Cooking as a Moving Meditation

What's Cooking? Professor Roxanne Varzi offers her reflections on how Ramadan inspires her cooking.

Prof. Varzi's is the most recent video guest on "Cooking with the Professor."

Cooking is a form of self-care and nourishment, it's like a mandala, a work of art that is enjoyed and then disappears, but not before it nourishes and provides comfort. Cooking is a form of communion, with oneself, with the food and with the people we cook for. 

The early days of sheltering in place presented some anxiety about groceries but also an opportunity to cook creatively with what was lurking in the pantry: Garbanzo beans, Tahini, olive oil. What we could get in the store: cruciferous vegetables (white fruit like cauliflower and onions are good for the lungs according to traditional Chinese medicine, Garlic is anti-viral), lemons from generous neighbors with fruiting trees (liver cleansing and full of vitamin C), potatoes. Eating a primarily vegetarian diet is good for the planet and ourselves and may become necessary in order to protect workers at meatpacking facilities. We’re not there yet as my 11-year-old seems to crave more and more meat these days. While my husband, an acupuncturist, spends his time in the kitchen decocting anti-viral and immune boosting herbal teas, I’ve been enjoying cooking. I’m a bit of an experimenter and rely on ethnographic methods which means I prefer to create my own recipes based on detecting tastes or watching other people cook. In this case, the beginning of Ramadan inspired my fusion Mezze (mixed) plate. (Click to see the Cooking with the Professor Video on Ramadan Mezze!)

Minatour Marshmellows

The first place I experienced a Ramadan Iftar (the breaking of the fast) was in Cairo back in the early nineties as a year-abroad student at the American University. After sundown, Cairo turned into a city of food and fun! It was there that I fell in love with roasted cauliflower and hummus sandwiches with plenty of pickles and hot harissa! Ramadan is a spiritual month of reflection and fasting and couldn’t come at a better time to remind us that we can survive with less and that many, many people on this planet (the world hunger numbers are doubling) will not die from the virus but from starvation. Fasting is not a punishing exercise in deprivation but a spiritual opportunity for gratitude. Cooking is an act of gratitude. From the moment I bring the groceries inside and rub each one with a precious Clorox wipe and place it on a shelf, bathe the vegetables and massage them in a little bath, squeeze the lemon and smell the long days of sun and rain that created it, I am grateful.
For those of us who are blessed to be sheltering in a place with lots of space, good weather and access to food, this is an opportunity to go within and to cleanse and renew both ourselves and our planet through mindful cooking and eating. At the end of the day when the mandala is swept away and we emerge back into the world, we will come out of it transformed - I hope for the better.

Cairo 1991
Cairo 1991

Roasted cauliflower
Head of cauliflower, olive oil, lime-chili seasoning, fresh lemon juice
Clean and cut the cauliflower into individual florets, put it in a bowl and mix with oil seasoning and fresh lemon juice, spread on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes at 375°F

Nooshi Joon or bon appétit!

Bon Apetit