I used to absolutely hate fish as a child. While I was typically a good eater, I would not so much as touch fish. On ordinary days, it was not much of a problem: Not so many Iranian dishes are based on seafood, since only two small parts of the cat-shaped country at the north and south touch the sea. But on Norooz, the Iranian celebration that marks the beginning of the new year on the first day of spring, my fish-hating habit meant disaster.
On March 20th, the last day of the year, Iranians around the world will eat Sabzi Polo ba Mahi, a fragrant pilaf with herbs (like chives, parsley, dill, cilantro, fenugreek) and sometimes fresh garlic, served alongside fish. The type of fish and its exact preparation varies from region to region and among families. In the northern parts of Iran, the Caspian White Fish is a renowned favorite, while in the south, fish come from the Persian Gulf and strong flavors like tamarind are added.
Back in my childhood days, I ended up eating my herby pilaf with a sad frittata, hastily made by my fed-up mom who had lost hope of feeding me the precious fish. It wasn’t exactly the most propitious start of the new year.
This is how the story of how I recreate recipes and rituals of Norouz in Rome begins in an article commissioned for Food52. Please read the whole story here and tell me what you think.
This year, I am really happy that major food publishings have dedicated articles, recipes and stories to the Persian new year and Norouz. The truth is that this beautiful, ancient and rich celebration that is celebrated by some 190 million people celebrate (from north of India to Turkey, with Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and other countries in the middle), has been so much in the shadow.
My post for the annual roundup of the Persian food bloggers is a homage to the Iranian food writers around the world who have taken the responsibility of talking about our beautiful Iran, that is oh so much more than a banned country. So This is not one of my long posts with the long, multi-chapter story (you can read that on Food52), but a list of links for your Norouz reading and recipes. You can also find the recipe of my Sabzi Polo Mahi, the national dish of Norouz in the bottom. So enjoy reading, Happy 1396 and Sale No Mobarak!
- The amazing Samin Nosrat (whose new book I can’t wait to get), cook and food writer on New York Times Food: The Verdant Food of Iran Entices at Persian New Year
- Yasmin Khan, cook and author on Food52: Kick-Start Spring Cleaning the Iranian Way, With Khane-Tekani
- Andy Baraghani, Senior Food Editor at Bon Appétit, on Bon Appétit: How I honor my family’s history with a persian new year feast
- Louisa Shafia, author, on Food52: 6 Iranian-Americans You May Know + What Norooz Means to Them
- Zoe Paknad on Food52: Why This Norooz Won’t (& Can’t) Be Like Other Years (my personal favorite), and also Welcoming the Year 1396 with Goldfish, Bonfires, and Seven S’s.
- 500 grams high-quality basmati rice
- 70 grams salt
- 750 grams to 1 kilogram (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) fresh, untrimmed herbs OR
- 40 to 50 grams dry herbs mix for Sabzi Polo (see headnote)
- 1 head of garlic (optional)
- 1 teaspoon saffron, powdered
- 80 to 100 grams canola or sunflower oil (you can substitute half of the amount of oil with the same amount of butter)
- Oil, for frying
- 2 medium free-range eggs
- Salt and pepper, for seasoning
- 60 grams flour
- 3 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 500 grams deboned, skinned, fish fillet, cut in 2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons dried barberries
- 4 walnuts, chopped
- 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
- 1 small bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
- The fresh juice of a bitter orange or a lemon, plus wedges for serving
- At least 3 or 4 hours prior to cooking, rinse the rice in lukewarm water a couple of times, until the water is clear. Don’t stir the rice much as you could break the grains. Cover the rice in abundant lukewarm water by about 2 inches and add the salt. Set aside for 3 or 4 hours.
- If you are using fresh herbs, trim and wash them. Dry the leaves very well and chop, but not too finely. If you are using dry herbs, soak the herbs in lukewarm warm water for at least 3 hours. Then drain well. If you’re using garlic, clean the bulb and keep it whole.
- After the rice has been soaked, bring water to boil in a large pot. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. You could add 1 tablespoon of oil. Stir gently once or twice.
- Wait for the water to come back to boil. Remove the foam on top once or twice. In the mean time, dissolve the saffron in 2 tablespoons of hot water. When the water for the rice has comes back to a boil, taste it. Once it’s soft in the outside and hard inside it is ready to drain. (The amount of time will depend a lot on the type of rice, and where it's cooked. That's why it's best to taste it as it cooks.) Use a fine mesh strainer/sieve to drain the rice and rinse it briefly with lukewarm water.
- Put the pot back on a high flame, add half of the oil (you want to cover the bottom of the pan), 1/2 cup of water, and about 2 teaspoons of the saffron liquid. Add a layer of rice and top with a layer of herbs. Do so until you finish both. If using the garlic, put the bulb in the middle of rice and herbs. Shape the rice mixture into a small hill. Add the rest of the oil on top. If using butter instead, put nubs of butter randomly on top of the rice. Place the lid in the middle of a clean, cotton kitchen cloth, then bring back the corners of the kitchen cloth to the lid’s handle in order to cover the bottom of the lid. Put the cotton-wrapped lid back on the pot and make sure it’s well shut. Turn down the heat to low. Cook for 20 to 35 minutes, then turn off the heat and wait for 5 to 10 minutes before opening the lid. This way, you should be able to easily remove the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot.
- Next open the lid. Spoon 7 or 8 small spoonfuls of the herby rice into a small bowl and mix with the remaining saffron water. Remove the garlic bulb. Serve the rice in a large platter, using the saffron rice to top the dish at the end.
- Heat enough oil in a deep pan so that the pieces of fish fillet will be completely covered. Beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Mix the flour, the turmeric powder, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Bathe the fish pieces first in egg, let the excess drip, then coat in the flour mixture. Fry in the hot oil until golden.
- Wash the barberries and cook briefly with some oil in another pan. Mix in the chopped walnuts, and chopped parsley and coriander. After stirring once or twice, pour in the bitter orange/lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Once the mixture comes to boil, the condiment is ready.
- Serve the fish on a platter, sprinkle the herby condiment with barberries on top. Garnish with wedges of bitter orange or lemon.
- Each person makes their own plate of herby rice plus the fish.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.