March 22, 2012

Happy Nowruz! A Basic Guide to Celebrating Persian New Year!

Persian New Year Celebration

For those who are interested in learning about the ancient Persian New Year celebration, this post is a simple and brief step by step guide on how to prepare for Nowruz from before, during and after the Sal-e Tahvil (Vernal Equinox). It may be somewhat late to write about these tips now but I hope future readers will find it useful.

Events leading up to Nowruz:
  • Khaneh Tekani: Cleaning your house from top to bottom, to renew and revive your home in time for the Nowruz celebrations. When to start your khane tekani depends on what you plan to do. It may take several hours or several days depending on the number of rooms, how thorough you want to clean and how much time you have.  For more information, please see the following links: Spring cleaning Iranian style and also Spring Cleaning.
  • Growing Sabzeh: The best time to grow your seeds is about two weeks before Nowruz. It takes about two weeks to have a beautiful sabzeh. It may not turn out to be a tall sabzeh but it will have a better chance of lasting longer until sizdah bedar. However, if you prefer a long sabzeh on your haft-seen table start your seed germination a few days earlier.  For more information please see the link on growing sabzeh.
  • Making Samanoo: Samanoo (wheat pudding)
  • Chahar Shanbeh Suri:  Chahar shanbeh suri is celebrated on the eve of the last Tuesday of the year, where small bonfires are made and people jump over the fire while singing, "Zardi-e man az to, Sorkhi-e to az man" (my sickness and problems are all yours and your warmth and energy is mine). Please see the following link for more information on chahar shanbeh suri and aji chaharshanbeh suri.
  • Buying New Clothes: Buying new clothes and shoes for the children are part of the Nowruz tradition. 
  • Eidi:  Remember to set aside eidi for the children. They usually receive gifts or a small sum of money from their parents and close relatives such as grandparents, aunts and uncles. 
  • Sofreh Haft-Seen: Gather everything you'll need for your haft-seen spread, including the seven items that start with the letter seen (S) in Persian, Spring flowers (Hyacinth, tulips), mirror, candle, goldfish, sweets and ajil (mixed nuts). For more information please see the following link on haft-seen and preparing for Nowruz.
  • Gathering around the Haft-Seen Table: At the exact time of the vernal equinox, gather around your beautiful haft seen table with your children in their new outfits and celebrate the arrival of the new year and the rejuvenation of nature.
  • Nowruz Lunch or Dinner: The traditional Nowruz menu includes sabzi polow mahi, sabzi polowmahi, kookoo/kuku sabzi, reshteh polow.
After the Sal-Tahvil
  • Did o Bazdid: During the 13 days of Nowruz celebration it is customary to visit your close family members and relatives starting with the eldest and the closest and they too visit you back in your home. Have your fruit platter, ajil, sweets and freshly brewed tea ready!
  • Sizdah Bedar: Spending a day outdoors on the 13th day of Farvardin (the first month of the Iranian solar calendar) with family and friends to get rid of bad luck. Please see the following link on sizdah bedar.
I would like to share some of the pictures I took of our haft-seen table the other day. I wish you all a very happy Persian New Year! May the new year bring you peace, tranquility, health and happiness.

Sabzeh: Representing rebirth and fertility.

Senjed (Dried Fruit of the Lotus Tree): Representing love

Seer (Garlic): To ward off bad omens

Sekkeh (Coins): Representing wealth and prosperity

Somagh (Sumac): Representing the spice of life

Samanoo (wheat pudding): Representing the reward of patience and the sweetness of life

 Sonbol (Hyacinth): Representing spring

Seeb (Apple): Representing natural beauty and health

Tokhm-e Morgh Rangi (painted eggs): Representing Fertility

Narenj (Seville Orange) in Water: Representing the earth floating in space
(I used an orange)

Mahi Ghermez (Goldfish): Representing life

Noghl (sugar coated almonds)

Faal-e Hafez

Happy Persian New Year! Happy Spring!

