Last month was the Chinese (Lunar) New Year, and now March brings the celebration of the Persian/Iranian New Year, Nowruz, which starts on the vernal equinox (March 20 this year in the States).
Article by Faith Bahadurian |Central Jersey
Nowruz has been celebrated by people from diverse communities for thousands of years, throughout Western and Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Balkans. For most, it is a secular holiday, but Nowruz remains a holy day for Zoroastrians.
I asked Lawrenceville resident Naomi Mobed, who grew up in Tehran, Iran, to reminisce about Nowruz. Her award-winning line of chutneys, marmalades, and relishes, Le Bon Magot (lebonmagot.com), has created a sensation thanks to her combination of exotic and approachable flavors that reflect the cuisines she grew up enjoying. I was drawn to their jewel-like tones initially, but quickly won over by the fresh, bright, flavors. . . and by Mobed’s vivacious personality when I first met her in person at Bon Appetit, one of several local gourmet markets carrying her products.
When asked to reminisce about Nowruz, she responded via email, “Nowruz is an important celebration for Persians and Zoroastrians alike…as I grew up in Iran, my family adopted the modern-day rituals of the festivities – certain foods, gift-giving and symbology. However, as a Parsi (a Zoroastrian of Indo-Pakistani heritage), it was already a significant day.”
“So,” she continued, “the atmosphere was electrical. . . . And, Persians love to party! The time around Nowruz was one huge celebration across Tehran. . . . Markets . . . were heaving with multicoloured hyacinths, cyclamens and pomegranates.”
Much as the Jewish Passover Seder table has its traditional elements (Passover starts on March 30 this year), Nowruz’s Haft-Seen table holds its own arrangement of symbolic items, and they’re not all food. Mobed writes:
“Goldfish in round bowls and large greens with multi-coloured bows were stacked on shelves ready for Haft-Seen tables across the city. Sezdeh Bedar, the 13th day of Nowruz, marking the end of the holidays, was always a bittersweet time. The day was spent picnicking on the mountainside, Tehran’s lush parks, or at river’s edge . . . single-burner stoves were set up outside and immense pots of rice and fish were cooked fresh. Fresh juices pomegranate, orange and melon to name a few — were drunk alongside hot tea. During this picnic, we would perform the ritual of throwing away the sabze (greenery) that had been grown for Haft-Seen.”
As if that wasn’t enough, the party starts early, on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz, with Chaharshanbe Suri, the Persian Festival of Fire. According to Mobed, “You walked street to street or in the park with your friends, jumped over small bonfires and went out for kebabs afterwards.”
Fresh herb kuku
Adapted from “New Food of Life, Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies.” Najmieh Batmanglij, Mage (2001). 4 servings.
There are many versions of kuku, in this one the green herbs symbolize rebirth, while the eggs symbolize fertility and happiness. The more exotic ingredients are easily available online or in ethnic markets. You can make your own advieh, it usually includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ground rose petals (if available), and cumin in a ratio of 1:1:1:1: ½. — F.B.
5 to 6 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon advieh
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup finely chopped fresh garlic chives or scallions
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek (optional)
2 tablespoons dried barberries (optional)
½ cup oil or clarified butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break eggs into large bowl. Add baking powder, advieh, salt and pepper. Beat with a fork, add garlic, chopped herbs, fenugreek and barberries (if using), and flour. Mix thoroughly and adjust seasonings to taste.
Pour quarter-cup of the oil or butter into an 8-inch ovenproof dish and bake 10 to 15 minutes. Add the egg mixture and bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and pour remaining oil or butter over the top. Return to oven for 20-30 more minutes until golden brown. Serve in the dish or unmold onto a platter. Serve hot or cold with lavash bread and yogurt.
Baku fish kebabs
Adapted from “Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan,” Naomi Duguid, Artisan (2016). Serves 4-6.
The colorful pomegranate sauce is festive, but feel free to serve lemon wedges instead…or one of the Le Bon Magot products. — F.B.
2 pounds skin-on fish filets, salmon, or cod, cut 1½-inches wide
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1 tablespoon sunflower or extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, sliced (optional)
¼ cup minced scallions (optional)
1 tablespoon ground sumac or to taste
1 cup pomegranate-coriander sauce (arils from two pomegranates, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ cup chopped coriander, ¼ teaspoon salt)
Sprigs of fresh herbs, such as basil, coriander, mint, parsley, watercress, dill, arugula, sorrel
Preheat grill or broiler. Marinate fish in lemon juice, dill, ¼ teaspoon salt, and oil for 30 minutes. Thread 2-3 pieces of fish on each skewer with skin facing same direction on each. (Double skewers with fish acting as ladder “rungs” is suggested, or you can use a grill basket instead of skewers.) Grill skin side down for 10 minutes, turn and grill another 4 minutes, until just done. Cover platter with sliced onions and tomatoes and slide fish off skewers on to platter. Sprinkle remaining ½ teaspoon salt, scallions and sumac over fish and serve with accompaniments.
For sauce, mash pomegranate arils in mortar or heavy bowl with lemon juice and salt, using a pestle or wooden spoon. Let steep 30 minutes. Add coriander, mix and serve.
Faith Bahadurian blogs at www.njspice.net (also Twitter @njspice).