IN the nine years that Iranian Vahid Meshkini has lived in Kuala Lumpur, he has grown accustomed to local food, more so after marrying Malaysian asset analyst Noor Fairuza Badarudin.

But during Ramadan, Vahid likes to prepare Iranian dishes, to revive and remember age-old culinary traditions.

“I learnt how to cook from my mother. She makes some of the best stews, flat breads and soups. Her Baghali polo (rice with dill and fava beans) is one of my favourite dishes. It’s flavourful and cooked to perfection. Even though I am far away from home, I’m happy that I can share some of Iran’s culinary delights with my Malaysian friends,” says Vahid, who is from Tehran.

During the holy month, Vahid and Noor Fairuza invite close friends to their house for the breaking of fast. They view Ramadan as a time to strengthen their faith and share meals.

Vahid learnt to cook from his mother, and during Ramadan he prefers to break fast with a homemade meal. [/caption]“We invite our local friends from different races and some of our Iranian friends. They can sample Iranian cuisine in camaraderie. Ramadan is a month of sharing and blessing, what better way to celebrate than with friends,” says Vahid, 35.

An Iranian feast

For his buka puasa gathering, Vahid has prepared Iranian favourites like zereshk polo (barberry rice with saffron chicken), jujeh kabab (chicken marinated with saffron, lemon juice and onions), ghormeh sabzi (herb stew), ash-e-reshteh (vegetable noodle soup) and fesenjan (pomegranate walnut stew).

These dishes are eaten with rice or flat beads like sangak (wheat leavened bread), nan-brenji (rice flour, egg and cardamom bread) and taftan (youghut and milk bread).

Dates, black tea with cardamom and fruits are staples for breaking fast. Yoghurt, feta cheese, pickled vegetables and fresh fruits are also served during iftar. For dessert, Vahid likes fereni, made from rice, milk, sugar and rose water.

“Iranian food is nourishing. Yoghurt, cheese and fresh vegetables and fruits aid digestion. Ghormeh sabzi contains herbs like leek, coriander, dried fenugreek leaves and kidney beans. It is nutritious and beneficial to health,” adds Vahid, a tour guide.

Despite the availability of Ramadan food at bazaars around his neighbourhood, Vahid insists on cooking Iranian food from scratch.

“During Ramadan in Tehran, people prepare main meals in the comfort of their home. They frequent bazaars only to buy sweets and desserts like bamieh (doughnuts with saffron and rose water), ranginak (date and walnut pie) and bastani (saffron ice cream),” he says.

Noor Fairuza, 35, also takes turn to cook their Ramadan meals. She says her husband is happy with this arrangement as it allows him to sample Malaysian cuisine.

“Vahid enjoys chicken curry, butter prawns and asam pedas. He is slowly learning how to eat ulam (herbs). My mother-in-law taught me how to cook a few Iranian dishes. I do try to experiment with Iranian cuisine, all under Vahid’s watchful eye,” says Noor Fairuza.

For sahur, Noor Fairuza usually cooks rice and grills either fish or meat. On some days, the couple have haleem, an Iranian savoury porridge cooked with meat, wheat, oats and spiced with cinnamon.“Vahid prefers non-spicy food, so I usually prepare dishes that suit his taste buds. I ensure he has a heavy meal so he has enough sustenance to last through the day,” explains the mother-of-one.

Vahid says the Ramadan tradition in Iran is for men to offer esha (asar) and terawih prayers, and they often choose to stay on in the mosque till late night for additional ibadat (prayers). Women perform their prayers at home.

Vahid is thankful to be close to his in-laws and friends during Ramadan.

“Malaysians are wonderful. Among our circle of friends, we have iftar get-togethers. Through this, I have learnt so much about Malaysian culture and traditions. It’s a great opportunity to meet people in the spirit of togetherness.”