An iconic aspect of the new year traditions is the "Haft Seen" table which translates as "seven Ss" because it features seven traditional objects beginning with the letter "S". There are slight variations but our table usually consists of the following: sabzeh (lentil sprouts grown in a dish), sir (garlic, which symbolises medicine); sib (apples, which symbolise health and beauty); somaq (this is dried, powdered fruit which has a slightly tangy taste but is delicious sprinkled over rice); serkeh (vinegar), sekkeh (coins) and sonbol (hyacinth). Overall, the items are deemed to be represent guardians of beauty, life, health, happiness, birth, prosperity and light.
In previous years we have had other traditional items on the table, such as goldfish swimming around in a bowl, and usually the Koran between the pages of which the eldest member of the family places bank notes to hand out to the younger family members. Conventionally, the younger family members must pay respect to the elder members and it is for this reason the former visits the latter each new year. In return, I suppose, it is traditional that older people give presents to younger people. So in my family, I would give my younger sisters something and they would also receive gifts from my parents and so on, as would I. Usually it is in the form of money but it is also essential to wear new clothes for the new year. My dad says that when he was a boy this was when he was bought all of his clothes for the whole year because there wasn't a proper clothes shop in the town he lived in, so everything was tailored once a year. Sounds pretty fancy if you ask me having clothes made to measure!
The table is also littered with little eggs, typically hand painted (we had a lot of fun with this when we were younger!) and modernly, chocolate. The eggs and the sabzeh represent new life, tying in with the spring theme. On the 13th day of the new year, sizdeh bedar, everybody goes on a huge picnic and the sabzeh is taken to the park too to be thrown into water. People also make wishes by tying knots in strands of grass for good luck and usually a husband!
There are also lots of sweets and pastries, as well as pistachio nuts. I am biased of course but Iranian food is truly delicious. If you ever have the chance to try some, then do not miss the opportunity! It is mostly stews and rice, but Iranian kebabs are pretty darn good when cooked properly. My dad happens to be the best at them so you're all welcome around ours next time we have them if you like :)
The traditional meal for the new year is fish and rice sabzi polow. Last night we had our meal, courtesy of my mum and it seems that every year she just gets better and better at the recipe! As you can see in the photos below, the rice has fresh herbs and dried dill in it which complements the fried fish well. The rice is also flavoured with saffron and the fish in the photos has zereshk barberries over it. In other meals, the barberries are cooked with the rice which is really really yummy.
My favourite part of any Iranian meal is tah dig which I suppose translates as "the bottom of the pan" you cook rice in. This is usually just crispy rice but as a treat Mum sometimes puts slices of potato at the bottom so it is crispy potato rice. I don't know how to make it sound as delicious as it really is but all my non-Iranian friends seem to like tah dig the most too so it must be good! I also like yoghurt A LOT as anybody who has ever lived with me will tell you. It is flipping amazing for dipping things in, but that is another story of its own. I could write for days about excellent yoghurt combinations but more on that another time. What is particularly nice is chopped up bits of cucumber, mint and shallots all mixed together for lovely yoghurty fun.
For Christmas my friend gave me a book called "The Legendary Cuisine of Persia" by Margaret Shaida, sort of as a joke as embarrassingly I leave all the Iranian cooking for my parents to do. It is the sort of food which takes hours of love and preparation, so it is not ideal for impatient little me but as I have a lot more time on my hands this year, perhaps I should use this book to learn a few staple recipes. After all, one day I will want my future kids to be eating Iranian food and I will have to be the one cooking it for them!
Happy No Rooz!