Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy New Year! A Persian Feast

Today was the first day of Spring, and therefore, it was also Persian New Year! Persian New Year, also known as NoRooz, is my favorite holiday of the year. Every year, I have a small party for family and a few friends. I spend all day cooking up various veganized versions of traditional Iranian dishes... a small party, but a huge feast.

The whole spread: In the big pot was our main dish, which I somehow neglected to photograph this year - Ash-e Resteh, a wonderful, wonderful vegetable noodle soup. It takes forever to make, but it's totally delicious and gorgeous. Seriously - it's got everything in it: onions, garlic, beets, 3 kinds of beans, beets, lentils, noodles, spinach, mountains of fresh herbs, lemon juice... it's amazing. My recipe is online here from last year's party.

Here is our HaftSin Table, which goes up before NoRooz, and stays up for all 13 days of the holiday. All the objects here are symbolic - meant to call in good tidings for the coming year: Coins for prosperity, apple for health, garlic for medicine, eggs for fertility (I use vegan glass "eggs"), mirror for reflection... and so on. It's all very beauitful. I love the process of assembling the table each year, and seeing all the symbols of spring in my home...

Here's my Sabzi Polo - herbed rice. Persian Rice is very special and wonderful - fluffy and light. It is most prized for the tah digh (sp?) - the crunchy, buttery rice "crust" at the bottom of the pot. Despite reading countless recipes, despite reading pictorials, despite dating an Iranian fellow for 3 years who was a rice master, I personally have never successfully created a tah digh. This year was no exception. I used this recipe. Of course, I followed these directions, instead of Bazu's, which was a mistake. Bazu says to cook the soaked rice for 20 minutes. The recipe I used says to cook the soaked rice for 1 1/2 hours. Big Difference! So, I split the difference, and I should have just listened to Bazu! Foolish me.

Here's the recipe I used, with the changes I made to it:

3 cups basmati rice
water
3 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups finely chopped herbs, approximately
1 bunch fresh parsley, stemmed and rinsed
1 bunch chives, rinsed or 2 bunches if they are small
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed and rinsed
1 bunch fresh dill weed, stemmed and rinsed
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Rinse the rice thoroughly in water. In a large bowl, combine the rice and salt and let soak in water (cover about 1 inch above the rice) for 6 to 8 hours. Drain the water.

Bring a 6 quart pot, three-fourths full of water, to a boil over high heat. Add the rice. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, stirring a few times, until most of the rice comes to the surface (tender but slightly firm to the bite). This doesn't take very long at all. Drain well and rinse with warm water.

Spread the vegetable oil on the bottom of the pot. To start the layering process, cover the vegetable oil with one-third of the rice in a single layer. Spread one-third of the herb mix over the rice and fluff with hand to mix. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp cumin and 1/4 tsp cinnamon between the first and second layer. Repeat this process twice. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to medium and steam the rice for approximately twenty to twenty-five minutes. (Do as I say, and not as I do!) The way I learned it is to put a dish towel between the pot and the lid, and close the lid super tight. Then fold the edges of the towel up on top on the lid (so they don't burn or touch the hot sides of the pot).

Here is my "tah digh" - believe me when I tell you that this picture looks better than the actual facts on the ground. I seriously burnt the heck out that poor pot of rice! Anyhow, I"m not totally discouraged, because the rice that did survive was fluffy and delicious. And, even a burnt tah digh is the closest I've ever come. Next year, just don't burn it... and I"ll be there! If you follow my directions about, and only steam the rice for twenty minutes, it will not burn.

Fresh salad: cherry tomatos, cucumber, parsely, fresh mint, red onion. With a pomegranate molasses & olive oil dressing.

Not a great picture, but a GREAT freaking dish. Traditionally, Kookoo Sabzi is a omlette, and every year I've tried a slightly different approach. This year's was definitely the best! I'll call it Kookoo Sabzi 3.0.

I used Susan V's Omlette recipe as the base (just a little generous on the turmeric), but then made up a kookoo sabzi filling based on this recipe. I had some frozen Persian Greens from the Persian grocer - cilantro, green onions, parsely, spinach, and fenugreek greens. I added in a whole nother bunch of parsely, and an entire bunch of dill as well. In total I had about 4 cups of greens. You must chop and chop and chop your herbs until they are totally obliterated. Chop and chop and chop! Then I added in 2/3 c. barberries rehydrated (thanks Bazu! You RULE!), 2/3 c chopped red pepper, 1 cup chopped walnuts, and 6 cloves of pressed garlic. Mix it all together, and you've got your Persian filling for Susan's omlette. In the end, I made a 6x batch of Susan's recipe, but ended up making only 4 omlettes instead of 6. So, lucky us!, I'll make the rest tomorrow! The omlettes were a little messy, but luckily I only invite people who will forgive me for such things, and we all devored up the Kookoo Sabzi. Definitely the most delicious yet. I think those greens from the Persian Grocer might just have made all the difference...

Here's my plate, from the top left: Kookoo Sabzi 3.0, Sabzi Polo, Khorest Fesenjan, and salad. The Khorest Fesenjan really isn't the world's most photogenic dish, but let me assure you that it's totally freaking delicious. Here's my recipe. It's seitan and onions with a thick walnut-pomegranate juice gravy. Unique, and super super tasty.

