نوروز Nowruz (New Day), the traditional 13-day Iranian celebration of the first day of spring (spring equinox), dates back to the Achaemenid Empire 6th century B.C. Nowruz is a celebration of nature and its revival and rejuvenation. The preparation for the Nowruz festival starts with خانه تکانی khaneh tekani, a thorough spring cleaning. Then there's چهار شنبه سوری Chahar Shanbeh Suri (festival of fire) that's celebrated on the eve of the last Tuesday of the year. عید نوروز Eid-e Nowruz is a time for Iranians all across the world, as well as other neighboring countries of Iran that share this holiday, to gather together with their families and celebrate the Persian New Year.
هفت سین Haft seen spread is embedded with symbolism and each item on the سفره sofreh has a symbolic meaning. Overall, they represent life, health, prosperity, love, fertility and patience.The Seven S's of Sofreh-ye Haft Seen include the following, سبزه Sabzeh (wheat or lentil sprouts), سرکه Serkeh (vinegar), سماق Somagh (sumac), سیر Seer (garlic), سنجد Senjed (fruit of oleaster tree), سکه Sekeh(coins), سمنو Samanoo (wheat pudding) and سیب Seeb (apples). Fragrant سنبل sonbol (hyacinth) as well as other fresh spring flowers such as لاله laleh (tulips) and نرگس narges (narcissus) adorn the table. Other items on the sofreh (tablecloth) include ayneh (mirror), candles, colored eggs, and gold fish. Nowruz sweets and ajil (nuts and seeds) may also be found on the sofreh. Food is a major part of the Nowruz celebration and a traditional Persian New Year feast includes fresh herbs which represent earth, nature and healthy eating. A typical Nowruz menu includes: Sabzi Polow ba Mahi, Kookoo Sabzi, Reshteh Polow, Ash Reshteh, Sabzi Khordan, Mast o Khiar and Salad Shirazi.
I was recently gifted an Iranian cookbook titled آشپزی دوره صفوی - Ashpazi Doreh-ye Safavi (Cooking during the Safavid Dynasty). This cookbook is a compilation of two separate books (Karnameh and Madat-al- Hayat) about cooking and recipes from the era of Shah Ismail I ( 1501-1524) and Shah Abbas I (1588-1629). According to the author, Iraj Afshar, many of the recipes in this book were dishes served at the Safavid royal court. The working class people could barely afford most of these extravagant, elaborate and time consuming meals. I suspect that this book would appeal to those interested in the history of Iranian cuisine. While many of the recipes are not easy to read or easy to make, the instructions are vague, the servings are large and the correct measurement of ingredients are left to your imagination, it's wonderful to have a glimpse into the type of food people used to eat long ago.
On a personal note, I am very passionate about recreating old and forgotten recipes and have a deep desire to bring them back to life, I decided to try out one of the recipes and among the many recipes listed in the book I came across a simple vegetarian barley soup with spinach and cilantro. I would think a warm bowl of barley soup would have appealed to the Safavid royal court as well as the working class people especially in the cold days of winter. I have written two other barley recipes in the past, Soup-e Jo and Ash-e Jo and this recipe would be a great addition to my barley recipes. I used this brief and loose ash recipe with vague directions and converted it into a usable recipe and I'm delighted to share it with you all. I tried to stay true to the original recipe and keep it as authentic as possible while coming up with my own measurements and proportions. Adding lime juice, butter/olive oil to the ash is simply a personal preference and you may skip it if you like.
Ash-e Jo - Barley Soup with Spinach and Cilantro Ingredients: Serves 4-6
1 cup barley
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped spinach
A handful of almonds
Salt and pepper
Fresh squeezed lime juice *optional
Butter/olive oil *optional
Place the raw almonds in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, let sit for a few minutes, remove the skins and let the almonds dry completely. You can use a food processor or a mortar and pestle to grind the almonds. Set aside.
Rinse barley under cool running water, drain and place in a saucepan. Cover the barley with a couple of inches of water, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, add 1/2 teaspoon salt. cover partially and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender.
Add the chopped cilantro, spinach and ground almonds. Add more water if needed. Simmer on low heat for another 10-15 minutes.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stir well, taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve the ash in individual soup bowls and drizzle each serving with a generous squeeze of lime juice.
Yalda, the ancient Persian festival of winter solstice is celebrated on the eve of the longest night of the year which also marks the beginning of the winter season in the northern hemisphere. Shab-e yalda (yalda night) festival dates back several thousands of years ago to the birth of Mithra, the light of the world and the god of justice and victory. It's a wonderful night when family and friends gather together to celebrate, laugh, eat, drink, and read the poetry of Hafez and tell stories late into the night. For me, besides the memorable yalda nights of my childhood which involved delicious food, ruby red seeded pomegranates, small round watermelons, ajil, sweets and tea, it's remembering how adamant my mother was to instill the appreciation for shab-e yalda and all other Iranian celebrations in me.
I came across this faloodeh recipe a few years ago. I was so intrigued by its simplicity and availability of the ingredients that I made it right away, took a photo, and posted it on my Facebook page. Ever since then I have had this recipe on my mind and I wanted to post this fresh fruit based faloodeh/paloodeh on my blog. I like the combination of fresh apple and pear flavors in this Iranian-style faloodeh/paloodeh. The term faloodeh also refers to the Iranian frozen rice noodle dessert that is served with sour cherry syrup.
There are many different types of apples and pears. They vary in color, texture, and taste and since everyone has their own favorites, you may choose whichever type of apple or pear that you prefer for this recipe. This recipe was adapted from the British Museum website a long time ago and the direct link seems to be broken. Here's the link to the Apple and Pear Sherbet post on my Facebook page 5 years ago.
Ingredients: Serves 4
2 large apples
2 large pears
1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon superfine sugar (add more sugar if you prefer it sweeter)
1/2 teaspoon rosewater
Thoroughly rinse the fruits in cold water, pat dry with a paper towel or cloth and grate them using a handheld grater. If you prefer, you may remove the skin but it's not necessary.
Place the grated apples, pears, lime juice, rosewater and sugar into a bowl. Stir and mix it well.
Scoop the faloodeh into serving bowls/glasses and make sure you serve it right away since apples and pears turn brown quickly. You can spoon it over ice cream, yogurt, or simple cakes or just eat it plain.
*You can turn the apple and pear faloodeh into a drink by simply adding a cup of cold water and 1-2 cups of ice.
Maman and Baba sitting around a korsi on shab-e yalda, circa 1970