Iranian Food Writers on Persian New Year and Norouz, & “Sabzi Polo Mahi” (Herby Pilaf & Turmeric Fried Fish)

Persian Herby Pilaf and Fish - Sabzi Polo Mahi | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-13

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. 

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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! Continue reading

Immitating ‘Kuku Sabzi’, a Persian Frittata with local Roman greens to celebrate Spring, Norouz and Easter

Kuku Sabzi Persian Frittata with Local Greens | Frittata alla Persiana | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-34

Sale No Mobarak (Happy New Year!)

I thought I’d started by saying that this has been un unusual Norouz; The Persian celebration of Spring and therefore the start of the new year. Year 1395, if you’re curious. But then I thought, what was quite unusual about it anyway? I have been celebrating my “Sal  Tah’vil“s (That second the Earth enters enters March equinox) here in Rome for eight years now. Sometimes alone, when it occurred in unlikely hours to celebrate –like 5.30 AM as it was this year– but mostly accompanied by good friends. Like almost all Iranians around the world, for the occasion we enjoyed a good dish of ‘Sabzi Polo ba Mahi‘; Persian style pilaf with fresh herbs such as chives and dill served with fish.

Maybe what was unusual about this year’s Norouz was that I was so caught up in other matters of life, that I failed to stop a moment and and breathe in the arrival Spring and the new year? Maybe because it is impossibile to get fully in the mood of the most significant holiday you’ve grown up with in a place where almost no one knows what you’re talking about? Or maybe because Spring arrived so early  this year to Rome that by the time we got to Norouz we were already too used to nice weather, greens and blossom on the trees. Maybe all of it. 

Kuku Sabzi Persian Frittata with Local Greens | Frittata alla Persiana | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-6As for food, apart from those tiny little biscuits and pastries in one billion varieties and huge bowls of flavored nuts and pistachios, I have more and less eaten proper Spring/Norouz food accordingly to tradition. Lots and lots of greens, seasonal and local. In Persian cooking we use tons and tons of fresh aromatic herbs, that much more than mere condiments. In fact, in so many dishes these herbs are the main ingredient, used in really large quantities. Dish such as Ghormeh Sabzi (herb stew with beans), Kuku sabzi (herbs frittata), Ab Doogh Khiar (cold soup with yoghort) and many others fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, parsley, chives, etc define the flavor of the dish. 

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Kuku Sabzi Persian Frittata with Local Greens | Frittata alla Persiana | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-31The same attitude characterizes most of the simple dishes of Easter here in Italy. On the large banquets of roasted lambs there are always simple savory pies and frittatas made with fresh asparagus, artichokes, ‘agretti’ (local Roman greens called saltwort) and broccoli e broccolini (small broccolis called broccoletti in Roman dialect).

That’s why I thought Kuku Sabzi, the Persian style frittata with fresh herbs, is the perfect dish for the occasion. Nothing extraordinary as a matter of fact; In most cities of Iran, Kuku Sabzi appears right next to herbs pilaf and fish on the Norouz menu. The original recipe contains parsley, chives, coriander, dill, spinach, lettuce, fenugreek leaves and almost each family varies the quantities regarding their culinary memories.  Continue reading

Persian Chia Seeds Drink to the New Year. Happy Nowruz!

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz framed text

Chaper 1. Nostalgia

I imagine the streets of Tehran at this time. It’d take you half an hour to walk 100mt and I’m not exaggerating. Everywhere’s overcrowded. Few days are left to the new year and everybody’s out shopping. Green sprouts of wheat and lentils have invaded every possible corner of every possible shop and all the angles of the streets. There are so many tanks and bowls full of gold fish everywhere you go that you might wonder if you’re walking in a huge aquarium. There’s the smell of Samanu in the air, a wheat pudding (which I dislike!) that is an essential part of Haft Seen Table. You can’t walk by without being hit by the aroma of countless flowers, specially hyacinth, narcissus and lilies. It doesn’t matter what the weather feels like. You’d know by sure, that Winter is over and Spring has arrived.

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That’s why we’re celebrating. In the most romantic and naturalistic view of the world, the Persian new year begins when the Earth wakes up, after a one-year journey around the sun, exactly at the moment of March Equinox. So the new year could begin at 8.23.03 am or 6.04.49 pm or just any other time. And most importantly, it occurs at the same exact moment in the whole world. 

Chapter 2. REBIRTH

Norouz, this truly beautiful ancient festival that has been celebrated for more than three thousand years in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan & many other countries, is directly connected to astronomical and seasonal events. And again, different cultures and civilizations have interpreted these natural happenings into different celebrations of Spring. (This explains the similarities between Jewish & Christian Easter with Norouz & other Spring celebrations. Remember when I told you about the similarities of Christmas & other winter celebrations?) 
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The winter solstice feasts celebrate the light and the end of darkness, while the Spring feats, in all forms and names, celebrate rebirth, resurrection, a new life, a new day. That’s what “Norouz” literally means in Persian; A new day.

Chapter 3. Graduation & Persian Food Bloggers Round-Up!

I swear I tried so hard to write a short post. But I just can’t shut up about the beauty of these ancient pagan-and-non rituals. As I told you, I am working so hard on my final thesis and I am graduating on March 28th. That’s why this year I’m skipping the detailed preparations for the new year. However, at the cost of ruining my tight schedule, I couldn’t not take part in the Persian Food Bloggers‘ round-up.

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I am so glad I have known them and collaborated with them since last October. It’s almost the only celebration I get this year. I strongly suggest you check out the links at the bottom of this post for delicious, Persian-inspired recipes to get in the mood of celebrating Spring, Norouz and the new year. (1394!)

Chapter 4. Persian Chia Seeds Drink with a Twist

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-28
This simple and delightful Chia seeds drink actually has got nothing to do with Norouz! It’s usually served on ice as a summer drink. Long before chia seeds were cool & trendy in the healthy-eating world, people used them in Iran —I think exclusively— to make this drink. It’s a basic Persian syrup. Water, sugar, rose water. There’s little Chia seeds in the drink. It shouldn’t become a smoothy or a porridge; It’s just a beverage

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You can actually make this drink in both a hot or cold version. All you need is a teaspoon of chia seeds for each portion, some brewed saffron, a drop of rose water, your favorite sweetener (I used Nabaat, Persian crystallized saffron sugar but you can use raw brown sugar or raw honey), a slice of lemon/lime and some peppermint. It’s basically infused water with floating moist chia seeds. You might think that there are too many aromas in this drink, but don’t worry. The only ones you should really feel are the saffron and rose water. Lemon and mint/peppermint just add a note of freshness and bring your drink to life.

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The lovely lady appearing these photos is my dear friend Maryam, who turned her beautiful home into a perfect set for this shoot.

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