We sat down with Azita Houshiar, the Iranian-American writer, illustrator, and food blogger behind the inspiring Persian blog Fig and Quince, to talk all things Iranian food, tradition and preserving heritage through recipes and stories.
1) When did you start Fig and Quince?
I got the idea for starting a blog all about Iranian cooking and culture in February of 2012 but it took awhile to organize and execute the format and design and to create the content so we first went live in April 2012 with a photo essay about my family’s celebration of Norooz. In the beginning, my mom and I worked on the blog together, and we debated long and hard until we finally settled on koofteh Berenji (a dish that appears rustic but in fact contains hidden delicate charm and is a family favorite) as our first recipe post. I’ll never forget our pleasure and excitement in cooking and styling this dish; choosing the props; and debating about which image to use as the cover, and then, the pleasure of checking out the post when it went live. It was a great feeling and I guess I have been hooked since!
2) How often do you post?
It varies. I have tons of ideas for the blog that excite and motivate me and more than 50 blog posts in draft at any given time. Ideally, I would love nothing more than to be able to churn out a new post daily, but real life and work infringe on the available time and also it takes me a good while to produce a post at the quality level that is to my liking. Some posts like the Persian Rice 101 series or How to grow sprouts(sabzeh) for Norooz or the Illustrated guide to Norooz were particularly challenging and took weeks of work and preparation to create. But on average, I’d say there are anywhere from 2-8 new blog posts in a given month.
3) What is your goal in writing this blog?
I was fueled with excitement about starting Fig and Quince from the beginning – it really felt and does feel like an irresistible compulsion – and it’s been a passion project from the get-go. From its inception to the present I’ve been driven by 3 specific goals for the blog: 1) To archive and preserve my mom’s recipes and her elegant food styling; 2) As a creative outlet and portfolio for my writing and food photography/styling; and most importantly 3) To share and promote an understanding of Iranians and who we are and our rich and beautiful culture and cuisine. It’s also been a way for me to nurture and explore my Iranian roots. I also love how it’s been a way to get my ordinarily man-of-a few-words father to tell a lot of family stories to help me find and write interesting recipes. I feel like the blog has brought me much closer to both my mother and father. That said, Fig and Quince is practically a full time job and I have not monetized it, so as of now, I’ve not made one hot cent off of nearly 3 years of hard work. But the main reason that I keep trucking along is that I am absolutely driven by a desire to refute the myopic and biased view of Iran and Iranians as portrayed by the mass media. It can be very frustrating to be a hyphenated Iranian. There is a lot of bias and plain ignorance about us, even among the educated. Food is a wonderful platform to broaden people’s views without raising red flags, eyebrows or heart rates! Because food, like art and beauty and love, is one of those lovely things that brings all of us humans together instead of being divisive. I feel that; that in the context of talking about the food of Iran, I can reach more people and am able to show the real face of Iranians in a friendly and unassuming way that is far more organic, inviting, and ultimately effective in changing perceptions than getting on a soap box and lecturing, preaching and pontificating.
4) What is so great about Iranian food?
Iranian cooking has an ancient history, with recipes found on clay tablets dating back thousands of years. I love how the signature taste in most Iranian dishes is a combination of seemingly contradictory flavors that come together in unexpected yet beautifully harmonized ways that sing in the mouth: the combination of tangy and savory; soft and crunchy. I like the abundant use of fresh and dried herbs, I’m enchanted by the use of flowers and blossoms; and I enjoy the beautiful and poetic ingredients of a Persian pantry, things like rosewater, saffron, cardamom, and pistachios. I do absolutely love how the poetic sensibility of Iranians is reflected in our cuisine, whether it’s a humble dish like cucumber and yogurt soup, or whether it’s in a fancy and fanciful dish like jeweled rice.
For more information: Visit Azita Houshiar to explore her portfolio and visit Fig and Quince to explore her recipes and stories about the food and culture of Iran. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest: @figandquince