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

Immigrant Food Stories: A Persian Quince Stew, A Supper Club & A Cookbook from When It Rained Bombs

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11 Quince Stew – Other photos from my last trip to Iran in August ’15

Immigrant Food Stories, a Feast of Togetherness for Dark Days

It was a rainy Saturday night early in November. There was the smell of cardamom and butter in the air. Windows were condensated after hours of boiling rice and stewing meat. The speakers of Alice’s record player were connected to my phone, that played songs of which only I could understand the words. Others were distracted from the melodic tunes by the food and the conversation. Around a long table topped with pale rose, red Autumn leaves, quinces and pomegranates, there was a cheerful group of eight people who were chatting the cold, rainy night away. With a glass of Syrah in our hand, we were feasting on the colorful and aromatic dishes, in a company that was just as vibrant and stimulating.

We were from Iran, Italy, The US and Sweden, with some German background. The food was Persian, fragrant and seasonal. This was the Persian Autumn Dinner that I hosted at Latteria Studio, as a trial for my supper club. It was only a couple of days before the US election. And I could’ve never imagined that 3 months later when I finally wrote a recap of that evening, we would be standing where we stand now.

This post is a part of the Immigrant Food Stories; the contribute many fellow food bloggers are making against hate and fear of the other, particularly to Trump’s dumb and cruel muslim ban (that thanks to a healthy judiciary system, has been halted). I am touched by these people’s stories, and willingness to narrate how we are all similar at the end of the day. Make sure to check out the links below and to look for #ImmigrantFoodStories on instagram, twitter and facebook, and please share your own immigrant food stories too!

If you have followed Lab Noon for a while, you’d know that this whole blog is a long, ongoing immigrant food story. It’s the tale of my Iranian culinary heritage combined with what I learn everyday from the spectacular food culture of Italy, where I immigrated a decade ago. What you might not know is another food story; the food stories of wars, the food stories of sanctions, the food stories of shortage, instead of abundance.

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Bombs, Coupons and a Cookbook from “Rosa

I was born in 1985, right in the middle of eight years of Iran-Iraq war. I still remember as if it was just yesterday when the bombing siren went off, and what I now associate as the most horrifying voice in the world, announced the beginning of the bombing and the minutes we had in order to run to shelters. As terrifying as the siren was, the running and hiding seemed like a big, collective game to us children. A game that our parents were often too concerned and worn out to play with us.

Food and other essentials were rationed during the war in Iran. A grocery coupon system was applied so that all families could have to them, without having to obtain their food and other goods from the black market (which was also very active). The aisles in the super markets were often half empty, and the queues in front of shops that sold with coupons were very long.

I had long forgotten about the grocery coupons and the long queues until some weeks ago, when I received a small, but heavy parcel from my mom. It was the two huge volumes of “The Art of Cooking” by Ms. Rosa Montazami, the bible of cooking in Iran. The book is a vast collection of Iranian and international savory and sweet recipes, so important that for decades it has been gifted to young brides to help them cook well in their new home. Continue reading

2015: Resolutions, Party Food Links & a Squid and Lentil Soup Recipe

This year has been unexpected. The first which post-it resolutions are still sticking to my mirror, despite the notorious moving. And oh, the moving, which cut my 2014 right in half. My twenty-fourteen started with high hopes while riding on steady waters. The embryo of this blog was officially conceived early in February and it took me months to add up the pieces. Meanwhile, at the end of February I got the notice on having to leave my beloved home; A large apartment in a lovely neighborhood of Rome in which I had a tiny-but-pretty room. It was a girls’ apartment. We had fun. I lived there for three years and 5 months. It was my home. New Year's Resolution | Party Food | by Lab Noon

