Celebrating the Iranian New Year with Food and Family

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About 300 million people worldwide celebrate Nowruz, the traditional Persian festival of New Year and the coming of Spring. Sunday is the last day of the nearly two week-long festival, marked by celebrations in the Balkans, the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions, of course Iran. Millions of Iranians living in exile also celebrate the holiday.

Each year, Louisa Shafia, a chef, food writer and author of "The New Persian Kitchen" says she hopes the fragrant saffron and the other smells and tastes of the holiday will remind people to rise above national politics, and remember that we are all more alike than we are different.

Check out some of Shafia's favorite Nowruz recipes below, and click on the 'Listen' button above to hear our full conversation on the holiday.

Sabzi Khordan - Fresh Herb Platter

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt, such as Maldon salt, fleur de sel, or kosher salt
  • 2 bunches whole fresh herbs, in any combination: spearmint, basil, cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, dill, chives, marjoram
  • 1 bunch scallions, quartered crosswise, roots removed 
  • 2 cups walnuts (see Note below) 
  • 6 radishes, trimmed and quartered
  • Lavash or other flatbread

Preperation:

Drain the feta and place it in a medium bowl. Grind the spices coarsely, if desired. Heat a small skillet over high heat. Add the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds, and shake the pan continuously until the spices start to release their aroma, about 2 minutes. Immediately transfer to a bowl and pour in the olive oil. Add a pinch of coarse salt. Swirl the spices in the oil and steep for a few minutes. Pour the mixture over the feta. You can even work it in with your hands, gently crumbling the feta, if desired.

Wash and dry the herbs. Trim the stems, but leave them intact. Place the herbs on a large platter in a few fluffy piles. Place the walnuts on the platter, along with the radishes and lavash. Transfer the feta to the platter and garnish it with coarse salt.
For a single serving, pick up a few stalks of herbs. Tear the flatbread into a manageable piece and stuff it with the herbs, walnuts, a small piece of cheese, and a radish or two. Fold and eat like a sandwich.

Note: To remove bitterness from the walnuts, place them in a bowl, add boiling water to cover and a pinch of salt, and soak from 1 hour up to overnight. Before serving, drain and rinse until the water runs clear. Serves 4 to 6.

Sabzi Polo - Green Rice With Herbs

 Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grain basmati rice
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads or powder
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, green and white parts, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried lime powder, or 1 preserved whole lime
  • 1 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/3  cup minced fresh dill
  • 1 cup shelled, toasted pistachios

Preparation:

Put the rice in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Toss the rice with your hands a few times to remove the starch, and drain. Repeat this process five times. Set aside.

Pour 31/2 cups water into a small pot with a dash of salt and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, put the saffron in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Stir and set aside.

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the leeks and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the rice, saffron water, and lime powder or whole preserved lime and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Pour the boiling water over the rice, bring the rice to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. If the whole lime was used, discard.

Transfer the rice to a large bowl and fold in the parsley, cilantro, dill, and most of the pistachios. Season with salt. To serve, pile the rice on a platter and scatter a few pistachios over the top. Makes 6 cups.

Ash-e-reshteh - Bean, Herb & Noodle Soup 

Ingredients:

  • 3 yellow onions
  • 
1/2 cup grapeseed oil

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • 
2 cups cooked kidney beans (one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • 
4 cups frozen lima beans (one 16-ounce bag)
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 
4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 3 heaping tablespoons dried dillweed

  • 3 heaping tablespoons dried mint

  • 12 cups vegetable or chicken stock 
  • Sea salt
  • 6 ounces linguine noodles, broken into thirds
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped kale, collards, or spinach (stems discarded)
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups thick Greek-style yogurt, for garnish

Preparation:

Dice 1 of the onions. Heat a large stockpot over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes, until it starts to brown. Add the chick- peas, kidney beans, lima beans, lentils, garlic, turmeric, dill, and 1 tablespoon of the mint. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat and simmer gently, covered, for 1 hour to blend the flavors.

Slice the remaining 2 onions into thin half-moons. Heat a medium skillet over high heat and add the remaining 5 tablespoons oil. Add the onions and pan-fry, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until golden. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons mint and sauté about 2 minutes, until soft and fragrant.

In the last 30 minutes of cooking, add the noodles and leafy greens to the soup, and stir well so that the noodles don’t clump. Stir in 2 teaspoons sea salt. When the noodles are tender, add the lemon juice and season to taste. Serve garnished with a large dollop of yogurt and a spoonful of the fried onions. Serves 6 to 8.