In the same skillet, sauté the finely chopped parsley and mint for 2-3 minutes until herbs are aromatic. Transfer sautéed herbs to the pot of water and celery.

Mix turmeric, pepper, and salt into the khoresht (stew) pot. Add chopped rhubarb or punctured dried limes and stir to incorporate all ingredients. Add up to 1 cup of water (as needed) to ensure ingredients are submerged. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Ingredients should be well incorporated and flavor should have notes of acidity.

Serve with basmati rice and tahdig!

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