Twenty-fourteen brought yet another reality to slap me in the face; It was the last year of my twenties. It got me scared, got me running around, got me listening to an eternal tick-tock-tick-tock. I wished I had accomplished something, something tangible. I wanted to create something; An establishment, a solidity, a firm piece of ground. Then things got wildly out of hand. Suddenly –and painfully– I realized that somehow most of the things I thought I had desired for a long time were no longer attractive to me. First there was confusion, then recognition and after that came the cold frustration; Of feeling trapped in an establishment, a solidity, a firm piece of ground that no longer fits me but I don’t know if I’m ready to break out of it. Steady is my frenemy. I can’t live neither with nor without it. Twenty-fourteen got me questioning everything I have gathered in my life. I want to get some answers in twenty-fifteen. I want a tiny sprinkle of ease, I want a ton of energy and inspiration, I want a good intuition, I want to remember how to trust my guts again and take the jump. And I want good health to allow me to pursue all that.

And then, for the billionth time: I want to be physically active (again), I want to re-start my yoga and I want running to become my thing in twenty-fifteen. I wanna be one those people who run all the time, no matter what.
I wanna learn how to become an organized person, inside and outside. I’m soon gonna be a 30 year old woman. I just can’t afford to be this messy. 
I wanna read more (this one has been in my new years resolutions for like the past fifteen years).
This might sound surprising but I want to cook more. I haven’t really cooked as much as I wanted to and should have lately. I want to create more; I want to get down to my editorial design activity and create more pretty stuff that are not just food. This was also the original idea of Lab Noon. It’s supposed to be a laboratory at the end.
And, as vain as this may sound, I want to always remember to love myself, most of the times.

It’s usually not my intention to write all types of personal stuff here. I want to be bright and positive in this space. I want this blog to transmit something nice. So, sorry if I didn’t sound so much so in this post. Twenty-fifteen is going to be my moment of truth, you might’ve guessed. I needed this note for myself. So tomorrow won’t be just another night turning into another day for me. What about you? What are your resolutions for the new year? Is there anything that you want to change? Wether you seek deep changes or just minor ones, I wish you a great new year, in which you’ll dream and laugh more, in health and prosperity. Happy twenty-fifteen!

My type of Party Food

Was I planning a New-Years-Eve gathering at my place, I would prepare a lot of finger food, little bites, crostinis, bruschettas and canapés. The idea of having a base such as bread (toasted), or any other base on which you can add a topping, or a spread makes the perfect party food for me. It’s easy and –with the work of planner mind– can be cheap too. The interaction would be another lovely factor. You could prepare the base and prepare toppings/spreads in different bowls and people could serve themselves. Then I’d prepare one huge salad with a carb base, such as rice, bulgur, cous cous, quina etc, with fresh veggies. I never like New Years Eve food to be too much, heavy and time-taking. It’s not Christmas. Actually it’s right before January, the universal month of dieting and getting back to shape.

Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

In Italy, no matter what type of dinner you’ve had for New Years Eve, you must have some lentils with Cotechino. They say lentils bring you money (c’mon bring on those lentils). Cotechino is some sort of raw salami that is sold in vacuum packs inside boxes around this time of the year. What’s more Cotechino must be the only kind of italian cold cut and cured meat that not only do I not enjoy, but I don’t even touch it either! But heaven knows I can never say no to lentils. So I always try to remove the fat and pieces of Cotechino from my lentils. The recipe that follows is is orange-marinated squids on lentils soup (my version of calamari e le lenticchie). I had prepared it a short while ago but posted it only in Italian (this holiday season was so hard for translating). I think It would make a great simple lentil dish for Capodanno (New Years Eve in Italian). But we’ll get to that later. I have made a tiny collection of recipes from bloggers around the web that reflect and/or inspire what I would make at a pseudo-gathering for the New Year’s Eve. Some of them are new, some of them are not, but they’d all make great party food recipes.

Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Calamari e Lenticchie | Squids on Lentil Soup | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

 And to end the evening the Italian way, and wishing all those lentils bring us money, here’s my recipe of squids & lentil soup. Continue reading