Just My Luck... Another Potluck
Mar. 24, 2010 12:41 pm
Updated: Mar. 25, 2010 2:32 am
At some point in time, someone took it upon themselves to invent an Eleventh Commandment. That Commandment states: If thou attendeth or leadeth a church, thou shalt have monthly potluck dinners.
My husband pastors a small church on our little island home in Europe. But years earlier, when he led a weekly Bible study back in America, his little flock started the monthly potluck ritual. As sweet and chummy as that sounds, I detested those events, and whenever possible, I avoided them altogether. They were loud, messy, disorganized affairs, and they seemed to last for days rather than a couple of hours. My contribution to the meal, if I attended or--heaven forbid--my husband hosted the potluck, was usually smoked brisket or deep fried turkey.
Potlucks, or "pot blessings" as churchy people like to call them, usually consist of gargantuan vats of spaghetti, dried-up crockpot chicken, and assorted green bean or broccoli casseroles. Oh, but not OUR potlucks. These are Iranians, and the food was markedly different in several ways. For one, it was normally quite good. Sure, there was the occasional oh-gross-what-is-that dish cooked up by someone from the nether regions of their homeland, but on the whole, the food was a cut above what you'd find at most American potluck dinners. And also, the presentation of each dish was beautiful, with each cook taking great pains to make their food as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate.
Nonetheless, I still kept my distance. After all, I had so many things to do at home; how could I give up and entire Sunday for one silly meal? But last month--for reasons I cannot fathom--I volunteered to make one of the main dishes. I volunteered. Call it temporary insanity, midlife hormones, whatever you will. The fact remained that I'd opened my big mouth and stuck my size 7-1/2 foot right in it.
Being married to an Iranian for over 25 years gave me ample opportunity to learn some of the dishes my husband had enjoyed as a child. What I had NOT learned (besides the language) was which dishes were considered comfort foods, or which were the fancy stuff, or what was preferred for special occasions. So I just dove in and chose something we liked that was pretty easy to make, made a large amount, and didn't bankrupt us.
When I arrived at the church hall with my great big pot of "baqali polo," the church members were expecting that I'd made some sort of American dish (a casserole containing broccoli and a gooey sauce is considered "American food"). A couple of the menfolk stood nearby to see what horrors I would pull out of that pot. When I removed the lid, the guy closest to me said, "Oh, you made polo sabzi." Polo sabzi is usually rice with green beans and chunks of beef or lamb. I told him no, I made baqali polo, which is dilled rice with lima beans or fava beans.
Another of the young men heard us talking, and the name of the dish caught his attention. He was surprised, and apparently delighted, because he said (in tones of wonder) "Baqali polo. Baqali polo!" He told his friends, who by now were gathering around while I spooned the rice on to a platter. Pastor's American wife made baqali
polo!! I had a large, eager audience as I struggled to get the food in to the serving line before they attacked it.
My dish was not only accepted, but it vanished faster than any of the others. One of the more mature church members usually shoos the young bucks away from the food long enough to reserve a little for the pastor. Not this time. My husband, daughter and I didn't get any at all! I later learned that baqali polo is a favorite in Iranian families, and it's considered difficult to make. It isn't. The rice can be tricky, but overall, it's very simple to make and quite inexpensive, even for a large crowd.
What I found so satisfying about the whole thing wasn't the fact that I'd made the "best" dish. It was the touching, humble gratitude of the young single men and the young couples who are struggling to find jobs, put food on their own tables, and just live day-to-day in an economy gone berserk. It was the joy they found in having a little "taste of home"--prepared by an American, no less--and the fond memories of home rekindled by that taste. And more than anything else, it's the way this small effort on my part brought me close to these people whom I've grown to love.