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VPR Cafe: Celebrating Food And Culture At UVM

Melissa Pasanen
Vermont Life
UVM Iranian Student Association members Agrin Davari and Shiva Kiani prepare a traditional baked potato dish for a dinner and cultural event.

At colleges today, students and the local community are exposed to many exciting food adventures. Some of which are happening at The University of Vermont. After setting out to learn about Vermont-grown saffron, Melissa Pasanen, freelance journalist and Vermont Life food editor, stumbled onto a couple of interesting student-driven food events at UVM. One in honor of the Iranian celebration, Nowruz, and another featuring the cuisine of Puerto Rico.

A Taste of Global Cultures at University of Vermont
by Melissa Pasanen

One of the things I love about my work is how one story often leads to another. I was in a warren of small offices in the University of Vermont’s Entomology Research Lab reporting a short Vermont Life piece on growing saffron in Vermont with Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani, an agroecologist from Iran, and Professor Margaret Skinner.

After the pair explained how saffron-producing crocuses could be grown here in unheated greenhouses, I asked how Iranians would cook with the expensive spice. For that, Arash responded, I should meet his wife. Conveniently, he added, her office was in the same building.

Saffron, explained Arash’s wife, Agrin Davari, is used in Iranian food and beverages for both color and flavor. She described saffron as tasting “sweet, flowery, springy” and she demonstrated how to grind the red-gold threads in a miniature mortar and pestle. The resulting powder would always be dissolved in boiling water, brewed for a couple of hours and then added to tea, to dessert, to steamed rice, or used to cook meats. If I wanted to taste a true Iranian feast, Agrin added, the Iranian Student Association at UVM would be hosting an event in a few weeks for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, a non-denominational celebration of spring and new life.

This is how I ended up on a Friday afternoon in late March heading into the cavernous kitchens of the Davis Student Center. There I found half a dozen members of the Iranian Student Association ladling cups of saffron- and rosewater-scented rice pudding, simmering a huge pot of chicken with turmeric and saffron (find an adapted recipe on, as well as baking two large pans of a potato dish flavored with saffron. They were proud but a little nervous, they said, to be cooking for more than 100 guests expected that evening. Their goal, explained Cam Fallahi Khorasani as he tended the chicken pot, was to share a taste of Iranian food and culture. “The media doesn’t show everything,” he added. “This is a better way to show how we are.”

Listen to this VPR Cafe to hear more about the foods and activities from these events. Find future multi-culture events at UVM using their Calendar of Events.

The VPR Cafe is made possible with support from Kiss The Cook in Burlington and Middlebury. For those who love cooking!

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
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