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

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.

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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.

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.

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Top Comment:
“For now, keep cooking this delicious-sounding stew and I'll keep you in my thoughts! I will save this recipe and definitely put it on my to-try list. It's the dishes that are nostalgic to people that are always the most amazing! ”
— stephanieRD

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.

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.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Diane
  • suzi porte
    suzi porte
  • Barbara Bolls-Guillory
    Barbara Bolls-Guillory
  • Juliebell
  • Liz Chandler
    Liz Chandler
Shadi HasanzadeNemati is a food writer and recipe developer at Unicorns in the Kitchen. She loves a good tahdig and her favorite spice is saffron.


Diane March 22, 2019
Please explain why a cooking site is willing to transform into a platform for political dialogue. I am an avid cook and also quite knowledgeable about international and local affairs. Even so, when I want a recipe I search a food blog or a cookbook, not a political screed. And when I want to focus on politics, I do not seek out Trojan horse articles in the form of "sweet" articles on the food pages. But this can change. Please clarify which direction Food52 chooses to take, as I can easily provide factual information from many experts on the political topics you increasingly seem to welcome.
C March 24, 2019
Bye- Bye!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The rest of us appreciate different cultures. FEAR breeding is what makes society ignorant of cultures around the world which is the fall of any society. Every person in this country has immigrants in their family unless they're Native American....The first Americans.
Hollis R. May 29, 2019
i'm with C, Diane. food is political, just as everything either is or can be. you apparently think they should be separate. i disagree. so did Dr. Seuss: have you ever read The Butter Battle Book or Green Eggs and Ham? M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf? Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma? Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat? just to cite a few recommended readings.

filmwise, there's BABETTE'S FEAST (Pope Francis's favorite film). even THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE has a seat at the table. i'm sure you can think of more.

what about the Eighteenth and Twenty-First Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that instigated and ended Prohibition?

food and religion are inextricably entwined, as well: unleavened bread, communion wafers, ritual feasts and fasts, the Holy Grail, and on and on.

have i made my point ... yet? because i can keep going.
suzi P. October 15, 2018
It is too bad that we cannot set politics aside for one second and enjoy a cooking site. I am sad to say that I will not be purchasing any more items or subscribing to this site.
Juliebell October 15, 2018
Unfortunately, politics is in everything, the air we breathe, the food we eat, our choices in who we love. This was not brought about by the Food 52 group. It is sad to me that you ignore this reality and find offense in someone’s tragedy because you obviously support a political policy. Good luck in your quest to “avoid” politics.
Hollis R. May 29, 2019
agenda much? see my reply to Diane, above, if you're so inclined.
Barbara B. September 24, 2018
You have touched my heart with your story and I also pray, like others, that you will be reunited with your mom in the near future. I keep precious memories of my mom cooking for us, and I create new memories cooking with my two young children. I appreciate you for sharing this dish and I look forward to trying it soon. My children harvested zucchinis from a fall festival and farm camping over the weekend, so this dish is what I'll make with those. I'll keep you and your mom in my heart as I cook with my kids.
Author Comment
Shadi H. October 15, 2018
Hi Barbara, It's very kind of you to try this recipe. I hope you and your kids enjoy this dish.
Juliebell August 5, 2018
Thank you for relating this beautiful and painful story. America only becomes stronger with diversity and the acceptance of many different cultures. I look forward to enjoying this dish soon. I pray you are reunited soon and thank you for coming to America and sharing.
Author Comment
Shadi H. August 6, 2018
Thank you for reading my story Juliebell, America is now my home and I look forward to reuniting as well :)
Liz C. July 28, 2018
I am in tears reading this--cooking with my daughters is my most cherished activity. I hope this is temporary, too.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 29, 2018
Thank you Liz, I hope it's temporary too. Mother-daughter cooking time is the best time :)
Carol C. July 22, 2018
I am so sorry both you and your family have to endure this pain. This short sited policy, like many of this administration have affected so many people’s lives. I cannot wait to try your recipe, it certainly will make me think of both you and your family. Stay strong! Thank you for sharing both the recipe and your story; they are one and the same.
Eric K. July 22, 2018
Carol, thank you so much for reading—and most of all for your empathy. An under-appreciated trait these days.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 29, 2018
Thank you so much Carol for reading this. Hope you try the recipe :)
Peggasus July 21, 2018
I, and so many other Americans who disagree with this policy, also hold out hope that you and your family will see one another again soon. Thank you for sharing your story and the recipe. When I make this dish soon, it will be all the better with the wishes behind it. Also it sounds so delicious!
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 22, 2018
Thank you so much! I'm glad you like this story and I hope you enjoy the food as well :)
eakesin July 21, 2018
Thank you for sharing this poignant story and your family’s recipe. I also hope your family will be reunited soon.

