WESTON — Thanksgiving is a day Mohammed Fotouhi loves to celebrate. “I’m an immigrant in this country and I’m grateful for that,” he says, in the kitchen of his home here. “To me, it’s the most meaningful holiday because it’s about being thankful for what you have.”
Most years, Fotouhi and his wife, Parvine, both born in Iran, host their immediate and extended family for the annual feast. This year’s gathering includes daughters Leila, 38, and Rana, 36, and son Nader, 24, Parvine’s mother and brother and his family, Fotouhi’s 91-year old father, who lives in Brookline, and a handful of cousins and their children. There will be 20 around the table.
Fotouhi does most of the cooking, including a 22-pound turkey, brined for two days, and a prime rib roast studded with garlic, which he smokes with mesquite slabs and charcoal. Parvine makes the stuffing (she follows the recipe on the Pepperidge Farm bread stuffing bag) and baghali polo, a traditional Persian New Year’s dish of basmati rice, lima beans, and dill. “It’s very aromatic,” she says.
The self-appointed chef, 63, who came to the United States in 1967 at age 16, is an electrical and computer engineer and founder and chairman of Access International, a Cambridge fund-raising software firm. When he was learning to cook, he says, “I approached it from a chemistry and science of cooking standpoint.”
It was about 12 years ago when he headed into the kitchen armed with cookbooks. As Parvine tells it, “After cooking for 25 years, I resigned.” A realtor with Coldwell Banker, Parvine has advice for others who want a spouse to assume a greater role in the kitchen: “I didn’t criticize.”
Grilling and smoking meats was the new cook’s first challenge, aided by Steven Raichlen’s “The Barbecue! Bible.” A few years later he splurged on a Cajun Grill charcoal grill and smoker, which he likes for its design and functionality. He learned food science from Shirley Corriher’s “CookWise” and Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking.” For his knowledge of seafood and French cuisine he tips his hat to Julia Child. His cookbook collection numbers a couple hundred, including the five-volume “Modernist Cuisine” by Nathan Myhrvold. “Amazing work, but impractical in the kitchen,” he says. (The books, however, earn a spot in a corner of the kitchen.)
In about two years, Fotouhi was quite satisfied with his culinary skills. In addition to smoked meats and salmon, his specialties include beer-can chicken, turkey chili, steamed lobsters, ground beef kebabs, and Vietnamese pho with tofu and vegetables. Parvine says, “I have my own chef at home. We call him chef Momo.”
While very little about cooking fazes him, he’s less interested in baking — although his quince upside-down tart looks and tastes divine — and hasn’t mastered his native Persian cuisine. Parvine cooks those dishes, most of which she learned from her mother, Ezzat Hariri. “That’s my treat,” says Parvine, about family favorites such as celery stew with beef and mint over rice (karafs polo) and fesenjoon, chicken with ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup.
Fotouhi would rather incorporate Persian spices and ingredients into American-style dishes, particularly for the Thanksgiving feast, which, he says, honors both cultures. He stuffs acorn squash with ground beef, rice, yellow split peas, and herbs, and seasons the mixture with a Persian spice mix called advieh. “The flavor of the filling goes well with the sweetness of squash,” he says. Ingredients come from his favorite Middle Eastern stores in Watertown, including Arax Market and Super Hero’s, and from a few Indian markets on Waltham’s Moody Street. The couple’s kitchen pantry is stocked with basmati rice (Aahu Barah brand), dried beans and peas, dried barberries, slivered pistachios, dried mint, turmeric, and other spices.
In addition to the big bird on Thanksgiving Day, Fotouhi throws a few extra legs and wings in the oven to use for gravy. Once or twice, he has served Cornish hens instead of turkey, the little birds seasoned with turmeric and cooked on a bed of sliced onions, carrots, and potatoes. Unripened (sour) grapes sprinkled on the onions lend a bright, tart flavor. “It’s comfort food,” he says. And it’s a meal that Parvine’s mother used to make for her family years ago.
Two other dishes typically on the Thanksgiving table are Fotouhi’s mashed potatoes with celeriac (he added the roots to lighten the dish) and Parvine’s sliced butternut squash, baked with a sprinkle of brown sugar and dried cranberries.
The software engineer, who has made his share of culinary mistakes (mushy rice, burnt steaks, buying “every gadget under the sun,” many of which he rarely uses), thinks his new pastime is relaxing. “You have to put love into your cooking,” he says. “You can’t rush it. This 30-minute business I see Rachael Ray doing, I can’t do that.”
Even with 20 at the table next week, Fotouhi expects to be calm — and grateful.Lisa Zwirn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.