Mehran and her mother in Iran. Photo: Courtesy of Azita Mehran
In the summer of 2008, Azita Mehran lost her mother. It was an earth-shattering event for the Iranian-born mental health counselor, who for 20 years helped others navigate their own rocky patches. But from her despair, something beautiful emerged.
"I wasn’t into blogging—especially food blogging—but when I lost my mom, it was my way of honoring her memory, by writing about the food of my heritage and the recipes that I learned from her," our Blogger of the Week told us. “I wanted to document her food, and have an archive somewhere. It was always my way of coping with the loss and grief.”
And so Turmeric & Saffron was born. But what started as a pet project soon blossomed into something else entirely. Emails and comments from strangers began trickling in, and Mehran realized that it wasn’t just friends and family reading. Inspired, she learned more about food styling and photography, and started posting with greater frequency. The result? Beautifully shot images of tempting, spice-laden Persian dishes.
Here are a few more things to know about Azita Mehran:
1. Southern Iranian cuisine can be hot, sweet, and sour.
"Persian food is based on cooking ingredients for many hours, so the flavors blend and come together. It’s salt, pepper, dried lemon, and lots of herbs. But in the south of Iran, it’s a little bit spicier and hot. A lot of garlic goes into a dish: It’s not just one or two cloves! It’s also sour from tamarind sauce."
2. Her mom was a darned good cook.
"I like everything that my mother made. She would stay on the healthy side—she wasn’t into frying too much—and used lots of greens and fresh ingredients. People nowadays talk about fresh food, fresh ingredients, but I learned it from her.”
Persian vegetable bean noodle soup. Photo: turmericandsaffron/Instagram
3. Leftovers simply weren’t done in her childhood home.
"We wouldn’t eat leftovers. That wasn’t a thing in our house. If anything was left, she would give it away. Everything was served once—it had to be fresh—and [she] wouldn’t cook meat from a freezer. It was a large family—six people— so there wouldn’t ever be much leftover anyway. I always have leftovers!"
4. Despite her food-filled upbringing, Mehran didn’t cook a lick when she first came to the United States in 1977 at age 18.
"When I came here as an undergraduate student, basically I lived on yogurt and bread and fruit. My mom would send me letters with all these recipes, and would call me and say, ‘What’d you cook for lunch?’ I would say, ‘I’m working, I don’t have time!’ [A few years later,] I became interested in cooking at home. I would go back to her letters and find the recipes."
Mehran’s baklava. Photo: turmericandsaffron/Instagram
5. She never intended to stay in the United States permanently.
"I wasn’t planning on staying for long. But one thing led to another, and I stayed. I wrote a couple of months [after I’d been here] to my parents: ‘I really want to stay. I really love it here. I love the lifestyle.’ Everything around me, I was mesmerized. I didn’t say ‘forever,’ but ‘another few years.’ It really broke them up, but they understood. I tried not to forget the culture that I came from.
But then, [Iran] changed. The revolution happened. Then there was the Iran-Iraq war [which lasted for most of the’80s]. I would call home and my mom would answer and say, ‘We’re all in the basement and we’re hiding.’ They didn’t want [me and my siblings] to go back. They said, ‘Stay where it’s safe. We don’t know what’s happening.’”
Baslogh, a traditional Persian dessert made with walnuts and coconut. Photo: turmericandsaffron/Instagram.
6. She’s all about tradition on her blog.
”People like to modernize, and I understand that and I do it at home, but I don’t write about it. I want to be as authentic as possible. There are ingredients that I may not be able to find here, which are a few [such as tareh, a leek-like herb,] so I substitute. But I try to be true to what’s Persian. “
Estamboli polow, a tangy dish of tomatoes, rice, and potatoes. Photo: turmericandsaffron/Instagram
7. Her adults daughters will cook… one day.
"I try to cook with them! They know how to cook, but they don’t take the time. They’re so busy. But I get it—they’re just like I was.”
8. She’s thrilled that people are reading her blog, but that’s not what it’s all about.
"My mother told me at a very young age: ‘Do good. Do something beneficial. And just leave it out there.’ You do something good, without any expectations [of getting something in return]. I think in her honor, I did this blog and just left it out there."
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