Nowruz is a national holiday celebrated by Iranians of virtually all ethnicities and religions and long predates the official religion. In Farsi, Nowruz means, literally “New Day“, and marks the first day of spring and the Persian New Year. The holiday, which usually falls on or around March 21, is widely celebrated across the Middle East and Central Asia.
Listed below are some recipes typically shared over this holiday:
Shouleh Zard (Zard means Yellow & Shouleh means Flame)
This dessert is a form of Persian rice pudding, but with a twist! It takes about one hour to cook it, but then it should be left to chill for a few hours before eating it (most people like to keep it chilled in the fridge).
1 cup of rice (Jasmine rice is recommended, but you make it with any rice)
6 cups boiling water (you will need another 2 ½ cups of boiling water which will be added later)
1 ½ or 2 cups granulated sugar (you can adjust the sugar amount as desired)
¼ cup rosewater (edible type – available on Amazon and Walmart) CORTAS Rose Flower Water, 10 OZ
¼ tsp ground saffron – The Persian Saffron is the best for its aroma, but you can use any kind (Super Negin Saffron)
1 tsp salt
3 tsp unsalted butter – Recommended for taste, but not necessary
Ground cinnamon – 1 tbsp for top decoration
Slivered or chopped unsalted pistachio nuts or silvered almonds for garnish
Dried rose petals (recommended but not necessary, it’s just for aroma)
1. First you need to brew the saffron by finely grinding it in a mortar & then adding it to the 2 ½ cups of boiling water prepared on the side. Let it stand and put on the side.
2. In a large bowl, cover the rice with water. Using your hand, agitate the rice to release the starch, then carefully pour off the water. Rinse the rice five to seven more times, until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with water and refrigerate overnight. Drain, then coarsely crumble with your hands. If you are pressed for time, boil water with rice (don’t cook it) and discard the water, do it twice until the water runs clear. The idea here is to get rid of the starch.
3. In a large nonstick saucepan, combine the rice with six cups of water and the salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until the rice is softened, about 30 minutes.
4. Add & stir the sugar, brewed saffron, and butter into the rice. Cover and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice breaks down and the pudding is the texture of loose porridge, for about 20 to 30 minutes. Finally add & stir in the rosewater. Spoon the pudding into eight glasses and let cool slightly. Cover the glasses with plastic and refrigerate until thickened, about 1 hour.
5. Decorate the pudding with cinnamon and slivered pistachio nuts or almonds (or both). Let it stand at room temperature for 25 minutes before serving.
The pudding is best served chilled in the fridge overnight. Once out of fridge, just wait 10-20 minutes before serving. This is probably the easiest Persian dessert to make. If you know how to make rice pudding, then you can do this!
Fesenjoon – Pomegranate Walnut and Chicken Stew
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed, cut in small chunks
1 large onion, peeled, finely chopped
2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped
1 cup pomegranate molasses, plus more if needed
1/4 cup sugar, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Dash of cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
- You may chop the walnuts as finely as possible or pulse them a few times in a food processor.
- In a small pan add two tablespoons of oil and sauté walnuts until lightly toasted for a minute or two over medium heat, stirring frequently.
- Add the pomegranate molasses and two cups of water, mix well, cover the pan with lid slightly ajar, and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes on low heat.
- In a large heavy pot, sauté the onions in two tablespoons of oil over medium heat until golden brown, add turmeric and stir well.
- Place the chicken pieces into the pot and cook until golden brown on all sides, add salt, pepper, and a small dash of cinnamon. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a dash of pepper in the beginning which later on can be adjusted. This is not a hot dish.
- Pour the pomegranate walnut mixture into the pot, mix well, add additional water if needed since chicken pieces need to be covered in liquid, and bring back to a boil. Then lower the heat, cover and simmer for two hours. The slow cooked chicken, walnuts and pomegranate sauce will be rich and creamy.
- Add one tablespoon of sugar at a time, mix it well without shredding the chicken. Taste and add more sugar if you like it sweeter. Khoresh fesenjoon is a well-balanced, sweet and sour (malas) dish.
- If fesenjoon is too watery and not of a thick consistency, leave the cover a little ajar, to let the steam and moisture out, and simmer more until it thickens. Fesenjoon should not be watery.
Serve hot with aromatic basmati rice. If there are any leftovers, freeze them!