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Students explore Persian and French culinary arts through new class

Students seasoning salmon

Students enrolled in FRENLENG 60E: French Persian Cooking season salmon fillets during one of the classes.

Dec 12 2019

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The scent of toasted coriander seeds, rose water infused with saffron, and date molasses filled the kitchen as Stanford students practiced sautéing onions, chopping fresh herbs, and seasoning salmon fillets in a new cooking class, called French Persian Cooking.

Offered for the first time this quarter, the class is co-sponsored by the Program in Iranian Studies and the French and Italian Department. Over the course of eight weeks, students develop basic culinary skills, learn about traditional ingredients, and explore the rich culture of two regions of the world through food.

“Persian and French cultures are both interesting in that they both have storied legacies. French cuisine is one of the best cuisines in the world, and Persian culture has a history of thousands and thousands of years,” said junior Pierce Lowary, ’21, who is majoring in computer science with a minor in Iranian studies. “A class that combines both of those presents a very interesting proposition.”

Students season chicken

Roma Parhad, associate director of the Program in Iranian Studies, was inspired to design a class celebrating Persian cuisine after several students shared with her how much they missed traditional Persian food, especially those unable to travel home to Iran. She reached out to the French and Italian Department, which has offered popular cooking courses at Stanford for many years, to partner on a new class.

“This seemed like a great way to offer a meaningful opportunity to Iranian students here, and also to help others learn about Iranian cuisine, culture, and history,” Parhad explained.

Every Friday afternoon, students assemble in the kitchen of La Maison Française, an undergraduate residence that serves as a center for French culture on campus. There, they learn how to chop, fry, whisk, and mince as they prepare dishes ranging from quiche Lorraine to Poulet Basquaise (chicken stew) to Kashke Bademjoon (Persian eggplant dip).

“I was super excited to enroll in this class because I took French in high school and studied abroad in Paris. I was doubly excited to take this class when I learned of its Persian component because I’m a quarter Persian, and I was brought up in a household that embraced Persian culture,” said Jonathan Seymour, ’20, who is majoring in mathematics and management science and engineering.

For many students, the class has presented an opportunity to explore their identity, trace their roots, and cook some familiar meals. “I am from Iran, and this class is one of the ways for me to reconnect with my culture, learn more about the ways cuisine shapes culture, and learn how to cook,” said Matin Mirramezani, ’21, who is majoring in economics and minoring in Iranian studies.

“My grandmother used to make the same jeweled rice dish we learned in class today whenever we would go visit her, so this has been a nice nostalgia trip,” added Seymour.

Group photo of the students

The course consists of eight classes: four focused on French food and four focused on Persian cuisine. Touria Boumehdi, a lecturer at the Stanford Language Center, taught the French cooking classes, while four different chefs—including the “grande dame of Iranian cooking” Najmieh Batmanglij—taught the Persian cooking classes.

“In the Persian cooking classes, students learn about unique herbs and spices from Iran, including saffron that is grown and harvested in a particular way and has an important role in Persian cooking. They also learn about the extensive regional diversity in Iranian cuisine through the dishes they prepared,” said Parhad.

Next year, the Iranian Studies program hopes to offer a course focused solely on Persian cooking. “As an ancient civilization, like its neighbors on the Silk Road, it has a rich and diverse culinary history that we hope to see shared and taught more widely,” said Parhad.

Student cooking on stoveJeweled rice dishStudents in the kitchen

View more photos from the cooking class on the Iranian Studies website.