I spent the summer of 1977 with my grandmother at her house in south Tehran. She lived in Amiriyeh, at the Moez-ol-Soltan cross road in Koocheh Baqh,. I loved Koocheh Baqh. I used to play with the kids on the street, get candies from Abbas Agha's store on the corner, and spend nights counting the stars in the sky from my bed on the rooftop, praying that summer would never end.
The summer of 1977 was very hot. One day, while I was in the kitchen, my grandmother announced that we're having “Abdooghkhiar” for lunch. “What's Abdooghkhiar?” I asked innocently. It turned out to be the simplest, most uncomplicated dish my grandmother had ever made. “We used to have Abdooghkhiar for lunch every day in summer when I grew up,” said my grandmother.
And then she proceeded by picking up the largest bowl in the kitchen and filling it with water and yogurt. She then took a big bag of dried bread that she had saved to give to the namaki, the guy who passed by on the street everyday to collect dry bread from homes in return for some salt.
To my utter surprise, she threw in the dried bread into the bowl, added some currents, mint, salt and pepper on the top and mixed the whole thing. Finally, she threw in lots and lots of ice cubes, and proudly said: “Look! This is what we call Abdooghkhiar!”
She never added khiar – the cucumbers, which I thought Abdooghkhiar would have. “That's optional,” said my grandmother.
We took the large bowl into the balcony and placed it in the middle of the wooden bed where we sat. My grandmother's twin sister Esmat (whom I called “Emaad”), their older sister, Nezhat or Maadar Jaan, and her best friend from school, Masi Joon where all waiting.
I didn't like the look of Abdooghkhiar, but I accepted a bowl. Quietly, I pushed aside the mushy bread while trying to figure out what to do with the ice cubes that kept falling into my spoon. My grandmother looked and asked if I didn't like my lunch. Eager to please her, I took a big mouthful, swallowed a chunk of cold ice, and said, with wide eyes: “I love it, Effat Joon!”
After lunch, we all took a nap on the beds in the balcony. At around five in the afternoon, as the sun's heat was dying, Emaad got up. She walked down the stairs to the garden, took the hose, and showered the flowers, plants, the cherry tree, and the aging pomegranate tree with fresh water. In the end, she splashed water on the brick walls of the garden, on the stairs and the balcony, as Massi Joon broomed the leaves and broken branches away.
I can still smell the touch of water on those bricks and on the soil in the garden. It smelled like fresh rain in the woods. My grandmother turned on the samovar in the balcony. Hearing us, her neighbors arrived one by one after waking up from their long naps in the hot summer afternoon. We were served tea in the balcony.
I loved the house in Koocheh Baqh. Each day was filled with happy memories. And those memories have stayed with me to this day. My dream is to return to Tehran, and to re-purchase the house in Koocheh Baqh so that I can go back to it every summer.
And you know what? I love Abdooghkhiar.