Cooking Lessons

Cooking Lessons

Gina B. Nahai

Gina B. Nahai

Pour three cups of rice into a bowl. Fill the bowl with cold water. Stir the rice in the water, making sure you don’t crush the grains, then throw out the water. Repeat five times.

I’m 9 years old — in my mother’s kitchen on the second floor of our house in Tehran. It’s mid-morning, early summer, but the heat is already oppressive.

I’ve been out of school for a week. I spend my days playing in the yard with my two sisters and with the occasional cousin who comes over for a visit. I harass the gardener to let me water the lawn, even if there’s no need for it, sit with the maid in the narrow strip of shade in the servants’ yard and watch her soak our clothes in enormous pewter tubs that she has filled with water, soap and lavender. When she’s not looking, I dip my hands, up to the elbows, in the cool water and watch the soap bubbles coat my skin.

The sixth time you fill the bowl, don’t throw the water out. Put a piece of rock salt in it and let the rice soak overnight.

My mother is 26 years old. Every summer, she teaches my sisters and me things every woman needs to know. We’ve learned to sew buttons and hems, to crochet and knit, to iron shirts and dresses. This year, she’s teaching me how to make rice, because she’s going to Israel with her sisters for two months. One of them is having surgery in Tel Aviv, and the others are going to take care of the patient while she recovers.

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