March 30, 2011

Sizdah Bedar - Persian Tradition of Getting Rid of 13 (Bad Luck) and Menu Ideas

The ancient annual tradition ofسیزده بدر Sizdah Bedar (getting rid of 13) is celebrated on the thirteenth day of فروردین Farvardin, the first month of the Persian calendar, which is also 13 days after Nowruz (Persian New Year). This ritual has been observed since the ancient times where family, friends and neighbors gather together and go out to parks, picnic areas and open fields to spend a fun and happy day playing games, dancing, listening to music, chattering away, and eating delicious food. Games such as تخته نرد takhteh-nard (backgammon) and شطرنج shatranj (chess) are popular. Also, taking a ball along for playing soccer, volleyball or dodge ball is a good idea. On this day it is customary to take your sabzeh (green sprouts) which symbolically embodies the ailments and misfortunes from your home and throw it out, preferably in a nearby running stream. By disposing of your sabzeh you will rid your home of all the unlucky and inauspicious thoughts, feelings and happenings that have been looming in your home and your life. Spending a great day with people you care about the most outdoors, leaving bad luck behind and then coming back home mentally and emotionally refreshed and content is just the perfect thing to do after all the Nowruz activities.

For me, an ideal sizdah bedar is finding yek vajab khak (a small patch of earth) with a little shade under an old tree, and hearing my family's laughter with music playing in the background, with a bowl of ash reshteh, a scoop of yogurt, a piece of bread and a cup of chai. My memories of many sizdah bedars that I spent with my family in Iran, then here in the U.S as a homesick student and later on with my own two kids and husband include many happy, interesting and exciting moments. I'll never forget one of the early memories of sitting crossed leg at the sofreh (tablecloth) in a place called Tembi Gorgi near the town of Masjed Soleiman, eating lunch while keeping an eye on a couple of snakes wrapped around the tree branches not too far from where we were sitting. Another memory is a very short sizdah bedar outing in a garden in Isfahan where we ended up in the middle of a huge colony of ants. We could barely sit down and spread out so we all went back home after a few hopeless tries.

It seems that there are many cultures that believe 13 is an unlucky number. Whether 13 is unlucky or not I am not sure. In my neighborhood there is no house number 13 and I live in a small town in the suburb of New York. There is no 13th street in New York City and I haven't seen any high rise building with a thirteenth floor either. But I am all for going out of the house on sizdah bedar and coming in with a positive and new mindset that all bad things are behind us and to look forward to better things coming our way.

Sizdah Bedar Menu Ideas & Picnic Recipes:
Here's my menu ideas based on the recipes that I've posted so far. If you have any suggestions please let me know. First on my list is ajil (mixed nuts), then it's ash reshteh (bean and noodle soup) with lots of herbs and kashk (whey).
 Ash Reshteh
Kabab Recipes:

It's much easier to carry and serve one-dish meals rather than our common polow and khoresh. Rice with dill and lima beans was a must have for sizdah bedar in our home. It can be served with chicken or lamb.

Rice One-Dish Meal:

Sandwich Recipes:

Side Dish Recipes:



Tehran, Iran Panoramio Photo

Sizdah Bedar, Tehran, Iran, Source: Mehr News

Sizdah Bedar, Tehran, Iran,  Source: Mehr News 

Sizdah Bedar, Gorgan, Iran, Source: Mehr News

Sizdah Bedar, Tehran, Iran, Source: Mehr News

Sizdah Bedar, Tehran, Iran, Source: Mehr News

Sizdah Bedar, Gorgan, Iran, Source: Mehr News
Enjoy! Happy Sizdah Bedar!

March 21, 2011

Traditional Persian New Year Dinner in a Japanese-Style Bento Box!

Spring is here! Its signs are everywhere around us, from the tiny buds on the trees, to the tulip sprouts in the garden, the light breeze and the sounds of birds chirping early in the morning. I wish all of you an amazing year filled with joy, good health, prosperity and love. May this coming New Year bring tranquility and peace in all four corners of the world.

A while back, I came across the beautiful, refreshing, and inspirational Bentobird blog. For me that was the first time that I learned about bento. I was fascinated by the attention to detail that goes into creating a fresh, bright and cheerful single-portion lunch box with adorable characters! I admired the moms who pack such highly crafted, nutritionally balanced lunches for their kids and enjoyed looking at the well-proportioned designs but it did not even cross my mind for a second to give this artistic creation a try! It wasn't until recently that I thought of making a bento styled Persian lunch. The idea seemed too crazy at first but it is doable! Now, since we are celebrating the arrival of spring, a time of rebirth and renewal of nature, I present to you a traditional Nowruz (Persian New Year) dinner/lunch bento. Please visit the wonderful Bentobird blog and check her post on Persian Spring Bento!

Nowruz dinner is known for its lavish platter filled with sabzi polow, an aromatic saffron herb rice, tasty slices of kookoo sabzi nicely arranged on a large serving plate, a tray of white smoked fish and/or fried or baked fish, salad Shirazi or garden fresh salad, mast o khiar and/or borani esfenaj (yogurt dips), sabzi khordan (fresh herbs), pickles, bread, drinks and sweets. There may be additional food depending on regional cooking style and preferences.

As a hostess you always worry if there's going to be enough food for everyone and also for the unexpected last minute guests. Like many Iranians I grew up and learned to cook in a large family (there were six of us kids plus my parents) and to this day even though I cook for my family of four, there's always so much leftovers as if I expected four more people to show up for dinner! However, I am getting better at that and it's still a work in progress.