In case you were unsure, mini key lime pies are not traditional Persian New Year treats. However, they are my dad's favorite dessert, and tomorrow happens to be my dad's birthday (Happy Birthday Dad!!), so of course his favorite just had to be on the table! I used Isa's recipe, which is now officially my go-to Key Lime Pie recipe. It's great.

A beautiful platter of giant dates from the Farmer's Market.

MMM! Freak out! This was our big dessert: Pistachio Ice Cream with Orange Blossom Water & Saffron - with chunks of dates and chopped roasted pistachios mixed in. The Pistachio Ice Cream was Musty's idea, and then I Persianified it! I used my Vitamix to make PISTACHIO MILK, which was incredible. I soaked the nuts in water and orange blossom water, to infuse a floral quality. The Pistachio Milk base gave the ice cream incredible richness and a lovely light green color. I used Bryana Clark Grogan's Vanilla Gelato recipe as a starting point (from "Nonna's Italian Kitchen"), so a big shout out to her! It was freaky crazy good! Very rich, and just the right amount of pistachio intensity. The aromatics of the orange blossom water and the saffron were perfectly present, without overwhelming.

You can see that I staged this photo shoot of my ice cream on the Haft Sin Table... with my veganized version of the goldfish (in Iran, you would use an actual fish in a bowl, representing life), and a small bowl of jujubees...

Here's my pistachio milk. I don't know if you can see the beautiful light green hue, but it really is gorgeous.

Sohan As-Ali candies: almond brittle candies with saffron and rosewater, pistachios sprinkled on top. Totally delicious. This was the first Persian food I learned to cook, and I make them every year. This year's batch was by far the best ever... just a lucky combination of timing it right. Candy is a bit tricky, but these had perfect flavor and perfect crispness. I ate way too many! Here's the recipe I use.

Aren't they beautiful?

Hope you had a great first day of spring. Happy New Year!

25 comments:

  1. What a gorgeous spread! And happy birthday to your dad!

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  2. norooz-shoma mobarak bashe!

    you rock this holiday, amey! =)

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  3. What a spread!! This must've been so much work, but it looks AMAZING! Hope you had a great time!

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  4. Wow, what an absolutely splendid feast; I can practically smell that beautiful food! Happy new year!!

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  5. so beautiful! everything looks so unique and festive!

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  6. wow, all of it looks amazing! it is great that you have this tradition and you spend the time cooking dishes you love...and experimenting! i love all your desserts, because i am a baking/dessert girl. the mini key lime pies are adorable, and look SO GOOD, and the brittle looks fantastic. all so elegant, and i'm sure tasty!

    happy new year!

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  7. Wow, when you said you spent all day cooking you weren't kidding! What a wonderfully delicious feast! The table looks gorgeous, and I love the daisy plate.

    The Pistachio Ice Cream is really working my salivary glands. And I love the veganized version of the fishy next to it!

    Happy Persian New Year and Happy Birthday, Amey's Dad!

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  8. After seeing this post, I've decided that I'm going to be celebrating NoRooz every year,or at least trying to get myself invited to your parties.

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  9. Such stunning food! I can only imagine how delicious everything tastes. NoRooz is a HUGE holiday here in the Toronto area, and many of my students celebrate. Lucky you, to have 13 days of New Year!

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  10. I remember how much you love this holiday, and it certainly shows in your food and decorating. Every little detail is just beautiful, Amey!

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  11. This post just blew me away! How amazing! Thank you for the inspiration, I am so so so impressed.

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  12. This post just blew me away! How amazing! Thank you for the inspiration, I am so so so impressed.

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  13. Everything looks so perfect and beautiful.

    I've had lots of problems cooking rice too! I've tried to make a Puerto Rican version where the crust is also very important...but I always mess it up.

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  14. Wow Amey!! What a feast!!

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  15. I made an Iranian feast last year during VeganMoFo (http://huggerfood.blogspot.com/2008/10/nush-e-jan.html) and had a lot of success making tah digh using the A Taste of Persia cookbook. While time and labor intensive, it was delicious and just like my best friend's mom used to make.

    Your Norooz feast and HaftSin table look wonderful! I wish I could have been there to try all your delicious Iranian food. :)

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  16. This was a great post! Thank you for all the info about Persian food.

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  17. Anonymous9:16 AM

    Wow, this is amazing! Everything looks beautiful. All of the pistachio and date stuff looks especially delicious. I am intrigued by the fenugreek greens, which I have never tried. And also never had jujubes. I will be seeking these out.

    Jen E.

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  18. Happy belated Persian New Year! I celebrate the pagan Ostara holiday on the equinox and set up a spring altar table as well (I also use vegan glass eggs!).

    Everything looks delicious, especially that candy at the end. I must say though, when I saw the rice pot, I thought, I'm so glad I didn't have to scrub that clean!

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  19. Everything is so gorgeous! I'm loving the sound of that almond brittle.

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  20. Happy NoRooz! I always love seeing your celebration.

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  21. Wow, yum. Everything looks great :)

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  22. Everything looks so TASTY!

    Thanks for sharing delicious vegan recipes!

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  23. Happy New Year! What an incredible spread! Everything looks so tasty and yummy! :-)

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  24. Oh my gosh, you went all out! Everything looks so amazing and delicious.

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