“A monarch, regardless of being a queen or a king, must defend his or her land and treat the people with justice,” declared the Sassanian Empress Porandokht, (AD 630-31). An advocate of sexual egalitarianism, she was the first female monarch to rule over the Sassanian Empire. Under her 16-month rule, before she died, Empress Porandokht signed a peace treaty with the Byzantines and reformed her empire by re-structuring and lowering taxes.
Every era has had their crop of strong women, and Mader, my paternal grandmother, was most certainly one from hers.
Living in Lahore, in the 1930s, during pre-partition India, Syeda Shameem, the beloved granddaughter of a Sufi Pir, cast off her burqa and donned a sari to blend in with the majority Hindu population and take up a job as Assistant Registrar of Cooperative Societies. She did not want to stand out as someone from a minority group. Nothing was going to constrain this lady from being at the workplace.
Every morning she would choose a sari from her armoire and neatly unfold the perfect rectangle. She would twirl the sari around her waist and hips, the folds falling gracefully, then draping the loose end of it; the pallu, over her left shoulder. Looking at herself in the mirror as she stepped outside for work, this girl knew she was now indistinguishable from the rest of the population, thanks to her sari.
Sadly, I cannot tie a sari (on my own) to save my life, but Mader’s work ethic and ideals of equality among religions and gender are the traits which I do remember, even if subconsciously, every morning as I wear my suit while getting ready for the office. Even long after she is gone.
The face of women and egalitarianism in Pakistan has changed since the era Mader grew up in. We do have our handful of troubles, but women are strutting their stuff into the office in trouser suits as newscasters/journalists, as stay at home mothers in their saris or as Head Mistresses in their kurta shalwars.
There may have been a Syeda Shameem in many of these womens’ lives.
The word Borani it is said, has originated from the name Porandokht. According to legend, the Empress loved cold yoghurt-based dishes. When she was proclaimed Queen, the name Porani was given to these dishes. Later on Porani is said to have become the term Borani.
The traditional version of Borani-e-Labu (labu meaning beet in Farsi) calls for a mixing of chopped beet in yoghurt. This is my twist on the recipe- which reminds me of a beet ‘carpaccio’. The beets are sliced into thin leaf-like slices, then cushioned on a plump bed of thick yoghurt. A jade-green drizzle of olive oil and some woodsy fragrant dried mint on top. And then mop it up with chubby Afghan bread.
The tart creaminess of the yoghurt pairs excellently with the candy-like sweetness and earthiness of the beet.
Serves 4 as an appetiser or a side dish.
* 2 small beets (approximately 250g in total)
* Your everyday cooking olive oil
* 2 small tubs very thick, drained yoghurt- I use Greek Yoghurt, ‘Total Fage’, (it comes in a 150g tub). Or 300g of any thick yoghurt such as labneh (Lebanese/Syrian) or mast-e-kisei (‘drained yoghurt’) from a Persian store.
* Dried mint for garnish (please do use dried vs. fresh mint, therein lies the beauty of this dish- the use of a woodsy, earthy dried herb)
* Your best olive oil
* Pre-heat your oven to 400F/200C
* Wash and clean your beets. Dry with paper towel.
* Gloss all over with the olive oil you would use for cooking.
* Take two small pieces of foil and tightly wrap each beet individually.
* Place in oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour (timings vary from oven to oven).
* Test with a sharp knife, if is slides through easily, it is done.
* Once done, remove from oven and allow to cool and rest for 20 minutes.
* Remove the skin and carefully slice very thinly, like a leaf.
* Set aside.
* In a large serving plate or individual plates, smear a generous amount of yoghurt.
* Just before serving, gently place slices of beets on the yoghurt.
* Sprinkle with salt and dried mint.
* Drizze your best olive oil on top.
* Serve with bread.