World of mouth: Round and round you go!

The column that brings you food festivals from around the world; this week be dizzy with excitement for the Whirling Dervish.

December 14, 2010 15:15
4 minute read.
Whirling Dervish

Whirling Dervish 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.

“Whirling Dervish” is one of those terms that most of us have heard in one form or another.  “She vacuumed the living room like a whirling dervish” perhaps. But what is a dervish exactly? And how does it whirl? According to Urban Dictionary, a whirling dervish is often used to signify “a person whose behavior resembles a rapidly spinning object.” It uses the following sentence to demonstrate how the term might be used: “That woman must have taken her son's Ritalin as she is behaving like a whirling dervish.”

In reality, Whirling Dervishes have nothing to do with either vacuuming or Ritalin. Rather, they are members of the Mevlani Sufi Brotherhood, which was created by in the 13th century by the Sufic poet and Saint Mevlana Jalal al-din Rumi.

You know when you were a child and used to turn in circles over and over again until you inevitably fell down and hit your head on the corner of the coffee table, only to cry for 5 minutes and then get up and do it all over again? It was exhilarating right? Well, the Whirling Dervishes find that spinning around and around in circles is not only exhilarating, but that it can also be a way to achieve a closer union with God.

This week, thousands of people will descend upon Konya, Turkey for the Mevlana Festival where they will be able to see the Whirling Dervishes practice this ancient mystical ritual. The festival takes place every December to commemorate the death of Rumi.

What many don’t know is that Rumi's poetry and teachings were intimately linked to food, eating and cuisine. In her book Sufi Cuisine, Turkish culinary expert Nevin Halici writes that the Mevlani lodge was the “first, sacred place” where the rules of a devotee’s behavior were put into practice. Halici also writes that few mystics have mentioned food so often in their poetry as Rumi, giving examples of his verses such as “I am your spinach, cook me as you desire, sour or sweet...” or “O saffron, drink water until you become saffron, and only then enter the zerde...” For this reason, many of Halici’s recipes (such as stewed quince, sour spinach and sweet buttery soup), are based on Rumi's verses.

Rumi’s cook Ateþ-Baz-õ Veli holds a sacred place amongst the Dervishes and his tomb can be visited in a suburb of Konya. According to Halici, it is probably the oldest known tomb of a cook in the world. Apparently he burned his big toe in sacrifice for his master (there wasn’t enough wood for cooking so he used his toe for fuel instead) and for this reason, the Dervishes still bow with one foot placed in front of the other, just as the cook once did in order to cover his burned toe in shame.

One of the dishes that was supposedly prepared for Rumi was a pilaf containing rice, lamb, chickpeas, chestnuts, pine nuts, currants and spices. In Turkish it is known as Mevlevi Pilavà, (Whirling Dervish Pilaf). Try this delicious recipe and you won’t be sorry (unless you attempt to whirl in circles afterwards).

Whirling Dervish Pilaf (adapted from several sources)

-2-4 tablespoons butter
-3/4 lbs. of lamb, cut into chunks
-one onion, diced
-3 carrots, peeled and cut into slices
-1 tablespoon sugar
-1 tablespoon cinnamon
-1/2 cup chick peas
-1/4 cup pine nuts
-2 tablespoons of pistachios
-1 cup rice
-1/2 cup currants
-one cup of peeled chestnuts

1. Melt butter in a large heavy bottomed pot and brown the lamb over high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Saute the onions in the remaining butter over low heat for 15 minutes (adding more butter as necessary).
3. Add the carrots, nuts, sugar and cinnamon to the onions and continue to saute for another 10 minutes (adding more butter as necessary)
4. Put the lamb back into the pot with the onion. Add the chestnuts, one teaspoon of salt and just enough water to cover the meat. Simmer uncovered until liquid has reduced by about one third.
5. Add currants, chick peas, rice and one cup of water to the pot. Cover the pot and continue to simmer until the rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed (about 15 minutes). Add more salt to taste and serve.

Read more of Johanna's thoughts on food at:

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