In a crowded room at the Centennial Crescent Community Centre all eyes are to the front of the class.
As Soriya Basirmonsef describes the ingredients in front of her, a diverse group of 10 people pay rapt attention, not wanting to miss any of the information that will help transform the table-full of random foodstuffs into aromatic and sumptuous-tasting Persian Food.
Within minutes, the quiet calm transforms itself into a bustling hive of activity as participants start slicing, dicing, chopping and boiling. The simmering smell of an Afghan kitchen soon begins to waft throughout the room.
It’s all part of a new initiative that sees Soriya use her love and knowledge of traditional cooking as a means of raising awareness around the issues of women’s rights in Afghanistan. It’s also an innovative way to help raise funds for CW4W (Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan)
Afghan women’s rights have deteriorated over the past three decades. Under the tyrannical rule of extremists, such as the mujahideen and the Taliban, women have struggled to gain freedoms and reform a society that is primarily male dominant. While things are slowly improving in Afghanistan, women still face astonishing rates of violence, are often barred from education, and lack the opportunity for meaningful employment — a situation that resonates with Soriya, an Afghan mother of 3 daughters who was widowed at the young age of 23.
While the underlying reasons behind the cooking courses are deadly serious, the courses themselves are fun and
energetic — they are times for sharing laughter as well well as knowledge. They’re a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
My visit to today’s class coincided with a special announcement. Soriya’s daughter, Maryam Monsef had gathered local media together to release the results of the 2012 Red Pashmina Campaign — Monsef and fellow Red Pashmina co-founder, Jessica Melnik, are cross promoting the two initiatives and were on hand to help with the cooking course.
Throughout the Red Pashmina campaign, red cashmere scarves (pashminas) are sold in retail outlets throughout Peterborough, including: the YWCA, the New Canadians Centre, Tango, My Left Breast, Glow Maternity, Le Joie de Vie, Tia Star, Benevolent Stranger and Sympathy for the Rebel.
Over the past year — its third — Red Pashmina raised over $6,700. Funds raised will be directed to CW4W Afghan’s Lantern Fund. Launched in November 2012, this special campaign raises revenue to sustain teacher training programs in Afghanistan. An estimated 70% of Afghan teachers currently working in classrooms have had little to no previous teacher training and most have no post-secondary education of any kind. Many have not even completed high school. The lack of trained male and female teachers directly affects girls’ access to school and drastically affects quality of education.
Like the cooking course, the Pashmina program is truly an empowering one. Look for my coverage of the program’s success in tomorrow’s Small Print blog.
As the course progressed, participants began to assemble some truly mouthwatering dishes — food that was definitely worth the $20 weekly course fee. Soriya was kind enough to share the recipes. You can find them below.
To register for the next class, contact Daphne Ingram firstname.lastname@example.org, 705 656-3820.
From the organizers of Soriya’s Afghan Cooking Classes:
WHERE: Centennial Crescent Community Centre, 1770 Stenson Blvd. (opposite the entrance to Fleming). The classes will be held in the community building in the centre of the crescent. Park in the visitors parking spots or beside #38 (ignore the handicapped designation). Soriya says you can also use the staff parking because it is on Sunday.
WHEN: The first class will be held on Sunday, Jan. 6 from 2 to 5 p.m. and on alternate Sundays for as long as there is interest.
COST: $20 per class or any 3 classes for $50
REGISTRATION: You must register in advance (at least 3 days before) for each class by emailing Daphne at email@example.com or calling 705 656-3820. Classes will be filled as the registrations come in and you will be notified if a class is full.
Please inform on registration of any food allergies
Recipes — taken directly from Soriya’s notes.
1lb meat (usually goat or lamb, but Soriya used beef for the class)
3 medium onions
1/2 cup yogurt
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp of each: black pepper, tumeric, cinnamon
1/4 tsp of cayenne
5tbs of any kind of oil (olive would work)
4 cups of water
- Wash and chop the meat (size doesn’t matter)
- Mince the garlic, grate one onion — mix both with spices, 2 tbsp of oil, and yogurt. Let marinate in the fridge for up to 24 hours in a covered bowl
- Add remainder of oil to a sturdy pot with a cover — fry remaining grated/finely chopped onions until golden
- Add the meat mixture and stir fry it until golden
- Pour in water, cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until meat is tender.
- Alternately, this can be done in an oven-proof dish at 350 degrees
- There should be aproximately 1 cup of liquid left when it is cooked
- Serve in a deep plate, covered with a pita — eat it warm with bread, rice, or pasta.
Basmati rice, 700gBaby lima beens (fresh or frozen), 300g
Butter/Vegetable oil, 200g
Fresh dill, 3 cups
Medium potatoes, 2 (optional), sliced
Powdered saffron, 1/4 tsp
- Wash rice and soak for at least 2 hours.
- In a large pot, at at least 10 cups of water and 5tbs of salt, heat on high.
- In a small pot, place lima beans in 2 cups of water over medium heat — cover until cooked and water has been absorbed — set aside.
- Wash the dill 3 times, rinse it, chop it, and set it aside.
- When the water in the large pot is boiling, drain rice and add to the water – stir gently. Boil uncovered for 4-6 minutes, drain into a collander.
- Melt 4 tbsp of butter/oil in the pot — sprinkle 2 spoons of rice on the bottom and then arrange potato slices in a single layer.
- Mix the remaining rice with the lima beans and dill and add to the pot in the shape of a pyramid.
- Add 1/4 cup of warm water, sprinkle some oil on the rice, and then cover again.
- Heat on medium for 4 minutes and then lower the heat to minimum — or you can transfer it to a 200 degree oven — cook for 30 min – 1 hour.
- To serve: heat the remaining oil and pour over rice. Mix 1/2 cup of rice with saffron and 2tbsp rosewater. Spread over top of dish.