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Author & Chef Marsha Mehran

Thursday, 17 November 2005

AUTHOR AND CHEF MARSHA MEHRAN

Marsha Mehran will be stopping by to chat about her fantastic new book Pomegranate Soup and to give us a taster of some of the fabulous recipes she's well known for!

A Bit about Marsha

Born in Tehran on the eve of the Islamic Revolution, Marsha Mehran escaped the upheaval of the Iran with her family.  Though her parents had no ideological ties to the upheaval, and were not religious, they came from old Bahai families and were considered infidels by orthodox Muslims and  they were often treated as second-class citizens in Iran.

During and after the revolution, living situations for Bahais worsened; several community leaders, including Marsha's great-uncle, were assassinated.  Amidst such chaos, and with their own academic ambitions in mind, my parents decided to move to America.  They were luckier than most, with a modest nest egg and letters of acceptance from the University of Arizona. 

On November 4, 1979, the day her father planned to file their visa applications with the American Embassy, a band of revolutionary students bombarded the consulate's Tehran headquarters and took the employees hostage.  This momentous turn of events, known to all Iranians as 'The Revolution', launched Marsha family into a peripatetic existence that crossed five continents, numerous cultures, and equipped me with a trunk full of adventures, both public and personal.

With the embassy under siege, her parents were not able to obtain their visas and were forced to abandon their dreams of American academia.  Following a friend's advice, they moved to Buenos Aires and opened a Middle Eastern café, El Pollo Loco (The Crazy Chicken), where the heady smells of dolmehs and spicy beef kabobs were an instant hit with Argentinean locals.

Meanwhile, at four years old, I was learning three languages simultaneously (Farsi at home, English at school, and Spanish in the streets).  Every night before going to bed, she would say goodnight in all three languages: "Shab-e kher, Buenas Noches, and Goodnight!"

Amid threats of military coups and a teetering Argentinean economy, Marsha and her parents were forced to sell their beloved café.  In the summer of 1984, we left again for Miami, Florida, where softball, florescent Now and Later candies, and Madonna were the order of the day.

Revolutions come in all varieties. The biggest one to rock her childhood occurred at age fourteen, when Marsha's parents announced their divorce.  Somewhere along the line their marriage had lost ground.  Marsha went to live with her mother in Australia, where her grandparents had migrated after the Revolution.  Although her father eventually migrated to Australia as well, Marsha's teenage years were a bewildering mélange of happy school days, custody battles and tears.

By the age of nineteen, my familial wanderlust had become personal.  Feeling hemmed in on such a distant continent, Marsha left Australia for the bright lights of New York City with only two hundred dollars in my pocket.  She took on a variety of bizarre jobs in Manhattan -- a Broadway poster girl, personal assistant on film sets, hostess in a restaurant owned by Russian mobsters, and the odd waitressing gig, while I pursued my newest venture: writing.

Manhattan was also where I met my future husband.  He was Irish and worked as a bartender in Ryan's Irish Pub on Second Avenue, and, according to my father, was an Iranian once-removed!  She now lives with her husband Christopher between Ireland and Brooklyn, where her next novel was set.

A Bit about The Book

Marsh'a book, Pomegranate Soup, is a funny and heart-warming debut about three sisters, an old box of recipes and a new, exotic café in a small Irish town.  Beneath the holy mountain Croagh Patrick, in damp and lovely County Mayo, sits the small, sheltered village of Ballinacroagh.

To the exotic Aminpour sisters, Ireland seems like a much-needed safe haven.  It has been seven years since Marjan Aminpour fled Iran with her younger sisters, Bahar and Layla, and she hopes that in Ballinacroagh, a land of "crazed sheep and dizzying roads," they might finally find a home.

From the kitchen of an old pastry shop on Main Mall, the sisters set about creating a Persian oasis.  Soon sensuous wafts of cardamom, cinnamon and saffron float through the streets - and exotic aroma that announces the opening of the Babylon Café, and a shock to a town that generally subsists on boiled cabbage and Guinness served at the local tavern.

It is an affront to the senses of Ballinacroagh's uncrowned king, Thomas McGuire.  After trying to buy the old pastry shop for years and failing, Thomas is enraged to find it occupied - and by foreigners, no less. `

But the mysterious, spicy fragrances work their magic on the townsfolk, and soon, business is booming.  Marjan is thrilled with the demand for her red lentil soup, abgusht stew and rosewater baklava - and with the transformation in her sisters.  Young Layla finds first love, and even tense, haunted Bahar seems to be less nervous.

And in the stand-up-comedian-turned-priest Father Fergal Mahoney, the gentle, lonely widow Estelle Delmonico, and the headstrong hairdresser Fiona Athey, the sisters find a merry band of supporters against the close-minded opposition of less welcoming villagers stuck in their ways.  But the idyll is soon broken when the past rushes back to threaten the Amnipours once more, and the lives they left back in revolution-era Iran bleed into the present.

Infused with the textures and scents, trials and triumphs of two distinct cultures, Pomegranate Soup is and infectious novel of magical realism.  This richly detailed story, highlighted with delicious recipes, is a delectable journey into the heart of Persian cooking and Irish living.

The book also includes eleven original Persian recipes.

RED LENTIL SOUP
Ingredients

2 cups dry red lentils.
7 large onions, chopped.
7 garlic cloves, crushed.
1 teaspoon ground turmeric.
4 teaspoons ground cumin.
1/4 cup olive oil.
5 cups chicken broth.
5 cups water.
1 teaspoon salt.
2 teaspoons nigella seeds.  (Ground black pepper may be substituted)

Method
. Place lentils in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil.
. Cook uncovered, for 9 minutes.  Drain and place aside.
. In a large stockpot, fry 6 of the chopped onions, garlic, turmeric, and cumin in olive oil until golden.
. Transfer lentils, broth, and water to the pot.
. Add salt, nigella seed or pepper to taste.
. Bring soup to a boil.
. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
. Fry the remaining onion in olive oil until crisp but not blackened.
. Add as a garnish over individual bowls of soup.

HOLIDAY POMTINI
Ingredients

3/4 oz. freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.
1 oz. Stoli® Orange.
3/4 oz. DeKuyper® Original Peachtree Schnapps® .
1 oz. fresh orange juice.
1/4 oz. lemon juice.
Equal parts ground cinnamon and granulated sugar for garnish spiraled orange rind for garnish.

Method
. Shake all drink ingredients with ice to chill.
. Serve in a martini glass prepared as follows:
. Mix in a bowl, one part ground cinnamon and one part granulated sugar.
. Moisten the rim of a martini glass by swiping a slice of orange around the rim.
. Dust glass rim with the sugared cinnamon mixture and decorate with a spiral of orange.

Note: This cocktail can be made with freshly squeezed juice from a POM Wonderful pomegranate or by using POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice.  To juice the pomegranate, cut it in half (as you would a grapefruit) and juice using a citrus reamer or a juicer.  Pour mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or sieve.  One large POM Wonderful pomegranate will produce about 1/2 cup of juice.

For Further Information
Check out www.marshamehran.com

 

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