January 17, 2013

Hana-Bandan - Iranian Henna Bridal Party

These henna designs were applied by Suhayr, a wonderful friend of my eldest daughter.
Recently, I had the great pleasure of helping my dear friend throw a  حنابندان hana bandan/bridal shower party for her beautiful daughter, Parisa. It was a fabulous evening of music, dancing and delicious food.  Hana bandan/hana bandoon is an old Iranian pre-wedding ritual dating back to several hundred years ago. The henna ceremony is usually held by the bride's family the day before the wedding and henna paste is applied on the bride's hands and sometimes the groom's hands and feet as the family gets ready to send their daughter off to start a new chapter in her life. This tradition may vary from region to region and from household to household. It's believed that applying henna brings good luck and happiness to the newlyweds.

The subject of hana bandan seems somewhat obscure in our culture and there's little information available about it. After some research and inquiry, a good friend of mine gave me a copy of the hana-bandan page from Mahmud Katiraie's book, "Khest ta Khesht," which is written in Persian and is about Iranian culture, traditions and folklore. According to the author, the day before the wedding the groom's family sends over the khoncheh (large wooden tray) of henna to the bride's home. Khoncheh would carry the seven brass or silver bowls of freshly prepared henna adorned with silver and gold coins surrounded by different colored lit candles. The henna designs would include the images of a sparrow, tree or a flower. Iranian henna designs are simple and not very elaborate and intricate.

 Boy Holding a Falcon, Iran, Late 18th century, Qajar Dynasty, Hermitage Museum

'The Shirin Painter,' A girl acrobat balancing on a knife, c. 1840 (Source)
Probably by Mahammad Hasan, period of Fath 'Ali Shah, A mother and child with parrot (Source)
For those who are interested in the subject matter, there's an informative article on the online encyclopedia Iranica about Henna. There's also an interesting article, The Patterns of Persian Henna by Catherine Cartwright-Jones, that examines the art of Persian henna from the late 13th century to the mid 19th century and asks for further research. The paper offers several references to henna by the great classical Persian poets such as Roudaki, Jami and Sa'di along with several paintings depicting hennaed hands. Based on the author's research the art of Persian henna precedes the Hindu intricate henna designs by several hundred years. With the spread of European cultural influences and urbanization, hanna bandan ceremonies became unpopular and demode, a thing of the past. Today in modern Iran, many of the young Iranian women find the use of henna distasteful and old-fashioned.

Nighttime in a Palace, Iran, 16th century , Harvard University Art Museum 

I had never attended a henna ceremony in the past. However, my experience with henna goes back to my childhood growing up in the south of Iran. Every summer, my mother who was a huge fan of henna would apply henna throughout my hair and would leave it for several hours before washing it during those hot summer days. She believed using henna would nourish the hair and the scalp and work as a natural hair conditioner. On the day that I was packing to leave for America she tucked some henna into a canvas bag and placed it in my suitcase filled with the things that I thought I wouldn't be able to find here.

January 02, 2013

Soup-e Morgh o Sabzijat - Maman's Feel-Good Chicken Vegetable Soup

It has been very cold recently and I decided to make my mother's special pot of سوپ مرغ و سبزیجات soup-e morgh o sabzijat (chicken vegetable soup). My mother's chicken soup varied each time depending on the severity of how sick we were growing up and the type of ingredients she had lying around in her kitchen at the time or what was seasonally available in the market. It could be a bland chicken wing soup with lots of parsley and a bowl of cooked turnip on the side, or a joojeh (young chicken) with all kinds of vegetables and a good squirt of lemon juice. According to my mother, a bowl of chicken soup or eating a couple of cooked شلغم shalgham (turnip) was as good as a shot of penicillin.

There are countless numbers of chicken soup recipes worldwide. Every country, or rather everyone, has their own favorite version. It's believed that chicken soup has healing properties. Whether that's true or not I believe that there's something magical in that bowl of warm homemade soup that makes you feel better in addition to taking your medications and getting enough rest.

My mother made this recipe many times while I was growing up. However, she would rarely add tomatoes or noodles to the soup. I, on the other hand, like to add a couple of small tomatoes to enhance the taste and the color. Adding noodles makes the soup a bit more substantial. For a healthier soup, I don't brown the chicken pieces with chopped onion. I also don't use any canned ingredients such as tomato sauce and I don't use black pepper either. You may leave the chicken skin on but I prefer removing it for a less greasy soup.

Soup-e Morgh o Sabzijat - Chicken Vegetable Soup

Serves 4

4 chicken drumsticks, rinsed, skin removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium turnips, cubed
2 small carrots, chopped into small pieces
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small tomatoes, remove the skin, chopped
A bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
A bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
A bunch of scallions or chives, chopped
A handful of vermicelli noodles
2 medium lime or lemons
Salt to taste

  1. In a large pot place the chicken pieces, onion, garlic, turnip, carrots, tomatoes and celery. 
  2. Add 6 cups of water and a pinch of salt, bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 45 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped fresh vegetables (parsley, cilantro, scallions) and the noodles. Add more water if needed. Cover and cook for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked. Add the lime juice, taste it, and adjust the seasoning.
Ladle the soup into a serving bowl and serve hot.

Ask Attar about the sadness of my pain
Ask a patient about the length of a night
Everyone asks how I am
You that are my heart and soul, ask me for once

~ Baba Taher
My humble translation
Enjoy! Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2013!