Today is the first day of Spring, which means that today is also Persian New Year, also known as NoRooz. Happy New Year! Sale No Mobarak! It's my most very favorite holiday of the whole year. In addition to celebrating with deep cleaning the house, getting rid of unwanted stuff, setting up my haft seen table, and all that good stuff... I especially like to go all out in the kitchen and have a big Persian feast.
This year was a bit of a family affair, which was awesome. Last night my mom and my nephew came over to help out. My mom was delicately cutting off bits of orange peel, while my nephew CW was juicing the oranges. It was a herculean effort - he juiced about 3 cups by hand! Thanks, dude! *flick!*
Then, this morning I was up before the crack of dawn... chopping herbs, starting the soup, and getting busy in the kitchen. I had a pretty ambitious menu planned, but somehow everything stayed stress-free! One major factor in my peaceful morning was that my mom and her two sisters all arrived early to help out. I was so grateful to have their helping hands and companionship in the kitchen!
Ash e reshteh is the classic NoRooz soup - it's sort of like a delicious Persian version of minestrone: onions, garlic, beans, lentils, noodles, herbs galore, spinach, veggie broth, beets, spices... all cooked into a big glorious pot of healthy and delicious soup. It's one of my favorite NoRooz traditions and I always look forward to making it (and eating it!). It does take a little time, but a lot of it is just time while the soup is simmering away and you can be busy surfing the web or doing jumping jacks or whatever you like to do. (recipe here)
This lovely little salad is called the "Persian Pomegranate & Orange Blossom Fruit Dessert," from Silk Road Cooking. Simple and delicious! Oranges, orange juice, orange blossom water, pomegranate kernels, and a few other little goodies... just a wonderful little salad, and an excellent way to fulfill the Mandatory Fruit Salad At Every Brunch Party regulations.
By the way, you will see that I made a lot of great things from Silk Road Cooking by Najmieh Batmanglij this year. This is one of the most beautiful, enticing, inspiring and intellectually stimulating cookbooks I've ever seen. I love it so much. In truth, I have made a few duds from it, and I sometimes wonder if there's an occasional error in some of the recipes, but by and large the successes have far outweighed the duds, and even the duds still just leave me wanting to slightly tweak the recipe this way or that... I highly highly recommend this book for anyone who likes cooking unfamiliar dishes from around the world.
Shirazi salad - not really from any particular recipe - cukes, tomatoes, red onion, olives, parsley - tossed with a little olive oil, vinegar & pomegranate molasses dressing. Delicious!
"Amoli Rice Salad with Barberries & Orange Peel," again from Silk Road Cooking
I just bedazzled my rice! Isn't it lovely? This amazing sweet rice dish was the star of the show this morning - even though I realized, much later in the day, that I had completely forgotten to add the dressing. No worries - it was still full of spectacular flavors! It's got sliced almonds, raisins, barberries, orange peel & shredded carrot cooked with sugar & rice... all mixed together. Absolutely beautiful, and the combo of flavors was just as amazing on the palette. I'll definitely, definitely make this again. Maybe I'll even add the dressing next time, maybe not!
This is a big batch of Khorest Fesenjan, a savory dish with soy curls and onions and walnuts and pomegranate juice. Truth be told, I didn't think this was my best batch of Fesenjan, so I won't share the recipe I used. There's plenty left over (bad sign! ha ha!), so I'll see if I can tweak the leftovers in some desirable manner. :) I do love the combo of the textures in this dish though - the walnuts, the chewy seitan, the saucy sauce... hopefully I can come back another year with a tastier version to share!
KukuSabzi! I know this is a really crummy photo, but since it was one of the yummiest things I made today, I just had to include it. Kuku Sabzi is an omelette full of fresh herbs, chopped walnuts & barberries... and after years of experimenting with various ways to veganize it, I pretty much got it right last year - so I didn't mess with anything this time around! I use the omelette recipe from Vegan Brunch, but add in all the various herbs and such that make it kuku sabzi. Also, as you can see, I cook it up flat like a big frittata, rather than folding it in half. Sooooo good.
And the piece-de-resistance! Sabzi Polow! I followed my own recipe from a failed attempt a few years back... but thanks to a recent lesson from my wonderful Great Aunt Tashie, and a new non-stick pan, I finally achieved the perfect golden crust of rice that is an absolute imperative for Persian Rice. In fact, this crust is so special it even has its own name, tadigh. Everyone wants some of the tadigh, and it's notoriously difficult to get it right for newbie cooks in the world of Persian cuisine (like me!). Sabzi means veggies (or herbs), so this rice dish is a special spring time rice dish layered with copious amounts of finely minced fresh herbs, and is quite lovely. I steamed the rice for about 30 minutes... and I think next year I'll leave it on still a little longer so that even more of the rice has that perfect golden hue.
This is a little video of The Big Moment, in which I attempt to flip my rice out of the pot... not knowing whether it has worked or not. You will see my absolute manic levels of joy when the perfect tahdigh is revealed!
I made most of the desserts yesterday, since they could easily be done the day before. First up I made these delicious and very easy Tut - homemade marzipan with rosewater, rolled in sugar. So easy and soooooo yummy! I used this great recipe from My Persian Kitchen, which is a most excellent (non-vegan) persian culinary blog full of recipes and ideas. These were really really delicious and very easy *but messy!* to make, and I will most definitely make these again in years to come. In fact, I'll have a hard time making myself wait a whole year until I make them again!
These big gingerbread slabs are about 5-6 inches wide, and about a foot long each. According to the recipe they were supposed to be crisp and crunchy, which I was really looking forward to, but instead mine turned out quite cakey. I'm pretty good at following a recipe, so there must be some misprint in there. I might do some tweaking though, because the flavor was very nice and worth a little persistence. I like that they have fresh serrano peppers in the batter!
Of course I also made my annual batch of Sohan As-Ali, a rosewater-saffron-almond brittle, sprinkled with pistachios with absolutely out-of-this-world flavor. First you just get the sweet, but it's almost immediately followed by the subtle aromatics of the rosewater and the very particular taste of saffron. So good. (confession, I am reusing a picture from last year!). This year, I really got the recipe right - perfecting my total veganization of the treat (removal of honey) - and with the help of a candy thermometer I got a perfect crisp snap to the brittles. Mmmm!
In addition to today's holiday, tomorrow is also my dad's birthday! If there were an official fan club for Fans of Lemon & Lime-Based Desserts, Especially Pies - I think my dad could be president. When I was growing up, we never had dessert at home, but my dad often liked to make this joke after dinner: "And now, there's lemon merengue pie for dessert, right?" - which always got a chuckle out of my mom. So, I made this amazing lemon tart for my Daddy! In keeping with the NoRooz theme, I looked up how to say "Happy Birthday Daddy" in Farsi, and wrote it on top. It turned out pretty well, considering I had no idea what I was writing, and I had to write right-to-left! :)
It was such a great morning, and I feel lucky to have so many beloved people to celebrated my adopted holiday with me. And now, after 4 1/2 hours of cooking this morning, please excuse me while I go heat up some leftovers for dinner! :)
Happy New Year to Everyone!