Elahe is delighted to have now taught the ‘mother cuisine’ to 600 adoring Londoners alongside her daughter Parastoo


With 2500 years of saffron and rosewater scented history, Iranian cuisine has influenced cooking all over the globe – earning its reputation as the ‘mother cuisine’. Those who have attended Elahe and Parastoo’s cookery classes have reported them to be a “delicious, touching and magical experience”. This is no doubt due to the combination of exquisite flavours, and their heart-warming mother-daughter relationship.


Elahe was forced to leave Iran with her children in 2006 after the political situation became too dangerous. She had trained for 7 years as a psychologist in Iran and, despite gaining refugee status in the UK, struggled to find employment due to language barriers and her qualifications not being recognised.


The idea for Migrateful came out of discussions with a group of refugee women at a skill exchange project in East London. Most of these women, like Elahe, were very eager to work and yet faced the same barriers as her. As a result, they were left socially and economically isolated. When asked about the skills they could share with the group, many of them said they could cook. As everyone sat sharing their various traditional foods, the Migrateful idea was born: the cooking skills of refugee and migrant communities combined with our universal love of food could be harnessed to bring people together.



In the photo above, you can see Elahe (on the left) teaching Migrateful’s first cookery class students how to cook Baba Ganoush using camping stoves, in June 2017. Elahe loved the experience: “I got to practice my English, make friends, and earn some money: I felt really celebrated”. All of the people who attended the class had an amazing time too. The idea worked! Since Elahe’s first Iranian cookery class, Migrateful chefs have now taught almost 300 cookery classes to 3000 participants.


Elahe explained “not being able to communicate and meet people were the biggest barriers to integration I faced when I arrived in the UK. It’s hard to stay positive. Migrateful is really helping me find purpose: At our cookery classes the people I meet seem so excited to talk to me and now I feel really welcome in this country. Migrateful has helped me to improve my confidence and self-esteem.”


For Elahe cooking is her therapy: “I feel alive and creative when I am cooking. I believe everything will look even more beautiful if we bring love, passion and time to it. A lot of my happiest memories are associated with food. I remember as a child waking up to the smell of my grandmother’s bread which filled the house with the world’s most beautiful smell. Food is an important way for me to stay connected to my past and to my country”.


Elahe’s daughter Parastoo was struggling to find work after graduating from university with a nutrition degree and so she asked if she could assist her mother in teaching the Iranian Migrateful cookery classes. Elahe was delighted: “Parastoo’s motivation and eagerness to learn really touches me, as a young girl who had just reached her teens when she moved to the UK it’s so nice that she has never lost interest in the importance of our Iranian traditions of food and hospitality.” Elahe added “a huge part of our lives in Iran was spent cooking and eating with family, which we miss. This is why we love Migrateful so much because it gives us the feeling of being part of a family”.





Parastoo explained “Iranian food is very colourful and takes attention and time to prepare. I grew up eating my mum’s food and feel very inspired by her creative and bold cooking. Cooking together has brought us even closer. I feel very proud when we get a chance to share our Iranian food”.


When Parastoo first joined Migrateful, she hated the idea of public speaking. Yet, through the weekly Migrateful public speaking workshops her confidence started to grow. Last year during Refugee week, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) asked Migrateful not only to cater for their event with 300 guests, but also for Parastoo to do a speech to the room. Parastoo was naturally terrified, but rose to the challenge and did an incredible job!


UNHCR came to the Migrateful chef training group to take some photos, which led to Elahe and Parastoo starring in their social media campaign during Ramadan in 2018.


When Jamie Oliver invited Migrateful to his Headquarters to teach a cookery class to his team Elahe and Parastoo jumped at the chance. Jamie really loved their food!



Read more of our chef’s stories here

Try Elahe and Parastoo’s Recipes

1. KASHK-O BADEMJAN

Kashk Aubergine

This works well as either a starter or side dish. The decoration takes the dish to a new level and makes it really celebratory. Serve with flatbreads.

Serves 6

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2  large onion, sliced

5 cloves garlic, crushed

½ tsp pepper

vegetable oil

1 tbsp turmeric

6  medium aubergines

1 tsp salt

Garnish

1 bulb garlic – cloves sliced into slithers

2 onions, thinly sliced

½ cup walnuts, chopped

1 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp dried mint

A few sprigs of Fresh mint (optional)

1 cup kashk (liquid whey protein) available from Turkish or Iranian shops

Pinch saffron soaked in 2 tbsp boiling water

Method

  1. Cut the top off the aubergines, peel them, and then slice in lengthwise into 4 slices. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the aubergine slices with a little salt until soft and golden.  You may need to do this in batches. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. If there is no oil left in the pan, heat 3 tbsp oil and fry the sliced onions and garlic until golden. Then add turmeric, salt, pepper.
  3. Add fried aubergines back in the pan. Add 150 ml boiling water and allow the mixture to cook for 15 – 20 minutes on medium/low heat.  Mash the aubergine to create a puree.
  4. Put the aubergine and onion mix onto a flat serving plate.
  5. Mix the Kashk with a little with water to make a thick cream
  6. Spoon the Kashk onto the aubergine in thin lines to make a large checked board with squares in which to place the different garnishes.
  7. For the garnish, gently fry the garlic slithers until light golden colour.  Be careful not to burn.
  8. Separately, fry the onion slices until golden
  9. In a small pan, heat 4 tbsp veg oil and then flash fry the turmeric, pepper & dried mint for just 30 secs to extract flavour. Throw in the fresh mint leaves for the last 5 seconds.  Remove from heat
  10. Fill each square with either walnuts, onion, garlic or the turmeric oil.
  11. Finally, drizzle decoratively with saffron water.

2. KHORSHT BAMIEYE

Persian Okra & Mushroom Stew


Typically found in Iran’s southern provinces, Khorsht “stew” Bamieye “okra” is a light and simple dish usually served with lamb but here substituted with mushrooms. Look for the smallest okra pods as they’re the most tender. The tomato puree could be replaced with 400g of chopped tomato, either tinned or fresh. Serve hot with Persian rice.

Serves 8

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

500g button mushrooms, finely sliced

4 tbsp vegetable oil

2 medium onions, chopped finely

3 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1 tbsp turmeric

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper, ground

500g okra, tops trimmed off

500ml water (or 300ml if using chopped tomatoes)

3 tbsp tomato purée

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 2 tbsp boiling water

3 lemons, juiced

Method

  1. In a large frying pan, fry the mushrooms in 2 tbsp of the oil on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.
  2. In a separate large, deep frying pan (big enough to hold all of the ingredients), fry the onions in the remaining 2 tbsp of oil on a medium heat until they turn golden.
  3. Add the garlic and fry for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Add the turmeric, salt and pepper and mix together.
  5. Add the okra, cooked mushrooms, water and tomato puree (or chopped tomatoes if using) and continue cooking on a low heat for 20-25 minutes until the okra has softened and most of the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat.
  6. Add the cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of the saffron water and the lemon juice. Stir through and serve.

Read more of our chef’s stories here


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