Happy New Year!
This past weekend was the vernal equinox, which means it was also Persian New Year...
one of my favorite days of the whole year.
this year's haft-sin table
As always, we hosted a wonderful fete - with friends and family and loads and loads of food. I spent almost all of Saturday and almost all day Sunday grocery shopping, cleaning the house, preparing and cooking. I think I love the planning and hub-bub and preparation almost as much as the celebration itself. I especially love setting up the Haft-Sin table (above), which is arranged with various specific items that have specific meanings. NoRouz is a really ancient and beautiful holiday full of symbolism. Every year, after dinner, I stand up by the haft-sin sofreh and go through each of the objects and their meaning. This year I meant to read a Hafez poem, but I forgot, so I'll include one in this post.
I shared this picture on Instagram too. It's my full-page shopping list and task sheet for my NoRouz party - each dish that I planned to make, cookbook page references where needed, a little check mark once I've bought all the ingredients, and an "X" once I've finished preparing the dish. Being super-prepared and organized like this comes pretty naturally to me (nerd alert!), but is also kinda fun and helps me feel like I can get it all done.
This year I had a ridiculously ambitious plan to cook up millions of dishes. I made good use of the-day-before-the-party and made most of the sweeties, made the bread dough, soaked my beans, and made the batter for my herbed omelettes (kuku sabzi). Still, on Sunday morning, when I looked at my list, I thought I might not be able to cook everything... But! Luckily my super awesome friend Sophia has been my #1 sous chef for many years now on NoRouz. She came over in the early afternoon, and together we spent about 6 hours straight in the kitchen - hustling, chatting, chopping, stirring, fretting, celebrating, and - ultimately! - cooking every single thing on my master plan! whooo hooo! When you have a good groove with someone in the kitchen, it is just such a lovely way to spend time together.
Herbs & appetizers platter
A big platter of fresh herbs is very Persian, and most especially at NoRooz. The fresh herbs are associated with the fresh growth of spring, and symbolize growth and rebirth. This year I wanted to make an extra-special and super-elegant herbs platter, and I absolutely love how it turned out. Doesn't it look deluxe? We included sliced Lavash bread & halved dolmas (both from Trader Joe's), dried figs, sliced radishes, chives, mint, parsley, and cilantro. I especially love those elegant little flower buds on the ends of the chives.
Punk Rawk Labs vegan cheeses, Original and Herb
Along with the herbs platter, you gotta have cheese! I recently won a set of four cheeses from Punk Rawk Labs new YouTube channel and I was stoked because I love their cheeses so much. (I have a whole blog post coming about these cheeses soon!) They might be my favorite vegan cheeses of all - totally great flavor and consistency and ingredients. Mr. VE&T took one bite and said "this is the best vegan cheese yet!" Suffice it to say, that in a party of almost all non-vegans, these cheeses vanished by the end of the evening. Boy they were delicious, especially with the various goodies from the big fancy herb platter!
glorious fresh flat breads
Over the years, I've tried making lots of different recipes for flat breads and various Persian bread recipes off the internet... but none of them were really standouts. However there was one recipe that I could never forget: the Naan recipe from Vegan Eats World. I tested for VEW, and I'm pretty sure I hadn't made this bread since way back then... and yet, I hadn't forgotten it either. So I decided to make them for this year's fresh flat bread.
Holy Moly, these were GOOD, definitely one of the best bread products I have ever made. I made the dough the night before, let it rise for about 20 minutes, and then popped it in the fridge for a slow rise. We took it out, separated it into 8 equalish pieces, and then left them out for a second rise. We were busy tending to other chores, so they got a slow second rise too... and by the time we were ready for them, the balls of dough were soft and puffy and perfect! Sophia cooked 'em up on the cast iron skillet and we got the whole house smoky with the glory of perfect naans. I know naans are Indian, but really, I hope you'll forgive me. Eating excellent bread with fresh herbs and cheeses is very much Persian!
Pomegranate Limeade & Rose Tea
In addition to sparkly water (always!), I also made a big pitcher of a Pomegranate Limeade. I poured in a bunch of fresh pomegranate juice (from the farmers' market), squeezed a few limes (from our tree), and then poured in a bunch of sparkly water. I added a sprig of fresh mint, and it was good to go. No sweetener at all, and it was just perfect!
On the right is a big jar of wonderful black tea made with rose petals and lightly sweetened. My friends K&K brought this and it was so lovely. I was actually feeling a little naughty for not having tea, since it's an essential Persian beverage, but my thoughtful friends saved the day!
fresh mint in the pomegranate spritzer
I got a prettier (and more golden) crust on last year's Sabzi Polo (rice with fresh herbs), but otherwise this was pretty perfect. I think this is 3 or 4 years in a row of rice success, so I am feeling rather pleased with myself. Perhaps I am finally getting the hang of this thing? Persian rice is special and somewhat complicated because the rice is rinsed, briefly parboiled, and then steamed (instead of boiled). When done correctly, the result is a lovely and light rice with each individual grain separate from the others, and surrounded by a crunchy golden exterior. Oh man is it good.
