Barrington cook adopts international taste from friends
When Parivash Diba moved to the United States from Iran in 1978 to go to college, she didn't know how to cook.
Thank goodness she knew friends who did.
A friend who came from Sicily and owned an Italian restaurant taught her to make such cuisine as eggplant parmigiana and manicotti. One of her co-workers from Greece and taught her to make Taramosalata, a caviar dip, and domatas, sweet and spicy meatballs.
"My palette is so international," said Pari, who lives in Barrington. "I was very lucky to have friends who were the best cooks who taught me step by step how to make these dishes."
It was from one of her co-workers, Pari said, that she not only learned how to make authentic Mexican dishes, such as a beef stew called birria, but she also learned a marinade that can be used within any dish. Pari said it is a simple recipe that includes three ingredients. It is a quarter cup each vegetable or olive oil, fresh lemon juice and white vinegar.
"You can add any spices you want. If you want Italian or Greek, you can add garlic. If you are Mexican, add taco seasoning. If Indian, add cumin. Flavor however you want. This is the base," she said.
Her exposure to cuisine around the world began in Iran. To provide cuisine for visitors who would come to her hometown, where an oil company operated, the town featured a variety of international restaurants. Each Friday, her father took the family to try something new.
"I learned to eat from other countries and enjoyed it. Every food from every country carries on the history of that country," she said. "I feel if I love the food, I can understand the history of that people and I can connect with them."
When asked to prepare a dish for a gathering, Pari loves Persian cuisine too. A favorite dish is Fesenjan, a chicken stew with a sauce of toasted walnuts and pomegranate molasses. These dishes may be more time consuming to prepare, but are also chic.
"I can say chic because when you put a Persian dish on a table, it's like sushi in that it has an artistic look to it. It will stand out," she said.
Pari is not only known for making dishes that will taste good. As owner of a Hoffman Estates flower shop, she considers each dish as a work of art. A simple dish featuring shredded chicken, red onion and lemon pepper seasoning will be topped with a colorful bouquet made of thinly sliced carrots or carved bell peppers to replicate flower petals. She uses sliced strawberries and mandarin orange segments to create a flowery landscape atop her flan.
"I use herbs and vegetables and carve and shape it into flowers and use them to decorate my food," she said.
While Pari keeps a busy schedule, she prepares a meal every day. That often means getting up at 3 to 4 a.m. to cook on weekdays. But she adds she makes cooking easier by planning meals and prepping ingredients as much as possible, whether it be chopping or marinating ingredients over the weekend. She also times herself if trying a new dish.
"This way I know if a dish I'm making will take a half-hour or an hour and a half. If I'm having a busy day, I will go with a dish that is much easier to prepare," she said.
Pari admits she does have a problem with all this cooking. She always makes too much food. So it's no wonder that she loves to also invite friends into her home and make a special meal for them. But Pari adds planning parties are no small task, either. Pari said it takes her one year to plan a party. Once the menu is set, considering guests' dietary restrictions, she also must plan how the food will be presented.
"Each year, the menu may not be different, but I want there to be a different presentation, so each year my guests will be wowed when they arrive," she said.
The college student who arrived in the United States not able to cook now hopes some day she can lead cooking classes and teach others how to cook cuisines from around the world.
"They could choose what they want to learn," she said. "They could choose anything because I cook internationally."