Pari Ardalan Malek
January 24, 2001
From the preface to Pari Ardalan Malek's Joy
of Persian Cooking: Persian-American Cuisine (2000, Abjad Book Designers
and Builders). Malek is a mother of three, grandmother of four and wife
of a diplomat and former Iranian ambassador to Sweden, Finland and Iceland.
Her book is a collection of more than 500 recipes, drawn from Iran as well
as from her years in Europe. The Iranian will feature one of her
recipes every week, starting today (see below).
Ever since I came to the United States as a teenager,
watching my mother work around the kitchen, I have been fascinated by the
art of cooking. Persian cooking is an art, and a table laden with Persian
dishes is a delightful sight. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, but
the taste is also quite exquisite. There are many different tastes that
no single adjective can describe.
The old-fashioned Persian cooking of our ancestors had no exact measurements.
Ask any professional Iranian cook and the only "measurements"
you will hear are "a dash of this and a pinch of that". You have
to experiment with each recipe to acquire that very special taste each
dish requires. It was Maede Mazda who published the very first cookbook
of Iranian cuisine in English, called In a Persian Kitchen, with
I spent my last year of high school in Washington, D.C., attending Woodrow
Wilson High School. I was living at home, and it became a habit for me
to follow my mother around the kitchen grabbing and measuring whatever
she was about to put into the pot. It was then that this cookbook got its
start, with my mother's recipes, all written down in precise cupfuls and
spoonfuls. Years later in Tehran, she would call and ask me to look up
a certain recipe for her, now recorded in my handwritten book.
Four years later, in the true Iranian tradition, I graduated from Wilson
College, and moved back to live with my parents, with no cooking experience
whatsoever. Mother knew that, commuting from New Rochelle, New York to
New York City and working a full day at the United Nations would leave
me tired, if not exhausted. She did everything for me.
Two years later, I met and married my husband and after a delightful
honeymoon in Europe, we headed for Tehran. Although this was meant to be
my annual leave from the United Nations, my husband had to prepare for
the foreign service entrance examination. It was with great sorrow that
I resigned from my job.
My parents-in-law insisted we stay with them until we could have our
own place. Little did we know that we would be living with them for fourteen
years. The U.S. Aid Program to Iran, popularly known as Point Four, was
in full swing. Both my husband and I applied for positions and started
working for the program. The foreign service exam was being administered
for the first time and it would be some time before the test was available.
It was l954 and very few Iranian women had professional careers outside
the home. It was not a common thing to do, but I was determined to work.
Finally, the entrance exam was administered and hundreds of young men took
the test. Only twelve were accepted and luckily, my husband was one of
We were blessed with our first child, Bibi, in June of 1956. I took
maternity leave, and with my precious mother-in-law's supervision and the
help of the nanny (Nan Aghah) who had raised my husband, I was able to
return to work. Once 1958 rolled around we were assigned to Bern, Switzerland.
Lo and behold, I found myself, for the first time in my life, all alone
in a kitchen with a family to feed! I needed help and guidance and there
was no one close by. It was at this time that I vowed to put together a
cookbook to guide newlyweds and others who needed to run a kitchen without
It took a long time for me to fulfill my dream, but I was never idle
for a moment. For years I collected recipes, worked full time, or went
on assignments abroad. The cookbook was a project I put off for retirement
and when I retired in February of 1994, I immediately began taking steps
toward accomplishing my goal.
When we lived in Bern, my parents were still living in the United States.
After my father's assignment in New York came to its end, my parents visited
us on their way back to Tehran. My mother came to my rescue and taught
me a great deal about cooking. I also asked my mother-in-law to send me
some of her special family recipes, which I treasure to this day.
I made a habit of keeping every recipe with the name of the person who
gave it to me. Although I do not remember every person I have met during
my adult life, there is magic in the names associated with the recipes
I have collected. If I use a recipe from Barbara Johnson, whom I met forty
years ago in Bern, I can easily visualize her in my mind's eye. It's a
very special bond I have with these old friends, most of whom I have not
seen since I left Switzerland in 1961.
Life in Bern was quiet and lonely at the outset. We were the most junior
members of our embassy and did not know anyone. At the few parties we attended,
the first question I was asked was "Do you play bridge?" So I
decided that if I have to play bridge to find friends, I will learn bridge.
I made some inquiries and found out there was a Swiss lady who taught bridge.
For two afternoon sessions a week, she served tea and cake and brought
together four beginners. Having played a French card game since childhood
called belote, which is very similar to bridge. I picked up bridge after
three or four sessions.
By that time, I had already met the Ambassadress of the Philippines,
Evy de Castro. She was president of the International Bridge Club and said
to me "Don't pay that lady any longer, come and play with us."
Bridge get-togethers were held in the early afternoons every week, so I
needed to serve them cakes, cookies and small snacks. This is how I got
my start in baking and preparing small hors d'oeuvres. Once a month, the
group would get together with the husbands for dinner at one of the members'
homes. This was potluck-style dinner.
