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Nazri Cooking: How religion and tradition interact

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran


Today is Arbaeen, the 40th day after the death of Imam Hossein, the 3rd Imam in Shia Islam who was martyred in Kabala.  This Imam is highly regarded in Iran and many people cook food in his memory (Nazri) and give it to the poor, friends and family.



Many people regard the Iranians as being so much more religious than they really are, when in reality they are much more traditionalist and, some may say, superstitious and eager to keep bad spirits away.



I remember when I was a child, on one of the most holy days in the Islamic calendar, my grandmother who was the eldest in her family would make an Ush-e Sholeghalamkar, (a special nourishing vegetable soup) for the health and well being of all our big family throughout the year. 



All the family came over in the evening and one or two truly huge pots rented for the occasion were heated up on a massive stove made for the purpose, in the middle of the yard.  All the meat that been washed and cut, all the many different types of beans that had been cleaned washed and semi cooked, and so many special vegetables cleaned, washed, semi dried, very finely cut, along with gallons of water and the necessary salt were all put in to the pans and brought to the boil and then everybody would in turn go and stir it with a huge paddle. The stirring went on for hours. The pans were so huge one could fit into them!



We were told that if we made a wish while we were stirring the ush then it had a good chance of coming true.  As children we loved those nights when the elders were busy talking and we were free to stay up very late and play.  Mattresses would be spread in all the rooms, halls and everybody would find a corner to sleep.  I would not go to sleep and would stay up until 3:30-4:00a.m, when they would turn down the fire and put a lid on the ush and then we would light our candles on the lid of the pan after making our wishes.  I still remember those nights with great nostalgia.  



Early the next morning, the grown ups would put the ush in all possible containers brought by guests, or anything that could be found in the house, to be given to friends and neighbors.  Those who had not come, or had come and gone, would come back to the house to collect their share of the ush.   The tradition of making the ush was passed on to my grandmother from her parents.  When she passed away 15 years ago, my mom took over the responsibility.  By then life had become more pragmatic, so the ush was made on the nearest Thursday (as Friday is a holiday in Iran) to make things easier.



Soon my mom realized that she could not manage to organize such a big feast every year, because it was customary to feed all the guests for dinner, and also for breakfast, and besides the cost it was simply too much hard work to do and my sisters and I were all busy with our own lives and work and could not give her enough help, so it became a small occasion just for close family.



My mom's first cousin, Zari Khanoum, took over the family tradition when my mom became ill and after her passing away.  This morning we went to her to pick up our share of the ush and some other Nazri cooking (Khoroushte Fesenjoon and Ghormehsabzi[1]) from her house.



My aunt Pari does a similar tradition which has been passed to her from her husband's family, and holds a lunch every year where a huge amount of rice and ghaymeh[2] is cooked and distributed to family, friends and the poor.   Later this morning we went there to pick up our share of the ghaymeh and sholezard[3].   So we are ok for food for a few days and, not only that, all the food feels sort of blessed because so many good vibes has been put in it when it was cooked.


Jaye shoma khali (we missed you) - it tasted great

[1]   Khoroshet  = Stew

     Fesenjoon - a stew made of walnuts, pomegranate juice, plum and baby meat balls

     Ghormehsabzi - is a stew made with lamb meat, special vegetable and red beans

[2] Ghaymeh - is a stew made of small chunks of meat with yellow lentils and fine chips served with rice

[3] Sholehzard- is a desert made from rice, saffron ,sugar and  finely chopped almond garnished with cinnamon


... Payvand News - 3/10/07 ... --

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