What to CookPersian

My Mother's Persian Zucchini Stew Is Stronger Than Any Travel Ban

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Photo by James Ransom

“So, you ready for the big day?” Maman asked me, frying the zucchini.

“I am," I replied, chopping the onion and sautéing it as she started on the sauce for the stew. My mom and I were making khoresh kadoo, a Persian zucchini stew with chicken, in her kitchen in Iran. It was often like this, her and me cooking, talking, swapping gossip and stories and worries about the future. This time was about Kyle, the American man I fell in love with and married, and how I was going to leave soon to go live with him in the States. "But America was never on my list. Will you and Baba ever come to visit us?”

“We’ll come—don’t worry!” she said.

That was one of the last times I cooked with my mother before the news hit us. When the Supreme Court sided with President Trump’s travel ban, which happened to include my home country of Iran, friends and family told me not to worry, that this was just temporary. I wanted to believe that, but nothing in my life is that easy.

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Fast forward to now: Every day I wake up here in Boston, and there’s no meditation strong enough, no mood-enhancing green juice green enough to make things easier. The fate of my family’s reunification is in the hands of an administration that considers people like my parents and me threats to national security. We get pulled aside by airport security every time, most probably because we’ve flown from the Middle East. And now, I'm told that my parents can't even visit me legally.

Every now and then, I see a woman at a coffee shop, say, talking to her mother and smiling, maybe laughing, holding her baby in her arms. When I see three generations in one frame like this, enjoying the simple pleasures of life, I find myself heartbroken and wondering, "Will I ever have this in America?"

That last time my maman and I made zucchini-chicken stew, we thought that we’d be reunited soon—it was just another day, cooking this dish that we'd been cooking together for years. Later, I'd learn that it was the last time I'd see her in Iran, for who knows how long, and that I'd have to choose between the love of my life and the people who raised me with empty hands.

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This stew is, for me, what chicken noodle soup is to my American husband. It’s comfort food; it’s always been a staple weeknight dinner. Every summer, my mom would get fresh zucchinis from the market, and we'd make this together. Sometimes we'd even skip the rice and have it with bread. To this day, whenever I smell fresh tomatoes, lemons, and zucchini, I recall coming home from school to my mom cooking up a batch.

Today, I’m making this stew in my current home in America. As my kitchen fills up with the scents of lemon and turmeric again, I remember my family back in Iran. I start washing the rice, and as my fingers run through the grains, I evaluate options: Can I carry on my business if we have to move to another country? What if we move to Iran? How difficult would it be for my husband to find a job there?

Then I come to my senses and tell myself that this is my home. It's a beautiful place, America. But for now, I have to hold on to the ounce of faith that maybe someday my family will be welcome back, too. I’ll keep stewing this zucchini and chicken until Maman is here with me again, and we can make it together.

Persian Zucchini Stew With Chicken (Khoresh Kadoo)

Persian Zucchini Stew With Chicken (Khoresh Kadoo)

Shadi Hasanzadenemati Shadi Hasanzadenemati
Serves 4
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
  • 4 zucchinis, cut in half lengthwise
  • 6 chicken thighs, skinless, bone-in
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more as needed
  • 3 tomatoes, cut in half
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!