Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Nowruz Mobarak! Happy Persian New Year!

One of my most favorite holidays of the whole year! 
Persian New Year! Happy New Year! 


This year, Nowruz was officially at 9:15 am on Tuesday... but Tuesday is just not a very festive night. Plus, I was out of town over the weekend for a very special memorial service and wanted a few more days to prepare for our festivities. So we celebrated on Friday night - much more fun! 

For the last many years my beloved friend Sophia has come over and spent all day cooking with me for Nowruz. Sophia and I are a great team in the kitchen, and so over the years, my Nowruz visions have become more and more ambitious. But last fall Sophia got a great job in NYC (yay for her!) and so this year I was alone in the kitchen. So, I made a plan that wasn't too over-the-top, and got started organizing my plan.




One thing about this beautiful holiday: there is a lot of chopping involved. Two days before my party, I used my food processor to mince about 3 bunches of parsley, 3 bunches of cilantro, 3 bunches of scallions, 1 leek, and 2 bunches of dill. Holy chopping, Batman! On Friday morning, the first thing I did was get to work with slicing the onions. I love the look of all these finely sliced onions on the cutting board. 



I made a batch of the Cashew Chevre from Artisan Vegan Cheese and made two cheese logs. I absolutely love this recipe so much. It's so delicious and tangy and perfect. I rolled them each in minced fresh mint, parsley, and chopped walnuts. 

I wasn't quite ready when my guests arrived (oops!), so my friends helped me arrange two cheese platters - with cheese, fresh herbs, dates, radishes, and olives. That's what friends are for! 


Stevie kept me company all day while I was cooking. What a sweet girl.

The day before the party, I got started with some Barbari Bread (Nan-e Barbari) ... mixed it and let it do the first rise. Then I tucked it away in the fridge so that I could bake it fresh on the day of the party. After years of trying different recipes, last year I found this recipe from King Arthur, and it is really fantastic! Highly recommended! I topped the bread with nigella seeds, sesame seeds, and a tiny bit of coarse salt. 



I sliced the bread up to go along with the cheese plate - you can see what a nice crumb I got! I was so happy with how well it turned out... and it was a big hit at the party. Now that I have a whole bag of bread flour in my pantry, I may as well make it again! 


Shirazi Salad

Every year I make a huge bowl of Shirazi Salad - Persian cucumbers (I love the organic ones from Trader Joe's!), cherry tomatoes, red onion, olives, and a handful of fresh herbs (mint, parsley, and dill). I made a quick dressing with olive oil, pomegranate paste, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. I always love to have a big fresh salad with a festive dinner.



Aash e Reshteh - This wonderful soup is a Nowruz essential. It's authentically vegan (as long as you use veggie broth) and absolutely delicious: onions, garlic, three kinds of beans, lentils, beets, turmeric, mint, piles of fresh herbs, and noodles. It is rich and fresh all at once, bursting with an array of flavors and textures. I used gluten-free noodles so that my beloved gf guest could have some too. They worked perfectly, of course! 

Last year I went to Marshall's and bought a selection of small bowls just for my annual Nowruz party. The rest of the year I just keep them in a drawer in my kitchen, because I don't generally need 15 small bowls sitting around! But they are so great for serving small bowls of Aash to everyone and I was glad that I remembered them! ha ha. 


Kuku Sabzi

Traditionally Kuku Sabzi is an omelette full of fresh herbs, walnuts, and barberries - but I've veganized it with a vegan omelette recipe from Isa Does It and then Persianized that recipe! ha ha. You can find my vegan recipe here in last year's NoRooz post. Oh my gosh, you guys. This recipe is so good. You really should make it now. I always make a double batch and this is pretty much always the most popular dish at the party.

For several years I've made Kuku Sabzi as mini muffin omelettes, which makes great little serving sizes... but also means you have to carefully coerce each one out of the muffin tin. Traditionally, this dish is served more like a giant frittata, and Sophia encouraged me to try it like this. So I poured a bunch of batter into my cast iron pan and popped it in the oven. It took FOREVER to cook, which wasn't ideal, and my cast iron is not as non-stick as I wish it were, so it was also really hard to get out. So, I made the second batch in the muffin tins. I'm going to play around with this though, because I like the idea of figuring out how to serve it as a beautiful fritatta. Challenge accepted! Also, maybe some of you have a tip for me? 


