Celebrating Nowruz: Persian New Year

It is spring in California, but the weather hasn’t much resembled spring at all.  The only reason that I felt spring last week was the celebration of Nowruz or Persian New Year.  Nowruz is celebrated on the first day of spring every year and last Sunday I attended a Nowruz dinner.

As a guest observing the traditions, a few themes were similar to new year celebrations by other ethnic groups.  Preparations start days in advance, friends and family together, and you sit down and have a meal of traditional foods.

My friend and his family prepared much in advance, including having a smoked white fish shipped from the East Coast.  By the time I had arrived, much of the preparation had been complete.  I did get to observe a few things including the making of the koo koo sabzi or vegetable pancake.  This dish is made up of various vegetables and herbs and it is the eggs that help this dish form its shape.  The most complicated part of this appeared to be the washing and chopping of the herbs and vegetables.

I also got to witness the making of two rice dishes, one is the traditional saffron rice and the other is the sabzi polo.  I’ve had Persian saffron rice before and I remember it well because of how much I like basmati rice.  This rice is prepared with some saffon mixed on the top which gives it a beautiful orange color.  The second rice dish was the sabzi polo which has lima beans and dill mixed into it.  Heat, temperature, and timing are really important in order to get this into the shape of the pot which also gives it a crust called “tadig.”  Many languages have a name for that, in Chinese, we call that “nung.”

Other dishes we enjoyed included ghormeh sabzi (green herb stew), mahi doodi (smoked white fish), and saffron chicken.

I would be remiss not to mention the ceremonial table of Nowruz.  On this table, seven items beginning with the letter “S” are represented.  This year, the seven included the following:

  • Sabzeh, wheat or lentil sprouts represents rebirth
  • Seeb, apple symbolizes health and beauty
  • Senjid, the dried fruit of a lotus tree represents love
  • Sir, garlic which represents health
  • Somagh, sumac berries represents the color of the sun and the victory of good over evil
  • Serkeh, vinegar represents old age and patience
  • And finally a Surfer representing a year of good surf!

Nowruz is a special time and I am very honored to have been able to partake in the celebration.  Happy Nowruz!  Happy Spring!