I usually just look back at my own blog posts from previous years for reference on how to make these dishes... but I am considering adding a separate tab to my blog to fully record each of these recipes - as much for my sake as for the world's sake! I would like to have them all in one place.
Shirazi Salad is always delicious and perfect and even though Sophia made a perfectly glorious and ginormous salad, there was none left by the end of evening. That's how good it is! This salad is pretty much what it looks like - cukes, red onions, tomatoes, fresh mint, and olives... with a simple pomegranate molasses vinaigrette, and yet somehow it is absolutely delicious. A lot of the Persian food is rich and savory, so the light, freshness of the salad is a perfect balance. This salad also led to a conversation in which everyone at the whole party agreed that the organic Persian cucumbers from Trader Joes are the best cukes of all.
vegan kuku sabzi
There are a few dishes that you simply must have every year at NoRouz, and Kuku Sabzi is one of them. Traditionally kuku sabzi is an omelette with mountains of minced herbs mixed in... but of course I've made a vegan version. I made the mini-muffin omelettes from Isa Does It, and just made them into kuku sabzi by adding loads of fresh herbs, rehydrated barberries, and chopped walnuts.* These are a crowd favorite every year! They really are delicious -- the walnuts add a little crunch, the barberries add a little zippy tang, and the rest is just a beautiful harmony of savory flavors in a light tofu-based batter. We made a double batch - which took two loads of the mini-muffin pan, and one load with my fancy square muffin pan.
* I've shared most of these posts in previous years, so you can look back through previous NoRooz posts for more details if you're looking for recipes.
Ghormeh Sabzi is a lovely stew full of fresh herbs and spinach that is often served at NoRooz. It's usually made with meat, but is also often made vegetarian by using kidney beans instead. I did some snooping around and found a very useful Vegan Ghormeh Sabzi recipe at a fun new-to-me-blog, and then also looked at the recipe in New Food of Life (from the public library)... and kinda mashed them together. I think this was my very favorite dish of the evening. I know this isn't the most beautiful picture, and I'm sorry about that, but please believe me that it was totally delicious. Here's my recipe, based on the two I mentioned:
Vegan Ghormeh Sabzi
2 Tbsp oil (or 2 tsp if you're not cooking for a party)
2 onions, cut into super thin quarter-moons
1 large portabello cap, stem removed, cut into 1/4-inch slices, then sliced again
1 cup medium-packed fresh cilantro, thick stems removed
2 cups medium-packed fresh parsley, thick stems removed
1/2 cup scallions, green parts only
4 cups packed fresh spinach
1/4 cup dried fenugreek
2 cans kidney beans, drained
2 dried Persian limes, with a few holes poked into them
2 tsp dried turmeric
2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp pomegranate paste
2-3 cups veggie broth (or water)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Heat a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then add the onions and saute until the onions start to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Next add the mushrooms and let them cook down for a another 5-10 minutes until they also brown a little, and have released some of their moisture. While the onions and mushrooms are cooking, use a food processor to finely mince the cilantro, parsley, scallions, and spinach. By finely mince, I really mean to say "nearly obliterate." If you don't have a food processor, you can do this by hand with a good knife, but it will take a lot longer, so get started before you start the onions.
Once the onions and mushrooms look golden and cooked down, add in the minced cilantro, parsley, scallions, and spinach, and also the dried fenugreek, drained kidney beans, dried limes, turmeric, garlic powder, lemon juice, pomegranate paste, 2 cups of veggie broth, and salt and pepper. Give it a all a good stirring, bring the whole thing to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down the heat to medium. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Every once in a while, stir it to make sure the bottom isn't sticking. If you want it to be more "soupy" than "stewy," just add more water or broth. Remove the dried limes and then dig in!
Khoreshteh Karafs: Persian Celery & Mint Stew
On the same blog that I used as a reference for the previous recipe, I found two recipes for this celery and mint stew called Khoreshteh Karafs. This sounded like nothing I'd ever had before, so I was eager to try it! One of her recipes called for 2 cups of fresh mint, and the other for 1/2 cup. Mint is a pretty strong flavor, so we went with the lesser amount. The stew is bright and lemony and you really taste the celery and the mint! In truth, I can't say it was an outstanding winner (not a dud either), but it's always absolutely amazing to combine familiar flavors in a new and unexpected way. It's like traveling with your tastebuds!
My dinner plate of deliciousness!
As you can see, I didn't really get the most beautiful pictures this year! I ran out of natural light, and my poor little SLR was working hard to do its best. I took one look at the huge pot of Ash-e-reshteh (Noodle Soup) that I made and thought "There is just no way I can take a nice picture of that." Ha ha. But I did manage to get a nice picture of the soup on my whole plate. Ash-e-reshteh is another NoRouz classic - it's a veggie soup chock full of everything good ever: beans, lentils, beets, mountains of fresh herbs and spinach, onions, spices, and - of course - noodles. This year I used brown rice noodles since one of my beloved guests is gluten free* and they got perfectly plumped up just the way the authentic noodles are supposed to! It turns out that they were even better than the regular wheat noodles I usually use. Cool!
