Sakina Ewazi and her family feast, including Afghani Kabuli palau (Photos: Melissa Koh/Sakina Ewazi)

When sharing food means so much more

Proceeds from the sales of a new cookbook that shares recipes and stories from people from refugee and migrant backgrounds will go towards funding a new scholarship.

Sakina Ewazi, a visual arts graduate originally from Afghanistan, weeps quietly during the minute’s silence. We’re at Ōtāhuhu library in south Auckland for the launch of Tastes of Home, a book of recipes and stories shared by people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, and the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings are being honoured.

Less than a week since the attacks, the central tenet of the book has taken on a new significance.

Tastes of Home is an initiative by AUT to celebrate the diversity of the Auckland university’s student and staff community, and sales of the book will fund a new scholarship for students from refugee backgrounds.

AUT diversity manager Lian-Hong Brebner, who led the creation of the book with tourism and hospitality professor Alison McIntosh, says the March 15 mosque shootings prompted the team to consider whether it was right to continue with the launch event on Thursday, which was also Race Relations Day.

“The country is still reeling from what has happened, but we felt that it was appropriate to carry on because it’s all the more significant today for us to celebrate New Zealand race relations,” says Brebner, “and to really take this moment to remember those victims and families who have been deeply affected.”

Tastes of Home (Photo: Sarah Bodmer)

Ewazi, who studied at AUT on a scholarship and was named outstanding student by the head of school when she graduated in 2015 with a bachelor of visual arts, took photos for the book and contributed three recipes, two of which are below. She was among 438 asylum seekers rescued from a sinking fishing vessel off the coast of Australia by Norwegian freighter the Tampa in 2001, when she was just five. New Zealand took in 131 Tampa refugees, including the Ewazis, after Australia’s Howard government refused them entry.

She says the book highlights food’s power to bring people from different backgrounds together, something that’s become even more crucial in recent days. “I have a lot of western friends, and whenever they come to our house my mum feeds them,” Ewazi says. “The sense of food and welcome are very strong things that go together.

“We love guests,” she adds. “In Afghani culture, when you step inside the door you have to come and sit down; if not try some food at least have a glass of water. It’s just compulsory if you go to an Afghani home.

“And with Friday’s events in Christchurch, what brought everyone together was the distribution of food to families all round Christchurch, even ones who didn’t have any victims in the mosques,” she notes. “It was about bringing the community together.”

Ewazi was tasked with writing down her mum Fatima’s recipes, no mean feat when you’re translating not only Dari into English, but by-heart cooking into precise measurements. “When I was standing with her and she was adding salt, I was like, ‘how many teaspoons was that?’ And she said two, but then later I turned around and saw her put in another three more!” Ewazi laughs. “And I was like, ‘come on, what are you doing? I have to write this down perfectly.’ And she was just laughing and saying, ‘it’s impossible for you to write my recipe’.

“But this whole thing has been such an experience, it’s been an honour to have been part of it.”

Brebner says higher-education opportunities are hard to come by for people from refugee backgrounds, something the scholarship hopes to address. “Most of the time they have been on the run from refugee camp to refugee camp so miss out on education, then when they settle in a country which they’ve been assigned to, many of them struggle to integrate and also financially it’s very difficult to access education opportunities.

“We want to improve the access for these refugee young people because we believe when they have access to education, they’re able to improve the wellbeing of themselves and their family, and also contribute to society, which is what Sakina herself has experienced.”

More than 50 AUT staff and students contributed to the project voluntarily, and the book served as an opportunity for the university to showcase the skills of its people, says Brebner. These included journalism students who brought contributors’ stories to life and culinary arts students who tested the recipes and, in the case of Melissa Koh, helped with food styling and photography.

“It was a win-win situation,” says Koh. “I could contribute my skills and build my portfolio, but it was such a meaningful project that that became the most important reason for me.”

Other recipes in Tastes of Home include Persian noodle soup, Assyrian meatballs, Somali doughnuts and Kurdish dolma.

Sakina Ewazi, Fia Collins, who spoke at the event, and Lian-Hong Brebner at the launch of Tastes of Home at Ōtāhuhu library (Photo: Sarah Bodmer)

AFGHANI KABULI PALAU

Serves 4

  • 2 cups sela* or basmati rice
  • 1 litre water
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • pinch of saffron
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Carrots and raisins

  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1½ cups thinly sliced carrots
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ⅓ cup raisins

Soak the rice in water for 45 minutes, drain then set aside.

In a large pot, bring 1 litre of water to a boil then add the rice and salt and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cook rice until it is ‘al dente’ – still slightly firm but cooked (not mushy). When cooked, drain the rice and set aside.

For the carrots and raisins, preheat a pan with the oil, add the carrots, cook for 2-3 minutes then add the sugar, mix and cook until the carrots start to brown, then add raisins and cook for another minute. Remove the mixture from the heat and drain the carrots and raisins on a paper towel (keeping the excess oil for the next steps).

Take a large sheet of tin foil and put the carrot and raisin mixture in this, closing all sides. Transfer the rice to the pan with the excess oil and put it back on the stove top over a low heat.

Put the tin foil parcel containing the carrot and raisin mix in with the rice, then top with a lid and let steam for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl soak the saffron in the milk.

After 20 minutes, remove the rice from the pan and transfer to a serving plate. Pour the saffron mixture over the rice and sprinkle over the ground cumin and cardamom, then spread the carrot and raisin mix over the top.

This dish can be served ‘as is’ or, the most popular way, with a chicken korma (recipe below).

*Sela basmati is rice pre-prepared in a process similar to parboiling, which improves the “individual grain” characteristic. Look for it at Indian or Middle Eastern food stalls, or use regular basmati rice.

The Ewazi family’s Afghani Kabuli palau and spicy chicken korma from Tastes of Home (Photos: Sakina Ewazi/Melissa Koh)

SPICY CHICKEN KORMA

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 cup plain unsweetened yogurt
  • 8-10 cardamom pods
  • 6-7 whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 500g skinless boned chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 2-3 tomatoes, finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3 strands saffron, soaked in 3 teaspoons water

Heat the oil in a medium pot, add the onions and fry until soft. Place the fried onions with the yogurt in a blender and process until pureed. Set aside.

Add the cardamom, cloves and garlic to the empty pot and fry.

Add the chicken and let cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes.

Once the chicken starts browning add the coriander, salt and chilli powder. Add the ginger paste and the pureed yogurt and onions and mix through, then add the tomatoes, garam masala and saffron to taste.

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Cover with a lid and let simmer for 10–15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce consistency is too thick, add some water.

Remove from heat when fully cooked and serve hot with Afghani Kabuli palau.

Recipes extracted with permission from Tastes of Home, which is available for $60 from autshop.ac.nz/tastes-of-home, with proceeds going towards creating the scholarship fund. A taster app is available on Google Play and the App Store.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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