When I left my friend’s house last week, her mom insisted that I take a plate of Sholeh Zard (Persian rice pudding) home with me. Her mom is a great cook and I always look forward to going to their house for dinner. And at the end of the night, when I am ready to leave, her mom always insists that I take some food home. I love her mom’s Persian cooking, and she appreciates the fact that I promptly return her Pyrex dish and the plastic food containers. That keeps me in good relationship with her!
Last week on the occasion of Arba’een, the fortieth day after Ashura, she made a big pot of Sholeh Zard. In Iran it is customary to make a lot of Sholeh Zard and distribute it to the neighbors and the relatives to commemorate the 40th day after the death of the third Emam in Karbala. It is also customary for the young women to help stir the big pot of rice and make wishes (Nazr). They say that the longer one stirs the pot, the better are the chances of getting your wish! I think that it is a trick by the chef to keep the young women busy in the kitchen!
I looked at the plate of Sholeh Zard in my refrigerator for a couple days and then came up with a brilliant idea! “Why don’t I give it to my date as a Valentine present?” It is sweet, like chocolate. It is a dessert. It is exotic and it has flower decorations. I could do no wrong, I thought!
Over the years, I have given my dates, or the women that I had affection for, long stem red roses, fancy chocolate, Swedish Princess Cake with pink frosting and other things for Valentine. And it is all because of my first girlfriend in college. She drilled the Valentine concept into my head. “Women in this country expect men to give them flowers, chocolate and other things on Valentine’s Day. If you like someone you should give them a present on Valentine’s Day, and heaven forbid if you forget!”
Growing up in Iran, I never realized how serious Valentine was until a few years later when I gave my date a plastic, decorative plant with red flowers. It looked real to me and the florist didn’t say anything. But, my date was really mad at me! I tried to explain to her that being a math major, I was not good at botany at high school. But, she never talked to me again!
On the way to my date’s house on Sunday, I convinced myself that the Sholeh Zard is going to be a winner. She opened the door and looked surprised as she examined the plate of Sholeh Zard and the decorations. She politely thanked me and then asked if it was a Persian custom to give out Sheleh Zard on the Valentine’s Day. I told her the complete story of Emam Hosain, Karbala, Ashura, Arba’een, stirring the pot and making wishes. She did not seem too impressed! Maybe she was expecting a more romantic story about a Persian princess or something out of Shahrzad and the 1001 Nights. But I could not lie. That was the story of Sholeh Zard from Iran.
It’s been a couple of days and she has not called to thank me for the Sholeh Zard and the fancy dinner. I think that I will call her today. I need to get the Pyrex back!