I understand that there are specific rules for eye pleasing arrangements, proper servings and aesthetically organized lunch boxes. I have arranged and tweaked to the best of my ability and worried about not doing a good job. This is my first attempt at creating a bento.  It's all done with a lot of enthusiasm. Any tips or suggestions?
This is also my tribute to Japan. My sympathy and prayers go out to everyone suffering from this disaster. There are many international and local charitable organizations available to help this country through its very difficult times. Here's a link to support Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Found.

Here are the contents of  Nowruz Bento:

Sabzi Polow - Herb Rice
Mahi - Fish (fried)
Kookoo Sabzi
Salad Shirazi
Mast-o-Khiar - Yogurt and Cucumber Dip
Sabzi Khordan - Fresh Herb
Toot - Mulberry Marzipan

I am delighted and honored to say that last week Turmeric and Saffron was featured as Blog of the Week on this wonderful site by Laurie Constantino! Thanks so much, Laurie!

Dafs and Daffodils

Happy Nowruz! Happy Spring!

March 13, 2011

Ajil - Persian Mixed Nuts

Ajil-Persian Mixed Nuts

چهارشنبه سوری  Chahar Shanbeh Suri is an ancient Persian tradition that celebrates the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz (Persian New Year). The festival usually starts as the sun sets by jumping over small bonfires in open fields and streets, singing, dancing, eating and spending time with friends and family. During the hours leading to the festivities, people gather dried tree branches, twigs and leaves for the bonfire. During the chahar shanbeh suri festival, while people of all ages jump over the fire they will be singing:
زردی من از تو 
سرخی تو از من 
Zardie man az to
Sorkhie to az man

Translation: May my sickly yellowish hue be yours and your reddish shine be mine. Wishing for all the troubles, sadness, gloom and unhappiness to go away and to make room for better and brighter moments in life!

آجیل - Ajil (mixed nuts) are perfect for parties and celebrations. Any combination of almonds, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, roasted chickpeas, raisins, dried figs, dried white mulberries will be fine. Serving seasoned and toasted seeds such as watermelon and pumpkin seeds are also very common during the celebrations. However, some of the ingredients may vary from one home to another depending on personal taste, preferences and also the availability.

Ajil Persian Mixed Nuts

In our home, our ajil also included cashew nuts which I loved as a kid; I would sit there picking out cashews before the guests arrived and away from my mother's sight! Dried sour cherries were also a very popular snack as a kid and I would take them to school with me everyday and share them with my classmates. But since then chickpeas remain my favorite, next to almonds! However, as you might know, Persian pistachios are among the best pistachios in the world! Aside from being a part of the ajil assortment, pistachios and almonds are also used in Persian cooking. Ajil is a nutritious and healthy snack to take to school, work and long road trips.

Ajil Persian Mixed Nuts

Ajil - Mixed Nuts

1 cup almonds
1 cup cashews 
1 cup chickpeas 
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups pistachios
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup dried white mulberries
A handful of dried apricots
A handful of dried figs

Mix all ingredients in a large container, gently toss to combine and serve in a large serving bowl. 

Chehel Sotoon's Mural of Chahar Shanbeh Suri, Wikipedia

 Chahar Shanbeh Suri,  Flickr Photo

Enjoy! Happy Chahar Shanbeh Suri!

March 04, 2011

Kookoo Sabzi with Walnuts and Barberries

This is a variation of the traditional کوکو سبزی kookoo sabzi/kuku sabzi recipe that is served for Nowruz (Persian New Year) and throughout the year! For the traditional recipe please see the kookoo sabzi that I posted a while back. For a New Year's meal my suggestion is to make the simple and basic kookoo that most of us grew up eating. A bite into a soft slice of aromatic fresh herbs with the right amount of seasoning that has been cooked to perfection, and you are home again at your mother's table! You may want to give this delicious recipe a try, along with the popular traditional recipe!

 This recipe is by far my favorite kookoo sabzi recipe other than the one my mother used to make. The addition of walnuts gives it a nutty flavor and a bit of a crunch to the dish whereas barberries (zereshk) add a refreshing sour zing that many of us love in Iranian cooking. I have cooked kookoo sabzi many different ways, using different herbs and spices, changing the number of eggs or amount of vegetables, method of cooking, and stove top vs. the oven. Sometimes, I would use a couple of tablespoons of crushed walnuts and barberries but this time I increased the amounts of both walnuts and barberries, added a few layers of lettuce and only used parsley, cilantro and scallions (green parts only). The result is absolutely delicious!

Kookoo Sabzi with Walnuts and Barberries

Serves 6-8

1 large bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, remove the hard stems, wash and chop finely, makes about a cup
1 large bunch of fresh cilantro (geshniz), remove the hard stems, wash and chop finely, makes about a cup
1 large bunch of fresh scallions - green parts only (piazcheh) or chives, makes about a cup, use tareh instead if you can find it in your area
3-4 layers of fresh lettuce, finely chopped (I used inner layers of iceberg)
1 cup of walnuts, finely chopped
1/3 cup of barberries, soak in water for 10-15 minutes and rinse a few times to get rid of dust and dirt
5-6 large eggs, break in a separate bowl and beat vigorously before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients
Extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons
Butter, 1 tablespoon or as needed to coat the bottom and the sides of the pan
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Generously butter the bottom and the inside of  your ovenproof dish
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the finely chopped vegetables, ground walnuts, barberries, olive oil, flour, turmeric, salt, pepper and mix well. Pour the well beaten egg over the rest of the ingredients, mix thoroughly until everything is well coated.
  4. Pour the mixture in the ovenproof dish and place in the middle rack of the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 40-50 minutes. After 20 minutes remove the foil.
  5. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.
Place the slices on a platter and serve with bread, yogurt and pickles.

 I like to serve kookoo with yogurt and radishes.