March 09, 2012

Mahi - Fish (Fried, Smoked or Baked) Persian New Year's Day Lunch/Dinner

A traditional Nowruz lunch or dinner always includes a platter of sabzi polow (mixed herb rice) with ماهی  mahi (fish). The fish is usually served either doodi (smoked/salted) or sorkh kardeh (pan-fried). There are many wonderful fish varieties in Iran, from darya-ye Khazar (Caspian Sea) in the north and khalij-e Fars (Persian Gulf) regions in the south and each region has its own selection of favorite fish. In the past, any delicate seafood products from the Caspian Sea or the Persian Gulf regions would not have reached a far away distance without spoilage. Unlike nowadays, when most food ingredients are available all year round, back then having fresh seafood for those who didn't live near these areas was a luxury. Therefore, salting/smoking and drying fish and shrimp were the traditional ways of food preservation long before the technology and the invention of the yakhchal (refrigerator). Although, Iranians had mastered their own method of preserving ice in mud brick domes called, یخچال yachchal (ice-pit) dating back to 400 BC. ماهی سفید Mahi sefid (whitefish) from the Caspian Sea region is among the preferred type of fish for the Nowruz feast. The popularity of mahi-sefid grew in other parts of the country since it became available with the improved means of transportation and refrigeration.Whitefish has many bones in it so you just need to be very careful eating it! However, its pin bones are easy to remove. For this recipe I have chosen three different types of fish with three different preparation methods.

The most important Nowruz tradition in our home growing up, other than the gathering around the haft-seen table in our new clothes at the time of sal-e tahvil (spring equinox), was the Nowruz lunch! My father who never liked fish of any kind would bring a large mahi doodi (smoked whitefish) and also some sort of fresh local mahi jonoob (fish from the south). He liked his Nowruz whitefish pan-fried brown and crispy and it was always served with sabzi polow and kookoo sabzi. Here's another recipe for kookoo sabzi with walnuts and also my first recipe for sabzi polow mahi.

1- Mahi Sorkh kardeh - Fried Fish

Serves 4

4 pieces (2lb) flounder fillets, or any fish of your choice, scales/skin removed
1/3 cup flour, all purpose
1-2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves, crushed
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper powder *optional
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder *optional
A pinch of turmeric powder *optional
1-2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 limes or a large narenj (Seville orange)

  1. Rinse fish under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Season the fillets with salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried fenugreek leaves.
  3. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and add the oil on medium-high heat. 
  4. In a bowl combine the flour with a small amount of turmeric. Coat flounder fillets in the flour mixture, gently shake off any excess flour before placing the fillets onto the hot pan one at a time. Lightly brown fish on both sides for a few minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and place on a platter. Squeeze fresh lime juice or juice of a Seville orange over the fish.
Serve with sabzi polow (mixed herb rice), salad, and torshi.


If you find smoked fish to be too salty you may rinse it under cool running water for a few minutes and pat dry. I like to wrap smoked fish in aluminum foil with some fresh, dried herbs and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes.

2- Mahi Doodi - Smoked Whitefish


2 pounds smoked whitefish
1 tablespoon flour,
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, dill and chives, finely chopped
1-2 limes
Olive oil

  1. Squeeze the limes all over the fish, inside and out.
  2. In a small bowl combine flour, dried herbs and rub the mixture inside the fish.
  3. Place fresh herbs inside the fish and sprinkle a tablespoon of olive oil over the inside cavity of the smoked fish.
  4. Wrap the fish in foil and place in the 350 degrees Fahrenheit preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.
Serve with sabzi polow (mixed herb rice), salad and torshi.


This salmon recipe is from my late mother who never quite liked the taste of salmon and its pink color. To her, salmon always looked raw. That's why she preferred it to be pan-fried first and then baked in the oven to ensure that it is fully cooked!

3- Salmon - Pan Fried and Oven baked

Serves 4

2 pounds salmon fillet, rinse under cool water, pat dry and cut into small pieces
1-2 tablespoons dried dill weed
1-2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
1/4 teaspoon red pepper powder *optional
Salt and black pepper to taste
1-2 garlic cloves. finely minced
Olive oil
2 limes or a large narenj (Seville orange)

  1. Season the salmon with the dry ingredients.
  2. In a heavy skillet heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat.
  3. Lightly fry salmon fillets on both sides for a few minutes.
  4. Transfer the fish into an oven proof dish, you may want to layer the bottom of the pan with thin slices of lime and place the salmon fillets on top.
  5. Add the minced garlic, drizzle a small amount of olive oil on the fish and place into the 350 degrees Fahrenheit preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and squeeze fresh lime or Seville juice over the fish.
Serve with sabzi polow (mixed herb rice), salad and torshi.

Enjoy! Nowruz Mobarak!