“Eating is more than simple sustenance. Food is an act of love,” begins Farah Celjo’s introduction to the Refugee Council of Australia’s new digital cookbook, Share a Meal, Share a Story: A Collection of Food, Stories and Soul.

“To teach others about our own flavour, stories and the ability to taste something and instantly be transported to a time and place – it really is a thing of beauty.”

Celjo, the managing editor at SBS Food, perfectly captures the stories that run alongside the recipes in this heart-warming cookbook. Share a Meal, Share a Story not only brings together a wide array of dishes from Australia’s refugee communities, it also tells how each dish is meaningful to the person who makes it.

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For Shahnaz, who moved to Australia from Iran in 2013, cooking food from her hometown – like this crispy Persian rice dish – brings joy.

“This dish is very famous and is always a part of special celebrations,” she writes. “I make lots of different coloured rice dishes – green, white, red – but the pretty yellow colour of saffron rice is my favourite. When I cook anything, I forget any problems. The yellow rice combined with the red barberries is like a smile for my mind. At home I cook this a lot because it makes my children also very happy.”

Shahnaz has extensive knowledge of Persian cuisine and makes feasts for her friends and family. She works at a primary school as part of its healthy eating program and is an instructor with Free to Feed, a not-for-profit that helps people seeking asylum find meaningful employment opportunities and share their culinary knowledge by hosting hands-on cooking classes.

“Talking to a large group of women about my food on Mother’s Day was my first ever paid job here in Australia, in 2019,” says Shahnaz. “Although I had been volunteering at the local primary school I was very nervous. I wondered, would people be interested or like my food? When the class was finished, I looked at the beautiful table decorated with flowers [and] full of my dishes, and answered lots of interesting questions about my culture and food from guests. I can’t tell you how happy and proud I felt – and still feel – about that day.”

Other recipes in the cookbook include stuffed vine leaves by a Syrian mother and daughter, a spinach-and-cheese pie by Jasna from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a beef curry by a Rohingyan refugee, and lots more.

The Refugee Council hopes to raise money with the cookbook. The organisation works to bring about fairer treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia and around the world, and is led by people who are affected first-hand.

Tahdig, or crispy Persian saffron rice
Serves 4
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 75 minutes

2 tbsp salt, plus extra to taste
3 cups basmati rice, washed
8–10 tbsp olive oil
2–3 waxy potatoes, washed, peeled and thinly sliced (enough to cover the base of your saucepan)
1⁄2 cup barberries
A pinch of saffron
2 tbsp pistachios

Add the salt to 3 litres of water and bring to the boil. Add rice to the boiling water and keep the heat on high. Stir slowly with a ladle for 1–2 minutes. After 5 minutes, try the rice. It should be partly cooked – almost al dente. If not, cook for another couple of minutes. It is very important not to overcook the rice. Strain the rice and wash in cold water.

Coat the bottom of a large, heavy bottomed saucepan with olive oil, put it on high heat, and when the oil is hot add the potatoes and a pinch of salt. Leave them for a couple of minutes, until golden.

Add the pre-cooked rice and shape it into a dome. Mix 1⁄2 cup water with 2–3 tablespoons of oil and pour over the rice dome. Use the end of a metal spoon to pierce multiple holes in the dome. Reduce heat to medium.

Wrap a tea towel around the underside of the pan lid and place on the pot. This prevents the build up of steam and stops the rice getting gluggy. Cook for 10–15 minutes on medium heat, then mix 2–3 tablespoons of oil with water (the mixture should be 1⁄2 cup in total) and add to the pan. Replace the lid and reduce the heat to very low. Cook for 50–60 minutes.

Turn off the stove, remove the lid and use a fork to gently empty the rice into a large dish. Take out the crispy potatoes and place them around the edge of the dish.

Wash and dry the barberries. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a frying pan on medium to high heat and add the barberries, salt and sugar. Sauté for two minutes.

Grind the saffron using a mortar and pestle and mix with 1.5 tablespoons of boiling water. Remove 3–4 tablespoons of rice from the dish and mix with the saffron water.

Scatter this mixture, the barberries and finally the pistachios over the top.

This is a recipe extract from Share a Meal, Share a Story: A Collection of Food, Stories and Soul. The Refugee Council of Australia asks for a minimum donation of $20 for the book, but you can contribute more. All cooks have been paid for their recipes, and after covering the costs of the e-cookbook, any further funds raised go to supporting the council’s advocacy work. Find more details here.

Looking for more cooking inspiration? See Broadsheet’s recipe hub.