Sabzi Polow

Sabzi Polow is an important part of the Nowruz feast. Preparing Persian rice is unlike any other rice-making process. The rice is thoroughly rinsed (to remove starch), briefly parboiled (to soften the rice), and then pressed into a pan and cooked on a low temperature for about 35-45 minutes (with no water!). You can find my recipe for Sabzi Polow in last year's Nowruz post. 

This year I sliced up a leek (the white part) and sauteed it until it was nicely softened and browned and added it to the herbs in the rice. Since the rice isn't cooked with water, beyond the brief parboiling, the result is so beautiful - the rice is moist, but never sticky or mushy, and with the help of some oil in the base of the pan, a wonderful crispy golden crust is formed on the rice. This crust is very special and even has its own name - tahdig. 

For several years I had a reliable and beloved pot just for my annual sabzi polow... it had a non-stick interior, which was great for getting a golden crust, but last year the coating started to peel a bit. Which is no good! So this year I had to run out and find a new pot - after much searching for just the right pot, I found a good one with a ceramic coating on the inside. I was so happy to get a beautiful golden tahdig on my first run with this new pot. A new friend! 



Khorest Fesenjan with Soy Curls

Khorest Fesenjan is a traditional Persian dish that is made with meat... but I veganized it with soy curls! It's a special recipe and so unlike any other dish I know of - "meat," onions, garlic, pomegranate juice, and walnuts. Such an interesting combination of sweet and savory! I hadn't made Fesenjan for years (eleven years ago, according to my blog posts!). I used my own old recipe (find it here), but instead of using seitan, I used soy curls. I rehydrated the soy curls in some broth, and then squeezed them out, and browned them for a while in my cast iron pot. I love soy curls, but I especially like them when they are well-browned and have a bit of chew to them. Then I put them aside for a bit, browned the onions, and added the soy curls back in... and proceeded with the recipe. I also reduced the sugar, and reduced the walnuts to 1/2 lb. Even my Persian friend who isn't usually a fesenjan fan loved it! 


fun and special drinks! 

I made two easy and special drinks: Pomegranate Limeade and Mint Lemonade. The Lemonade is a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's wonderful World Vegetarian cookbook - hot simple syrup is poured over minced fresh mint and left to steep... before being added to fizzy water. I made it more mellow, because I don't like it when fruity drinks are super sugary or over bearing... but you can obviously make it anyway you like. And for the pomegranate fizzy, I added simple syrup, fresh pomegranate juice from the farmers market, and lime juice from our garden with a bunch of fizzy water. 


Tut

Toot Toot! Who loves tut? I do! Tuts are rosewater marzipan candies, rolled in sugar. They are so easy to make and they're super delicious. "Tut" means "mulberries" because they are supposed to look like little white mulberries, complete with a little pistachio sliver for a stem. They are so cute! 

I use this recipe from My Persian Kitchen - but I had to add extra almond flour and powdered sugar to get the mixture to become cohesive enough and not to be sticky. I used the picture of what the mixture should look like as a guide and then it worked perfectly. This is such a special treat, such elegant and sophisticated flavors. I really recommend this recipe! 


cutting out chickpea cookies ...
such a pretty pattern!


My Persian Dessert Platter!

I accidentally made a boatload of desserts - I ended up with two huge dessert platters and lots of leftover treats too. Ha ha ha. I sure do know how to overdo it! 

I made four Persian treats this year:
Chickpea Cookies / Nan-e Nokhodchi (recipe from Zozo Baking) - these cookies are a Nowruz classic! I love the flavor of them so much. I feel like mine always spread a bit, but when you see them in the store they haven't spread at all! Maybe because I'm using margarine instead of butter? Maybe I will try freezing the batter &/or reducing the butter a bit next time. Either way, the flavor is on point! 

