My Citizens – عید شما مبارک Happy Nowruz (Persian New Year) to those celebrating the holiday and an equally heartfelt חַג פֵּסַח שַׂמֵחַ Happy Passover holiday to my Jewish Citizens, as Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) starts today! For those of my exceedingly fortunate members of TFD Nation who are Persian Jews – well, you just hit the holiday recipe jackpot this year, as the Mufti of Magnificence, the Rabbi of Recipes – YOUR TFD! – shall today drop a post that satisfies the discerning palates of my Jewish and Persian brothers- and sisters-in-culinary-arms alike!
Today, I give you a recipe that is classically enjoyed throughout the multi-week Nowruz festivities throughout the Silk Road region (not just Persians!) that is also clean to serve on Passover, when anything with leavened wheat is a distinct no-no for observant Jews!
First, I shall re-use some of the text from my previous post, as it offers an excellent summary of Nowruz for non-Persians!
Nowruz (Persian: نوروز lit. ‘new day’) is the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year, which begins on the spring equinox, marking the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar. It is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups, and falls on or around March 21 of the Gregorian calendar. Nowruz falls on March 20 in 2021.
Nowruz has Iranian and Zoroastrian origins; however, it has been celebrated by diverse communities for over 3,000 years in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, the Balkans, and South Asia. It is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians, Baháʼís, and some Muslim communities.
As the spring equinox, Nowruz marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals. While Nowruz has been celebrated since the reform of the Iranian calendar in the 11th century CE to mark the new year, the United Nations officially recognized the “International Day of Nowruz” with the adoption of UN resolution 64/253 in 2010.
The first day of the Iranian calendar falls on the March equinox, the first day of spring, around March 21. In the 11th century CE, the Iranian calendar was reformed in order to fix the beginning of the calendar year, i.e. Nowruz, at the vernal equinox. Accordingly, the definition of Nowruz given by the Iranian scientist Tusi was the following: “the first day of the official New Year [Nowruz] was always the day on which the sun entered Aries before noon.” Nowruz is the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar.
The word Nowruz is a combination of Persian words نو now—meaning “new”—and روز ruz—meaning “day”. Pronunciation varies among Persian dialects, with Eastern dialects using the pronunciation [nawˈɾoːz] (as in Dari and Classical Persian, whereas in Tajik, it is written as “Наврӯз” Navröz), western dialects [nowˈɾuːz], and Tehranis [noːˈɾuːz]. A variety of spelling variations for the word nowruz exist in English-language usage, including novruz, nowruz, nauruz and newroz.
Nowruz’s timing in Iran is based on the Solar Hijri algorithmic calendar, which is based on precise astronomical observations, and moreover use of sophisticated intercalation system, which makes it more accurate than its European counterpart, the Gregorian calendar.
This lightly-edited article from CNN describes some Nowruz customs and food traditions:
On the last Tuesday before the New Year, there is a tradition to make small bonfires in your garden. Traditionally people jump over the bonfires, and it’s supposed to be a symbol of purification, challenges of the year gone by, and energetically cleansing you and preparing you for the year ahead.
A key tradition is to set up an altar in your house called a Haft-seen, which means seven S’s in Farsi. You place seven things on your altar that begin with the letter S in Farsi, which are symbols or qualities you’d like to invite in for the year ahead.
You can have apples for good health, candles for light, eggs for fertility, wheatgrass for rebirth and renewal, vinegar for wisdom, and a gold coin for abundance and prosperity. Each person chooses items that have meaning for them.
The festival lasts two weeks. At the end of the festival, you take the wheatgrass you’ve been growing on your altar and you take it down to some running water somewhere. You tie knots in the wheatgrass then throw it into the running water. It would float off along with all your hopes and dreams for the year ahead.
Like all cultural celebrations, food is a really integral part. Because it’s a festival celebrating spring, we eat lots of green and fresh herbs. For example, there’s this dish called Kuku Sabzi (see recipe below), which is a gorgeous herb and spinach frittata that we always eat on the first day of the year in our house.
The frittata is fragrant and aromatic and is served with flatbreads, sliced tomatoes and pickles. The first meal of the Persian New Year is always fish served with herb-flecked rice filled with dill, parsley and chives in it (TFD note – this is in fact today’s recipe!). The two-week festival is a time of celebration with people you know. Not in these pandemic times, but traditionally you go to people’s houses and eat lots of delicious sweets and pastries.
Cooking is probably the easiest and most fun way to celebrate the new year. I really recommend that people give some Persian recipes a go. As well as being delicious, they’re healthy and vibrant with all the herbs that are packed in them.