Before I knew it, I had 24 people to dinner in our small apartment;
my first experience with British diplomats and their tradition of men and
women separating after dinner so the men could smoke while the ladies powdered
their noses. Our apartment had a curtain between the living room and dining
room and our only English guest got up and closed that curtain after dinner!
I remember my first bridge dinner. I made stuffed cabbage. Everyone
loved and devoured it, then asked for the recipe. I offered to make it
one day in their presence. When I did, seven ladies showed up, and I distributed
copies of the recipe. I also sent stuffed cabbages to the families of my
bridge partners. My American friend Evelyn Mangeng said, "I shall
never make this at my house." Her husband, Frank, always cleaned up
after meals, and stuffed cabbage involves frying which often splashes oil
and makes a mess!
We were still living in Bern when our second daughter, Minoo, was born
on April 10, 1959. When we returned to Tehran in 1961, again to live with
my in-laws, there were four of us. I soon began work as an English teacher
with the very popular Iran-America Society. Later, I took a full-time administrative
position in the same organization. On May 15, 1964, our son, Ali, was born.
I resigned from my job to take care of my family.
At this point my husband and I decided we wanted to stay in Tehran and
be near our parents, so he accepted no foreign assignments. He then transferred
to the Iranian Oil Company and a few years later transferred to the Imperial
Court as Chief of Protocol. In the meantime, I stayed at home for a little
over a year and then started an eleven-year career with the National Petrochemical
Company of Iran.
With a home loan and the design services of one of Iran's most distinguished
architects, my brother, Nader Ardalan, we started building our very first
home in 1969. For the very first time in my life, I could prepare food
in a bright, beautiful and large kitchen of my own. Our house was located
in a large family compound in a suburb of Tehran called Shemiran. This
was the garden of paradise purchased years earlier by my father-in-law,
with running streams, majestic 200-year old sycamore trees and a variety
of fruit-bearing trees.
All my husband's siblings, except for my brother-in-law, Dr. Reza Malek,
who was a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, built homes there. There were five
homes, plus quarters for the help and their families. In all, about forty
people lived in the compound. I was usually the first person to leave the
compound each morning, dropping off the children and going to work. In
the afternoons, I would sometimes bake for the children. Every recipe had
to be doubled, if not tripled. The smell of cake attracted young and old
to our house...
In all my forty-six years of married life, I can honestly say that I
have never, ever, bought dessert from a store, or just served ice cream
at a party. One of my good friends, Oranoos Esfandiary, used to say, "When
you go to Pari's for dinner, always leave room for dessert." Even
when I was exhausted from work, I remembered her words and always made
dessert for company. Everything in our house was always homemade including
Over the past forty-six years, I have been very generous with my recipes.
If you ask a certain Mr. and Mrs. Khazai, who met me many years ago at
a memorial service for a friend where I had made "Bowtie Pastry"
(see page 136), they will tell you I took their address and mailed them
this recipe the next day. Years later we ran into each other. They remembered
me, came and said hello and thanked me for the recipe they had received
in the mail.
All these years I was asked repeatedly "Why don't you publish a
cookbook?" This was always in the back of my mind, but I kept putting
it off as a project I would undertake during retirement. This is the time
to fulfill my promise, to myself, my family, relatives and friends.
As I start this project, I see the thousands of young Iranians, who
due to political reasons are spending their adult lives away from their
homeland. Unlike their ancestors, who were accustomed to having help, they
have professional careers, raise families and manage their homes on their
own. This is why I offer a combination of recipes, with an emphasis on
Iranian food. Since I have held a full-time job and run a home for the
past fifteen years, I will attempt to present you a sampling of each, saving
the time-consuming Persian recipes for special occasions.
I plan to offer you ideas and suggestions that will help you, especially
if you are running a home as well as pursuing a career. I hope this will
be a starting point, a guide for you, if you are away from your family
members or loved ones who would normally show you the way around a Persian-American
kitchen. You will find many recipes that are not typically Iranian. I have
presented my best recipes here, regardless of their origin.
The Persian phrase "Mehman hadyeye khodast" means a guest
is a gift of God, and indeed Iranians go out of their way to provide their
very best. This means the most beautiful room in the house is set aside
for guests and the best food is always prepared for company. It is said
that a farmer will slaughter his very last sheep for his guests, or sell
the only carpet he owns to lay out a banquet for his guests.
With this in mind, lets begin our journey together.
(Abgoosht with Chicken)
1 chicken, skin removed and cut into pieces
1 large sliced onion
1 cup white beans
3 medium potatoes
8 cups cold water
1 tablespoon uncooked rice
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Wash chicken pieces and sauté in oil in a skillet. Remove
and set aside.
2. Sauté onions in the same oil until golden.
3. In a separate pot, place beans and rice. Add chicken to this pot.
4. Add water, salt, pepper and fried onions. Bring to a boil, skim and
5. Cover and cook on low heat for 45 minutes.
6. If beans are not tender, remove chicken pieces.
7. Add whole potatoes and cook remaining ingredients for another 30 minutes.
8. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot and serve.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Serves 6 persons
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