Sohan As-Ali (find my recipe here) - my family and I all love love love these amazing Persian almond brittles made with saffron and rosewater and sprinkled with pistachios on top. THEY ARE SO GOOD. As you may know, candy making can be a little nerve-wracking, and this year my sohan came together without too much drama, which was much appreciated! 

Masghati / Persian Rose Water, Cardamom Pudding with Almonds and Pistachios (recipe from Turmeric & Saffron) - oh man, I love this recipe so much. I made these a few years ago, and remembered them so fondly. It's a lot like turkish delight - with a nice chew, and it's full of nuts and rosewater, and not at all too sweet. It's mostly cornstarch and water! So crazy! The only thing is, this recipe made SO MUCH. Note to self: next time make a quarter batch! 

Tut - see above! You already read all about these! 



Longtime readers will know that my dad's birthday is the day after Nowruz, so I always like to make my dad a special bday treat and we all sing him "happy birthday". So fun. This year I decided to make my dad a daffodil-inspired cake because daffodils are his very favorite flower. So, I used the recipe for Meyer Lemon Bundt Cakes from The Millenium Cookbook and made a small 2-layer lemon cake with lemon buttercream in daffodil colors. It was really delicious! Of course I decorated it with a shooting star just for my astro-dad! (my dad is an astronomer).  Happy birthday Dad! 

We had such a wonderful evening together with my family and with many special friends. Even though I didn't grow up celebrating Nowruz, this holiday is so near to my heart and I really love that it has become such a tradition with my family and with a special group of friends. Sometimes it feels a little lonely to have a special holiday that most of society isn't aware of and doesn't celebrate - but once the doorbell rings and people start streaming in the front door, it's just amazing! How great to have a group of loving enthusiasts who are excited to celebrate with me! 


Happy Nowruz to all of you! 
Here's to the return of Spring, a spirit of renewal, and fresh energy and growth! 



9 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this Nowruz rundown for 2018, Amey! I was looking forward to it. We're moving to Albuquerque (from Richmond CA) soon, and I hope to start an annual celebration there next year, with new friends. The solar start of spring is a fitting reason to rejoice, and enjoying this food and tradition sounds like a wonderful way to do it. Congratulations on your new pot success, too!

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  2. I love reading about your Nowruz celebrations year after year. I am always in awe of all of the interesting dishes you make (and find ways to veganize)! I think it is really awesome to have a holiday that you did not grow up celebrating, but have adopted because it speaks to you so deeply. And then to share that with people you love - and us blog readers - is such a special way of spreading joy. Thank you!

    Also, would a ceramic-coated pan like you got for the rice work for the frittata? I remember making those mini-omelets in my (non-stick) muffin pan and they were almost impossible to get out whole, even after greasing the cups. Good luck finding a solution!

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  3. Wow your bread looks AMAZING!! So does everything else. You are a star making such an awesome feast!! Minimalist Baker has a really nice fesenjan recipe using chickpeas - so yummy. Would it help the frittata to line the pan with baking paper?

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  4. Love Nowruz! Love the food! Love the photos! Love you!!

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  5. Amey, this post is so special-- something to look forward to every year! I love learning more about Nowruz and want to try creating these dishes, especially the cheeses and fancy cookies. So fantastic. The tut looks like a treat for fairies. And I want to make Aash e Reshteh (sounds amazing). Happy birthday to your dad. I hope he enjoys that scrumptious lemon cake-- which is a true work of art by the way. <3

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  6. Your annual Nowruz posts always make me wish I celebrated! It all looks so joyous, delicious, and inviting. Best wishes for spring! I may just need to celebrate all season long with these inspiring recipes.

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  7. I look forward to this post every year! Everything looks amazing, though I am particularly enamored by the look of that bread... and that amazing dessert platter.
    I have a heap of pomegranate juice in my freezer at the moment, so I should look into some of these recipes!

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  8. Beautiful spread, as usual!

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  9. That is weird about your cookies spreading! I think maybe it is because you aren't using cheap shortening? Are you using a margarin like Earth Balance? Margarins and butters are more likely to spread out since they have a lower melting point. That's my guess? You could try the Earth Balance Buttery Stick or some other non-hydrogenated shortening.

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