“The Girls on the Bus” Star Natasha Behnam Shares the One Food She Makes for Every Dinner Party [Exclusive]

published Mar 27, 2024
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Credit: Photos: The Kitchn, Shutterstock, Timothy Fernandez, Perry Santanachote; Design: The Kitchn

Want the best of both worlds? Start by watching Natasha Behnam on Max’s The Girls on the Bus, and then have her throw you an Iranian American dinner party. Great vibes required for entry. 

The California-born actress has always had bright dreams and even brighter taste buds. Much of that is due to her family, who immigrated to America from Iran in 1979, bringing their strong traditions, cultures, and cuisine along. Many of Behnam’s fondest memories revolve around the kitchen when she was growing up and the lessons she learned from her grandmother — including to take your time. But Behnam’s time is now, both personally and professionally.

Behnam stars as Lola Rahaii in Max’s new series, a political drama that follows four journalists tasked with following the election’s presidential hopefuls. Lola is a bright personality in the group: A confident, outspoken TikTok star who cares about helping the younger generation better understand politics, even when others underestimate her potential or platform. And bringing that character to life was incredibly important to Behman who aims to use her words and actions to make a positive difference in the world and, most of all, to start conversations.

And when it comes to starting and maintaining a conversation, Behnam is a rockstar. Her bubbly and bold personality shines through as she discusses her food and cultural influences. And although she may sometimes be panicked when it comes time to throw a dinner party — often assisted by her best friend and sous chef, Danya — she’ll always ensure that there are great vibes, great tastes, and great heaps of food to devour. 

For this edition of Cooking Diary, Natasha Behnam explains how food continues to shape her life, and how that relationship can be extremely healing.

Credit: Photos: Timothy Fernandez, Shutterstock, The Kitchn; Design: The Kitchn

From childhood to adulthood, what role has food and the culture attached to it played in your life? 

I’m Persian, and food was always a party for my family. When I was a kid, we would have Monday night dinners at my house where my grandma would cook and my aunts, uncles, and cousins would all come, and then on Wednesday nights it would be at my aunt’s house. So we had family dinner twice a week where everyone would come and the tables would be full of these beautiful big dishes of different Persian food. For me, food has always been about community and family. And as I’ve grown up, it’s become a lot more about healing as well. I feel like food is like a spiritual practice for me now because, quite literally, we are what we eat, but I found that I can heal things in my body based on what I’m eating, and I can also harm things in my body based on what I’m eating. So I’ve now been really getting in touch with the spirituality of food.

Looking back, what did those family dinners teach you? 

From that childhood experience, I feel like it’s in my bones to understand that community is everything. We have to eat together and get together once a week. My two best friends and I now do Monday night dinners together in Los Angeles. It’s just a space to know you’re not alone. You need family, whether it’s chosen or blood.

Any lessons in particular that your grandmother taught you in the kitchen that you still uphold today?

There are two things: The first is to take your time, which I never do. And the other thing that was actually so valuable is telling me to wash your dishes while you’re cooking. If something’s sitting on the stove, she turns and she’ll wash a couple of dishes and then go back to it, which actually is so helpful so that it doesn’t pile up.

So imagine it’s a typical Monday night dinner between you and your besties, and maybe you’ve invited some friends over. What role are you playing in this extravaganza?

I’m definitely way more of the vibe queen at the dinner parties. I will cook, but again, I panic the whole time. But I am really good at making sure that everyone knows each other and everyone is chatting and having a good time.

What are you cooking?

If I’m cooking, I’m making Persian food, which is hard to make and takes a long time. I learned from my grandma who does everything from scratch and everything takes like three days. But there’s one dish that I’ve perfected that is the only thing that I’ll make now. It’s called khoresh gheymeh. It’s a rice dish with a stew. The stew is a beef and yellow split pea base. Persian [cuisine] is famous for our tahdig or crispy rice, which, not to brag, but I absolutely have mastered. You put the rice, oil, butter, saffron, salt — all of that and you cook the rice until all the water is gone. Then you take a towel and wrap it around the lid of the pot and you put it on low heat for about 25 minutes. What that does is makes a layer of crispy rice on the bottom, and then you flip the pan over and you take the pot off so you have like this [crispy rice] pie. Then you take that and put the khoresh gheymeh on top. Traditionally it’s actually made with french fries on top of the stew, which is so delicious. So usually I’m making all of that and I’m always making a yogurt cucumber dip on the side to mix with the rice.

Okay, so we know the menu. Now, what’s the dinner party vibe? How are you entertaining guests?

Well we just moved, but my best friends, Danya and Hannah, lived with me in this big house, so we would invite maybe 10 to 12 people. We had a big table, we had music going, we got a little tablecloth, and it’s really like a homestyle party. I feel like we are all young, so our dinner parties are chaotic. We definitely will have some wine and we like to set the table pretty. And then by the time the food is ready, the food’s always on the stove and we’re like, “Alright, it’s ready, come get it!” That part’s not cute at all. But then we all get to bond and have really good food and it’s great.

You mentioned earlier about using food as healing. Is there one food in particular that is your go-to when you need a pick-me-up?

It’s boring, but it’s broccoli. I love just crispy salted broccoli. It’s so silly but it really tastes like potato chips to me when I have really crispy salty broccoli. It’s so boring.

You’re now based in LA — what’s your favorite restaurant? 

I live next to McCall’s Meat & Fish Co in Los Feliz, and they have the best olives, dips, breads — anything you could want for a charcuterie board.

And what about when you were in New York filming The Girls on the Bus — any favorite spots there?

The restaurant abcV changed my life. It’s the best food I’ve ever had in my life; I cannot wait to go back. I also loved Nami Nori sushi. So good; I would always go there. I also loved to go to Joseph Leonard in New York. Huge shout out to them, I feel like I became best friends with the entire staff there. And then I lived by a Birch Coffee, so I would pop down and would get a perfect oat milk latte with cinnamon on top from there.

We talked about your love of Persian food, but what other cuisines are you obsessed with? 

Thai food is my favorite. I love drunken noodles. I could go for Thai every day.