Nowruz is the name for Persian or Iranian New Year! Since at least the time of the Zorastrians, the country we in the West called Persia, which we now call Iran (much closer to what the people living there called the country) celebrated the start of the new year on the first day of Spring. That makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not necessarily inspired to think of the first day of dark and cold January (at least here in the US) as a time of new beginnings, new possibilities. I’m much more in that mindset at the start of Spring, the season of rebirth.
In my high school world mythology class, we’ve been reading Persian mythology during March. So I’m steeped in traditions of that culture right now, including Nowruz. I don’t believe I’ve ever celebrated it before, but of course I wanted to this year, especially since this feels like such a special Spring.
What you see in the picture above is a gathering of Spring flowers (thanks to the Cary Downtown Farmers Market––I don’t grow any flowers myself) and a smaller container of lentil sprouts. These are both items that traditionally are displayed on the Nowruz “Haft Sin” table, which includes seven symbolic items starting with the letter “S” in the Farsi language (the dominant language in Iran). The table, which I included in one of my blog posts last weeks, looks something like this:
The seven official items of the Haft Sin (haft means “seven” and sin means “s”) are:
Sabzeh : Sprouts (usually wheat, lentil, or bean)––symbolizes rebirth and growth
Samanu: Samanu (a sweet pudding made of wheat germ)––symbolizes power and strength
Senjed: Oleaster (a shrub that grows in that region)––symbolizes love
Somāq: Sumac (a red spice)––symbolizes sunrise
Serkeh: Vinegar––symbolizes patience and longevity
Seeb: Apple––symbolizes beauty
Seer: Garlic––symbolizes health and protection
I didn’t really do that, although I did have Spring flowers and grew some lentil sprouts. I probably started too late, because I only came up with the idea 10 days ago, but even in such a short time, the lentils definitely sprouted enough to see as sprouts. The sprouts are definitely important because they play a role later in the Nowruz traditions. Like Lunar New Year in China and other Asian countries, Nowruz extends beyond the day itself. Nowruz celebrations run for two weeks and are officially over on the 13th day after the first day of Spring, an event they call Sizdah Bedar, or Nature’s Day. It is believed to be bad luck to spend that day indoors, so families pack up a picnic and spend the day outside. They take the sprouts, which are supposed to have collected all the negative energy from the house, and return them to the earth by throwing them into moving water.
For dinner, I made my version of the dish most associated with Nowruz––Sabzi Polow Mahi, or herbed rice with fish.
It was good, but not very authentic, I’m afraid. Although I followed the measurements of the recipe I had, the Iranian herbed rice looks much greener than mine, more herb dense. Also, Iranians cook their rice with a crispy crust, which is quite delicious. I tried, but my crust burnt. Fortunately, the inner rice was still good, so it was good with the fish, but not particularly different than my usual. Also, the Iranians serve it with fried fish, but I substituted poached salmon with Mediterranean spices. The vegetables are Salad-e Shirazi, a mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions in a vinegar sauce.
Apparently a tradition among all Iranian meals is to accompany the main course with Naan-o-Paneer-o-Sabzi, which is a plate of bread, cheese, and green herbs. I don’t know what they use, but we had multigrain bread, fresh goat cheese from the Farmers Market and slivers of a sharp cheddar, and basil.
Finally, Nowruz has all sorts of special desserts associated with it, but they all had either nuts (which I’m extremely allergic to–like go-to-the-hospital allergic) or specialized ingredients I couldn’t find, like rose water or pomegranate syrup. So once again, I just turned to my local Farmers Market and brought home some beautiful Spring-y cookies from a baker there, along with a white chocolate baguette a friend had dropped off as a treat!
So, all in all, our dinner wasn’t all that authentic. But it was still a lovely way to usher in the first official day of Spring.