You can see that the soup also has a little garnish on top - that's made with sauteed onions, dried turmeric, and dried mint. It's so good!
* side note: almost everything I made for NoRouz this year was effortlessly gluten-free! A great cuisine tip for you gf'ers looking for new dishes to try!
Um, I made a lot of sweeties
So, I'm pretty stoked about this picture. And about all of these lovely sweeties that I made this year. I really had a vision. At the Persian market they sell these "assorted sweets" boxes full of different Persian treats, and they all look perfect and they are always arranged super beautifully with maximum care and fussiness. But, of course, they are never vegan. So I wanted to recreate that in real life! and Vegan, of course! When I brought out this giant array of sweets, one of my guests said "they look just like the packages at the store!" Wooo hooo!
Here's a close-up of the four sweeties I made & links to the recipes:
Lower Left / Top Right: Persian Rose Water & Cardamom Puddings with Almonds & Pistachios
Yes. You read that right. They are amazing! I think these were my favorite. They were sort of like very soft Turkish delights... with a little something extra from the cardamom. Soft, a little moist, chewy, but with a perfect crunch from the nuts inside. I loved these so much. I think I cut them a little too soon -- they weren't super firm yet, so the edges didn't come out crisp, but that's okay. They tasted absolutely amazing. They are made with a cornstarch base, which was fascinating to watch transform, and were also pretty easy and straightforward to make. (recipe from Turmeric & Saffron)
Flower-shaped: Nan e nokhodchi Chickpea Flour Cookies
I love ZozoBakery's blog and read it all the time, even though it's not a vegan blog. I've made several recipes from her site in the past, and also this year. These chickpea flour cookies are a NoRouz classic, but I hadn't made them for several years. The last time I tried, I had a not-very-reliable recipe, and the cookies didn't turn out great. But I knew I could trust Zozo's recipe, and these came out just perfectly! The chickpea flavor is strong, but somehow in a completely delicious and excellent way, even in a sweetie. (recipe from zozobaking.com )
Dark Brittles: Sohan as-Ali
Sohan as-ali was the first Persian sweetie that I learned how to cook, right after college. My boyfriend at the time was Iranian and so we made them together. Every year, the making of the sohan is fraught with doubt, terror, impatience, apprehension, and then triumph. Ha ha. I love that my very own recipe makes the whole thing sound so quick and straightforward. Time for me to update that, I guess. If you've ever made candy, you know what I'm talking about. Basically it involves a ridiculously long time of standing there, staring at the pot, stirring, and continuously checking the candy thermometer. Sophia and I had an excellently terrible time worrying and fretting and waiting, and then in the end, they turned out great. It's almost part of the tradition now! (my recipe)
Top Left / Lower Right: Saffron Almond Diamonds
These were like little diamond-shaped marzipans flavored with saffron and rosewater. So lovely! I guess I didn't use enough saffron because mine didn't turn a beautiful yellow like Zozo's did. Next time I'll have to add a LOT more saffron to get that gorgeous color. Nonetheless, the flavor was amazing and many guests said that this was their favorite one of the sweeties. (recipe from zozobaking.com )
Totally non-traditional Key Lime Pie
But wait! There's still ONE MORE sweetie! ha ha. NoRouz always lands on or next to my Dad's birthday, and my one of my dad's favorite treats is Key Lime Pie. So it's our own little NoRouz tradition to always have a key lime pie with our otherwise Persian feast. You gotta make holidays your own, right? This year I used the recipe from The Artful Vegan, a book from Millennium Restaurant. This recipe is easy and fantastic! I thought it seemed a little extra NoRouzy because the crust has ground pistachios and poppyseeds in it - which give excellent flavor and texture. It's also a press-in crust, which is always easy and convenient. The filling has a silken tofu & avocado base, and is smooth and creamy and just perfectly sweet. My sweet dad is going strong and loved his pie, so my heart was happy.
Happy Spring and Happy New Year to all of you!
Spring time really is a magical season - all the newness and growth and the freshness in the air. May you enjoy your springtime where ever you are!
I always dress up fancy for NoRooz - this year I wore a new-to-me dress that my cousin Lisa recently gave me, and my favorite pair of super snazzy silver heels. woo!
A STILL CUP
To make love,
For the divine alchemy to work,
The Pitcher needs a still cup.
Ask Hafiz to say
Anything more about
~ from "The Gift, Poems by Hafiz"
translations by Daniel Ladinsky
~~~ Giveaway Winners! ~~~While we're in a festive mood, let's announce some giveaway winners! I posted two excellent giveaways and then my life got a lot busier than usual, and I never picked winners. So, with the help of the random number generator, here goes nothing:
ONE lucky winner wins a copy of The Taco Cleanse cookbook: congratulations, Ines!
THREE lucky readers win a coupon for a free jar of Victoria Vegan Pasta Sauces:
Congratulations to Em, Connie, and Lydia Claire!!
Happy winners, send me your mailing info (ameyfm at yahoo dot com) and I will send you your prizes! Thanks for reading my blog!