During difficult times, I often think of my grandfather and my grandmother. The challenges they faced. Their strength and resilience.
This post is part recipe, part reflection. I had never heard of Shirini Donmarki (a Persian Danish pastry) until my mom made it for my grandma a few months ago. It was delicious, and, like most Persian cooking, a labor of love.
Persian cooking is not fast food. It’s usually not even 30 minute meals. Persian food is often a complex blend of spices and herbs that requires prep and a lengthy cooking time for flavors to blend. Persians take much pride in their cooking and joy in sharing their food. It’s how they show their love.
This is especially true of my wonderful grandmother. I remember her always in the kitchen cooking, baking, even making fresh carrot juice. She always wanted to make sure everyone was well fed.
She has been the most loving grandmother anyone could ask for. Always a source of support and encouragement. When I didn’t have a place to live after college, she let me sleep on her couch for almost a year. Not only that, but she insisted on cooking dinner for me every night.
My grandmother has always inspired me to work hard and be brave. She was born in 1934 in Iran in the small town of Sangsar. She married my grandfather in 1952 when she was 18 years old. She had 5 children by the age of 28. They lived a simple, humble life. My grandfather had a small cotton farm. They even briefly lived in India from 1975 to 1980.
In June 1984, my grandfather left home one day in Iran to visit an eye doctor. He did not return. My grandmother did not know what happened and called friends, family, and neighbors looking for him. After a few days, she learned my grandfather had been arrested and was in the notorious Evin prison. His crime was being a Baha’i.*
My grandfather was imprisoned for nine months. During that time, my grandmother had to pay the prison for my grandfather’s food and care. He had to sign for receipt of the payments, which is how she knew he was still alive. She was only able to visit him three times.
One day, Islamic Revolutionary Guard officers came to her home and confiscated all the Bahá’í books, pictures and family albums. They ordered her to come to Evin prison the next day, where they interrogated her and told her she could not have any Bahá’í books or participate in any Bahá’í activities. A guard asked her, “Why don’t you go to America where your children are?” My grandmother said “Because my husband is here.” The guard responded, “We are going to kill him anyway.” She was then blindfolded and permitted to talk to my grandfather. My grandmother did not realize this was their last visit.
My grandfather was executed a few days later on March 5, 1985. My grandmother lost her husband after 33 years of marriage. The Iranian government later even bulldozed the graveyard where my grandfather and other Bahais were buried. The government continues to persecute Bahá’ís in Iran even today.**
In January 1986, my grandmother escaped Iran by camelback and went to Pakistan. She stayed there eight months before coming to the U.S. She worked hard to teach herself English. She often joked that her English was better than my Farsi. She loved to make friends, serve the Bahá’í Faith, and cook. She hosted Bahá’í prayer gatherings, inviting all her neighbors to come over to pray and eat. Up until just a few years ago, at age 84, she cooked weekly family meals for her children, grand children, and great grandchildren.
Recently, my sweet grandmother has had medical complications. She is now in a wheelchair. She has been getting weaker, her memory is fading. My angel of an aunt moved from India to take care of her full-time, dedicating all her time and energy to my grandmother with so much love, selflessness and patience.
My mom enjoys cooking and baking for my grandma, all plant-based of course. We made her Beyond Beef Kabobs and Impossible Kabobs. She seemed to prefer the Impossible Kabobs. 🙂
She especially loved these plant-based Donmarki cookies. They are perfect with a cup of chaie (Persian tea). Below is the recipe, and while Persian cooking is not always the quickest, it is always done with love.
- Yeast ingredients:
- 1/2 cup warm plant-based milk
- 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. of active dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- Dough ingredients:
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 2 egg replacer
- I recommend using Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer if available. Otherwise, we have used 2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed mixed with 6 Tbsp. water to replace 2 eggs.
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla
- 1 Tbsp. Brewed Saffron
- 4 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Filling ingredients:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1 cup warm plant-based milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. rose water
- Egg-free wash:
- 2 Tbsp. almond milk
- 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
- Sesame seed and powdered sugar for topping
- Prepare the yeast mixture:
- In small bowl, mix the almond milk, active dry yeast and sugar, and let it rise for at least 10 minutes.
- Prepare the dough:
- In a big bowl, mix the dough ingredients (except the flour). Add the yeast mixture.
- Add the flour a few spoons at a time until till you have a soft dough. Use your hands to properly combine the ingredients.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes, cover the dough with a cloth and place it in a warm place for 90 minutes to rise.
- Prepare the filling:
- In a small pot, mix the filling ingredients and warm on low heat until the mixture becomes thickened. Set aside to completely cool.
- Prepare the pastry:
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- After waiting the 90 minutes, divide the dough in half.
- On a floured surface, roll out one half of the dough. Cut into strips (as pictured above). Apply filling. Fold each strip lengthwise (as pictured above). Cut each strip crosswise into small pastry sizes (as pictured above).
- Repeat process above with the other half of the dough.
- Prepare egg-free wash. Brush each pastry with the egg-free wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds (as pictured above).
- Bake on a lightly greased pan in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Dust with powdered sugar.
* The Bahá’í Faith originated in Persia in 1844. Tenets of the Bahá’í Faith include the oneness of humanity, the equality of men and women, elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, and harmony between science and religion. To learn more about the Bahá’í Faith, visit https://www.bahai.us.
** Bahais are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran and are routinely arrested and imprisoned. Bahá’ís are also routinely discriminated against, being denied government jobs or necessary government licenses or business permits. Bahá’ís are also denied access to a university education. To learn more, visit www.bic.org.