Although in Los Angeles we can’t argue we’ve suffered a treacherous winter, it doesn’t mean we can’t eagerly await spring and the bountiful herbs and fresh vegetables it brings.
Nowruz, or Persian New Year, is a 3,000 year old 13 day celebration of spring that is Iran’s most important holiday. The food associated with the holiday is ample with symbols associated with fertility, spring, and plenty. A typical menu consists of rice with saffron and herbs, a fish dish, an herb omelette, and a soup with long noodles in it, which ” symbolize long life and a lucky year ahead,” says Louisa Shafia author of The New Persian Kitchen.
For those interested in making these recipes for a vegetarian palate, you’re in luck. “Persian food is actually super vegetarian friendly,” Louisa says. She recommends replacing fish with either beans or roasted or baked eggplant. Check out the four Nowruz recipes below, courtesy of Louisa Shafia.
serves 4 to 6
8 ounces feta cheese
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt, such as Maldon salt, fleur de sel, or kosher salt
2 bunches whole fresh herbs, in any combination: spearmint, basil, cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, dill, chives, marjoram
1 bunch scallions, quartered crosswise, roots removed
2 cups walnuts (see Note below)
6 radishes, trimmed and quartered
Lavash or other flatbread
Drain the feta and place it in a medium bowl. Grind the spices coarsely, if desired. Heat a small skillet over high heat. Add the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds, and shake the pan continuously until the spices start to release their aroma, about 2 minutes. Immediately transfer to a bowl and pour in the olive oil. Add a pinch of coarse salt. Swirl the spices in the oil and steep for a few minutes. Pour the mixture over the feta. You can even work it in with your hands, gently crumbling the feta, if desired.
Wash and dry the herbs. Trim the stems, but leave them intact. Place the herbs on a large platter in a few fluffy piles. Place the walnuts on the platter, along with the radishes and lavash. Transfer the feta to the platter and garnish it with coarse salt.
For a single serving, pick up a few stalks of herbs. Tear the flatbread into a manageable piece and stuff it with the herbs, walnuts, a small piece of cheese, and a radish or two. Fold and eat like a sandwich.
Note: To remove bitterness from the walnuts, place them in a bowl, add boiling water to cover and a pinch of salt, and soak from 1 hour up to overnight.
Before serving, drain and rinse until the water runs clear.
serves 4 to 6
3 cups water
2 cups white basmati rice, soaked in cold water for 1 hour
2 tablespoons butter or
1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled, or 1 pound frozen lima beans, thawed
2 tablespoons ghee or 2 cups tightly packed minced fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon saffron, ground and steeped in 1 tablespoon hot water
unrefined coconut oil, grapeseed oil at room temperature
Drain the rice and rinse under cold water until the rinse water runs clear.
In a stockpot, bring the water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Add the rice, return to a boil, then turn down the heat to its lowest setting. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 5 minutes, then dot with the butter and fluff with a fork. The rice should be dry and fluffy.
While the rice cooks, prepare the favas. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water. Drop the favas into the boiling water, return to a boil, and cook for ice water.
Heat the ghee in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the favas for 3 minutes, until heated through. Add the dill and cook for about 1 minute, until just wilted. Combine the favas and rice in a large bowl and drizzle in the saffron. Mix gently, season with salt, and serve. 2 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, and shock in the ice water.
Heat the ghee in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the favas for 3 minutes, until heated through. Add the dill and cook for about 1 minute, until just wilted. Combine the favas and rice in a large bowl and drizzle in the saffron. Mix gently, season with salt, and serve.
This tart baked trout is inspired by my cousin Parvin’s Norooz fish recipe, and its easy, quick preparation is good news for anyone who’s ever been anxious about cooking a whole fish. Trout is reasonably priced, often deboned and therefore easy to eat, and among the very fastest-cooking fish. Try coarsely chopped cranberries or tart cherries if you can’t find barberries. You can make the filling a day ahead, but stuff the fish just before baking.
4 farmed rainbow or brook trout,
8 ounces each, cleaned and butterflied
Sea salt and freshly ground
5 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 large yellowonion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whole raw almonds, coarsely ground
1 cup barberries, soaked in warm water for 1/2 hour and drained
1/4 cup Thai tamarind concentrate (see recipe here or buy from specialty grocery store) , strained to remove grit
1 cup tightly packed minced fresh herbs, any combination of at least two of the following: cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, basil, mint
2 limes, cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease two baking sheets.
Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry thoroughly. Season them inside and out with salt and pepper and divide them between the baking sheets. Set aside in the refrigerator.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and sauté the onion for 10 minutes, until it starts to darken, then cook slowly over low heat for about 30 minutes, until it is dark brown and about half its original volume. Add the garlic, almonds, barberries, and tamarind, and cook over low heat until the mixture becomes fragrant, about 10 minutes. Stir in the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature.
Remove the fish from the refrigerator. Open each fish toward you, leaving the bottom flat against the pan. Spread the filling evenly from head to tail, then press the top half of the fish down firmly to cover the filling. Tuck any excess filling inside. Brush the fish with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the top turns golden and the fish flakes easily. Serve with the lime wedges.
Slicing into this fragrant frittata reveals an emerald-green interior with a bready texture and a warm, nutty flavor. This springtime dish, full of green herbs that signify new beginnings, is part of the traditional meal at Norooz, the Persian New Year that falls on the spring equinox. Try folding slices of the frittata into flatbread with the feta, radishes, and herbs on the Fresh Herb Platter (above).
It’s important that the herbs are thoroughly dry, as water will make the texture of the frittata spongy. It can be made the day before serving and will last for a few days.
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/2 cup finely ground walnuts
2 teaspoons crushed dried rose petals or dried whole rosebuds pulled apart and stems removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 2 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
About 2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, green and white parts, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
7 eggs, whisked
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Heat an 8- to 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, followed by the walnuts, rose petals, and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the ingredients start to release their fragrance. Add the herbs and scallions and cook for about 2 minutes, until wilted. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper. Let the pan cool for a few minutes, then gently stir in the eggs.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the center of the frittata springs back when lightly pressed. To unmold, loosen the edge with a butter knife and invert onto a serving platter. Serve hot or cold.