March 20, 2017 signified the beginning of Spring. On March 21, 2017 in Middle Eastern and Central Asian communities this day signifies a holiday by the name of Nowruz. Like most holidays founded around the changes of the season, the history of this holiday is extensive. It is said to have originated in Iran, which also gives it the name Iranian New Year or Persian New Year. In this week’s article, we will dive into the history of the holiday as well as a few delicious recipes that are shared during the holiday and in their culture. Any holiday that is centered around food and family is a holiday worth celebrating.
What is Nowruz?
Nowruz is a combination of two Persian words. “Now”, which means “new” and “rouz”, which means “day”. Nowruz is the day of the vernal equinox (the day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet), which marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the first day of the Iranian calendar. It’s a holiday that is celebrated by all different faiths all around the world, with festivities including cleaning, food, and time with family.
Brief History of Nowruz
Nowruz has been celebrated all over the world for more than 3,000 years in western Asia, Central Asia, Caucasus, Black Sea Basin, and Balkans. Iranians observed the beginning of both autumn and spring, relating to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, for the celebration of the New Year. They held festivals each time to mark the major turning points of the natural year. Nowruz is partly rooted in the tradition of Iranian religions, such as Mitraison and Zoroastriansim. It said that the “belief of the Iranians is that Nowraz marks the first day when the universe started its motion.”
A Few Nowruz Traditions
Most families spend the weeks leading up to the holiday cleaning their home and fixing anything that is broken. This activity is known as khaneh takani (or “shaking the house” or our version of spring cleaning). The Wednesday leading up to Nowruz is a time to adress their spiritual cleanliness, which includes jumping over a fire pit. In the final days leading up to Nowruz, people prepare the Haft-Seen table , which is set with seven items that symbolize the time of the year.
According to Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, these items are supposed to represent what people hope to bring into the new year: lentil sprouts for rebirth (sabzeh), sweet pudding for abundance and fertility (samanu), vinegar for wisdom and patience (serkeh), garlic for health (seer), dried fruit for love (senjed), apple for beauty (seeb), and sumac berries to allude to the colors of dawn (somaq).
After the first day of Nowruz, the next two weeks are spent visiting family members, starting with the eldest. On the 13th day of the new year, which is the final day of the holiday, families gather together for picnicking outside.
With our current administration’s efforts to ban the visas of individuals from Middle Eastern countries, a lot of the joy around the holiday has been dampened. This year marks the first time since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that those who migrated to the United States feel that they cannot risk leaving the country for fear they will not be able to return. Many families’ plans have been canceled and some are worried that they might not see their relatives again.
I truly hope that everyone celebrating Nowruz were able to celebrate together with their loved ones, this year and in the future. I hope that everyone have a great start to the new year. This article was quite a delicious journey into a new cuisine and culture. Enjoy the recipes with friends, families, and loved ones.
Usually eaten as a starter dish with pita bread, this smoky eggplant dip is a delicious and healthy dish.
Roast the eggplant on a open fire either on your stove top or a grill. Fully char the outside until the interior is soft; this gives it a nice, smoky flavor. If you have an electric stove and no grill, you can roast it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.
When the eggplants are cooked, allow to cool enough to handle. Using a spoon, skin the eggplants and chill the pulp. Cut pulp into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Roast or sautee one clove of garlic.
In a blender, mix together eggplant, garlic, and olive oil until smooth. Add 2 lemons worth of zest and juice, 2 tablespoons of tahini, and 1/4 teaspoon of sumac. Add in salt and pepper to taste.
Whip the yogurt until it is creamy and transfer to a 1 liter jug or pitcher
Add ice cubes
Slowly add club soda and stir
Add salt to taste and mint leaf for garnish
Kuku (Persian Baked Egg dish)
A distant relative to the Italian frittata, the Kuku is a baked egg dish that combines common ingredients to westerners (spinach, parsley, cilantro, cumin, and cardamom) with the flavors of Persian cuisine. This is a delicious dish that is a great primer for those first trying Persian cuisine.
The staple of this dish is the herb blend known as Advieh, which is a mixture of herbs such as cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and rose petals. This recipe is a adaptation from chowhound.com. In their recipe, since the rose petals are an uncommon ingredient in Western culture, they choose to leave those out. The measurements for the spices in this recipe should make up for the difference.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Spray a 13-9 inch baking dish with oil spray; set aside.
Mix together salt, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper in a large bowl until evenly combined.
Thinly chop spinach, leek, parsley, and cilantro and mix together in a bowl.
Add spinach, leek, parsley, and cilantro and mix with seasoning until evenly coated.
In a second large bowl, whisk eggs. Pour egg mixture over greens and mix until evenly combined.
Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake until firm in the center, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Can either serve hot or cold, with a salad, yogurt or on its own.
Fesenjoon – Pomegranate Walnut and Chicken Stew
Fesenjoon is one of the most famous dishes in Persian culture. A sweet and sour stew of chicken cooked in a sauce of walnuts and pomegranates. Slow cooked for all of the ingredients to meld perfectly together for a delicious well balanced dish.
You can either finely chop the walnuts by hand or pulse them a few times in a food processor.
In a small saucepan, whisk together molasses and pomegranate juice and let reduce until it
In a separate small pan, add two tablespoons of oil and saute walnuts until lightly toasted for a minute or two over medium heat, stirring frequently. Be cautious not to burn them.
Add the pomegranate molasses mixture to the walnuts, with two cups of water. Mix well. Cover the pan with the lid slightly ajar and simmer for 30-40 minutes on low heat.
In a large heavy pot, saute the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat until golden brown. Add turmeric and stir well.
Place the chicken pieces into the pot and cook until golden brown on all sides; add salt, pepper and small dash of cinnamon.
Pour the pomegranate walnut mixture into the pot, mix well, and add water if needed. Make sure the chicken is fully covered by the liquid and bring back to a boil.
Lower the heat, cover and simmer for two hours. The stew should become rich and creamy.