This post was written for the #ImmigrationIsTasty campaign launched by food writer extraordinaire Cathy Erway. Share your own story or find others on social media using the hashtag.
I’ve figured out Donald Trump’s problem: He didn’t get enough garlic growing up.
It would seem that with his Germanic heritage, he completely missed out on garlic, onions and anything from the allium family including scallions, shallots, leeks, and chives. Well, maybe he had some yellow onion in his German potato salad, but that was about it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am part German and happen to be very fond of German food. In fact I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy of Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss. But the Germans are not known for their use of garlic.
The problem here is that not only does garlic bestow divine, essential flavor to food, but it also plays a role in maintaining healthy brain function. It turns out that regular consumption of garlic serves to increase memory retention, boost mental clarity, and protect the brain against aging and disease. It also alleviates depression and anxiety. So why is Trump’s tattered psyche not a mass affliction amongst non-garlic eaters? I would posit it is because Trump has a singular narcissistic personality disorder that sets him apart from most other humans, and that, combined with a lack of garlic, gives him a uniquely maniacal mental condition.
Watch a single press conference, and it’s clear that Trump is not getting his garlic. But here is where immigrants swoop in and save the day. Think of some of the best food in America – whether it’s Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Iranian, or Arabic – and it’s all liberally sprinkled with the heavenly fairy dust allium sativa. Yes, the immigrants who flow into this country from all over the world bring with them some serious flavor. And perhaps those elevated garlic levels explain why immigrants have the mental acuity to launch more than a quarter of US businesses, and why a third of venture-backed companies that went public between 2006 and 2012 had at least one immigrant steering the ship. Certainly garlic must explain the success of immigrant entrepreneurs like Sergei Brin, Pierre Omidyar, and Arianna Huffington.
Although I assume so, I can’t attest to an abundance of garlic in the cuisine of all of the seven countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Sudan, from which Trump is attempting to ban immigrants and refugees. What I can say with certainty is that we Iranians love garlic. We use it in marinades, add it raw to spreads and condiments, and even make a pickle out of it that is considered a delicacy. Garlic even has a sacred place on the haft sin, the ceremonial table laid out with ritual foods for the ancient holiday of Norooz, the Persian New Year that falls on the spring equinox. The garlic placed so lovingly on the table represents good health for the year to come.
Below is one of my favorite Persian garlic-centric dishes, mirza ghasemi. It’s a tomato and eggplant dip thickened with egg and infused with a righteous amount of garlic. It is really, really garlicky. I mean, it is beyond what we would consider politely seasoned. Made correctly, it’s a garlic bomb. But if you love that sort of thing, which I do, then you’ll enjoy this. This is a recipe from my cookbook, and I probably toned it down a bit for public consumption, so feel free to up the garlic quotient even further if you feel inclined.
As far as I’m concerned, America could use more garlic and less potato salad. Instead of making a target out of the vast majority of immigrants who are working hard, paying taxes, and delighted to be living in the US, America should be welcoming them in greater numbers. Immigrants bring to this country economic vitality, innovation, and incredible food. Trump should sample it some time. I love the idea of him sitting down to a beautiful meal of food from all of the countries that he has attacked, the scent of the garlic and the chiles, the tomatoes and the olive oil, the turmeric and saffron all wafting up to clear his addled mind and bring love into his heart. But I’m afraid he’s too far gone. Even garlic can’t save him now.
Garlicky Eggplant and Tomato Spread
This ochre-hued spread is thickened with scrambled eggs, which make it substantial enough to be spooned over grains for a light, satisfying meal. Make it a day ahead so the flavors can ripen. If you can’t be bothered to skin the tomatoes, use a 16-oz can of crushed tomatoes.
serves 4 to 6
1 large eggplant (1 pound), sliced in half lengthwise
3 medium to large tomatoes (11/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a baking sheet with grapeseed oil.
Lay the eggplant face down on the baking sheet, score the skin with a fork, and bake for about 1 hour, until very tender. When cool, scoop out the flesh and coarsely chop.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water. Cut a shallow X at the base of each tomato and boil for 1 minute, then plunge in the ice water. Pull off the skin and dice small.
Heat the grapeseed oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat and add the tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, tomato paste, and turmeric. Cook for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are softened and the flavors of the garlic and turmeric have mellowed.
Take about 1/4 cup of the vegetables and whisk them with the eggs in a bowl. Add the mixture to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until the eggs are fully cooked. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm topped with the extra-virgin olive oil.
Photo of mirza ghasemi: Sara Remington