And, thank you, Food52, for providing a forum for these stories to be told.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 22, 2018
Thank you :)
stephanieRD July 21, 2018
Oh man. I just got really choked up reading your story about your love for this stew, and your former country. I hope you can be reunited with your family soon. For now, keep cooking this delicious-sounding stew and I'll keep you in my thoughts!

I will save this recipe and definitely put it on my to-try list. It's the dishes that are nostalgic to people that are always the most amazing!
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 22, 2018
Thank you Stephanie. Dishes like this are full of memories and happiness, and they always bring hope. I hope you enjoy this too!
Ttrockwood July 21, 2018
Such a wonderful memory to have of making this dish with your mother. I remain optimistic that this administration will not survive the next election, which unfortunately feels very far away...the very idea of the travel ban feels like the antithesis of progress as a modern democracy.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 21, 2018
Thank you, I hope all families reunited someday soon.
Zozo July 20, 2018
Thank you for sharing and making this strike home.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 21, 2018
Thank you for your kind comment :)
Julia July 20, 2018
I read your story with a lump in my throat. Food brings us all together in fundamental ways, as human beings. The dish sounds wonderful, I shall make it when as I do I will think of you and your Mother and hope it is not too long before you share it again.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 21, 2018
Thank you Julia, hope this dish brings joy to you and your loved ones :) Food always brings happiness and comfort :)
Suzan E. July 20, 2018
Thank you so much for sharing this. My father is in Turkey, which is not part of the travel ban, but for a few weeks or months that unfortunately coincided with me preparing for my wedding, the US govt. was not issuing visas for Turkish citizens. Even after they started, again, it was too late for him to secure a visa in time for my wedding, and it broke his and my hearts. The day that the travel ban went into effect, I was terrified (and remain terrified) that I will never see him again, as he's 81-years-old and this administration's decisions as to which darker-than-a-paper-towel people are a threat this week is so unpredictable-- I turned to making sigara böreği that day, from scratch, dough and all, just to have something to do with my restless energy and fear. I hope that you and your maman are reunited someday soon, but in the meantime I am glad that you have the healing sanctuary of the kitchen in which to escape for solace.
Eric K. July 20, 2018
Very powerful story, Suzan. Thank you so much for reading Shadi's piece and for supporting her.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 20, 2018
Suzan, your story touches my heart especially because I lived in Turkey for a while and loved it. Sigara boregi has always been a favorite on mine as well <3 I hope we all reunited soon with our loved ones, for life is always more beautiful with loved ones by our side.
kak6154 July 20, 2018
Seventeen years ago I worked for an Iranian doctor. While flying on a United flight, his golf bag tested positive for chemicals (any golf bag laying on a golf green comes into contact with chemicals) and he was dragged off the plane with his wife. That was how many administrations ago? I sympathize with your angst, but to call this a unique situation caused by THIS administration is just not fair and not true. That being said, I do hope that you, and the rest of my Iranian friends, are able to travel freely and safely soon. And I can't wait to try your Persian Zucchini Stew!
Suzan E. July 20, 2018
You do realize that getting dragged off a flight as an individual and not being able to get on one at all as a people are pretty distinctly different things, and yes, one is certainly unique to this administration.
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 20, 2018
Thank you :) I hope so too. And I hope you like this Persian zucchini stew .
kak6154 July 23, 2018
I made the stew this weekend and loved it!! Thanks so much for sharing!
Author Comment
Shadi H. July 23, 2018
I'm so happy to hear you love this stew :)