Providence Eats: AHOPE by Pranati Panuganti

I bent down on my knees and waved a friendly “Hello!” to Bana, before she turned away and scurried to her mother. She was probably a little shy, so I entered the kitchen and introduced myself to her family.

Bana is young child that I will be working with this year through AHOPE (Americans Helping Others ProspEr), a volunteer-based organization that assists Syrian and other refugee families coming to Rhode Island. AHOPE’s first line of action is to clean and furnish homes for incoming refugee families, and welcome them with a home-cooked dinner. Families are partnered with community mentors that help them gain access to services (i.e. healthcare, transportation, job training) and organize social activities that ultimately help refugee families resettle in Rhode Island. My role is to assist Bana’s family navigate the healthcare system in Rhode Island, and advocate for Bana as her patient partner.

I first met Bana’s family this past Wednesday at their community mentor’s home, where Bana’s mother and grandmother hosted a cooking class. As I walked into the kitchen, I could smell fresh parsley and mint and heard the chopping of crunchy cucumber. Bana’s mother and grandmother don’t speak English, so Bana’s uncle, Adnan, helped interpret.

Adnan explained to us the dishes being prepared: Tabouleh, Baba Ghanoush, Laban, Turkish soup, and a rice dish.

My favorite dish was the rice plate with fava beans, mushrooms, and cashews. The rice and beans warmed the soul, while the cashews added a nice crunch, and the hidden cinnamon brought flavor to the mushrooms. Fava beans are common in Middle Eastern food. As a medical note of interest, I was reminded from my biochemistry course that when these beans are ingested by someone with a deficiency of the enzyme G6PD it can result in hemolysis of red blood cells.

If you’ve been to Eastside Pockets or ever had Mediterranean food, you should also be familiar with Tabouleh and Baba Ghanoush! Want to make some at home?

For the Tabouleh, first soak bulgur in water for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop a handful of parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, and lettuce. Mix the veggies together with the bulgur (after draining excess water), squeeze in a lemon, and toss with olive oil.

Baba Ghanoush looks like hummus. Just bake eggplants in the oven for 20 minutes, peel the charred skin and crush the insides in a mixing bowl. Add in chopped parsley, tomato, mint, onion, and garlic, toss with olive oil, and enjoy!

Finally, we had a Basbousa for dessert, which is a lemon cake with a hint of pistachio. Unfortunately, I ate my cake before I could take a picture, so here’s an image that I found on the internet.

The cooking class was a unique way to meet Bana’s family and experience a taste of their culture. Food has that special ability to bring people together, whether it’s a shared interest in cooking, eating, or both!

So, what’s my final rating?


Food: 5/5

Fun: 5/5

Fava Beans: 5/5

Friendship: Priceless


Pranati is an MD’21 from Charlotte, NC. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2016. 

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