In the weeks before the new year, we do a big deep spring cleaning called “shaking down the house” in Farsi. We’ve all been stuck at home, and it’s definitely got quite dusty around the corners of where I live. It’s really lovely to have a focus and have something that is about bringing in new life, renewal and rebirth during this difficult time.
And no one regrets a spring clean, so I think that’s also a really great idea. I think this is a beautiful kind of nonreligious festival that everyone can join into and that we can all relate to. It’s a time where we really try and let go of any difficulties that we’ve had in the past year and try to start the new year with a clean slate.
As for Passover, well that is far-better known as a holiday here in the West – there is a huge amount of information on the holiday here, if you wish to explore more deeply into its symbolism and mysticism!
Passover (also called Pesach in Hebrew: פֶּסַח) is a ritual meal, the Pesach seder, that occurs the night of the paschal full moon after the 14th of Nisan, eve of the 15th, telling the story of the exodus, and remembering how the angel of death ‘passed over’ the houses of the Israelites during the tenth plague on Egypt. It begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread that continues through the 22nd of Nisan, and is one of three pilgrimage festivals in which all Jewish males living in the land of Israel are obliged.
When the Temple in Jerusalem stood, the paschal lamb was offered and eaten on Passover eve, while the wave offering of barley was offered on the second day of the festival. Nowadays, in addition to the biblical prohibition of owning leavened foods for the duration of the holiday, the Passover seder is one of the most widely observed rituals in Judaism. In the Diaspora outside of Israel, the unleavened bread festival is celebrated for 8 days.
The verb pasàch (פָּסַח) is first mentioned in the Torah’s account of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:23), and there is some debate about its exact meaning. The commonly held assumption that it means “He passed over” (פסח), in reference to God “passing over” (or “skipping”) the houses of the Hebrews during the final of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, stems from the translation provided in the Septuagint (παρελευσεται [Greek: pareleusetai] in Exodus 12:23, and εσκεπασεν [Greek: eskepasen] in Exodus 12:27).
Targum Onkelos translates pesach as ve-yeiḥos (Hebrew: וְיֵחוֹס we-yēḥôs) “he had pity” coming from the Hebrew root חסה meaning to have pity. Cognate languages yield similar terms with distinct meanings, such as “make soft, soothe, placate” (Akkadian passahu), “harvest, commemoration, blow” (Egyptian), or “separate” (Arabic fsh).
The term Pesach (Hebrew: פֶּסַח Pesaḥ) may also refer to the lamb or goat which was designated as the Passover sacrifice (called the Korban Pesach in Hebrew). Four days before the Exodus, the Hebrews were commanded to set aside a lamb (Exodus 12:3), and inspect it daily for blemishes. During the day on the 14th of Nisan, they were to slaughter the animal and use its blood to mark their lintels and door posts. Before midnight on the 15th of Nisan they were to consume the lamb.
The English term “Passover” is first known to be recorded in the English language in William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible, later appearing in the King James Version as well. It is a literal translation of the Hebrew term. In the King James Version, Exodus 12:23 reads:
For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
Also called the ‘festival [of] the matzot’ (Hebrew: חג המצות ḥag ha-matzôth) in the Hebrew Bible, the commandment to keep Passover is recorded in the Book of Leviticus:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at dusk is the LORD’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD; seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work. And ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days; in the seventh day is a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work.
— Leviticus 23:5–8 (JPS 1917 Version)
The Passover ritual is widely thought to have its origins in an apotropaic rite, unrelated to the Exodus, to ensure the protection of a family home, a rite conducted wholly within a clan. Hyssop was employed to daub the blood of a slaughtered sheep on the lintels and door posts to ensure that demonic forces could not enter the home.
A further hypothesis maintains that, once the Priestly Code was promulgated, the Exodus narrative took on a central function, as the apotropaic rite was, arguably, amalgamated with the Canaanite agricultural festival of spring which was a ceremony of unleavened bread, connected with the barley harvest. As the Exodus motif grew, the original function and symbolism of these double origins was lost. Several motifs replicate the features associated with the Mesopotamian Akitu festival. Other scholars, John Van Seters, J.B.Segal and Tamara Prosic disagree with the merged two-festivals hypothesis.
Now, remembering that there is a prohibition about eating milk products and meat such as beef, lamb and goat in the same meal amongst Jews who keep kosher, this means that fish is a ‘clean’ protein for Jews since it can be safely eaten with dairy. During Passover, Jews of Eastern European descent will not only abstain from leavened wheat in any form, but also corn, beans, and rice due to a 13th century Rabbinic decree in the region forbidding eating these other items as they were usually stored together with wheat and thus very likely to be ‘contaminated’. These ‘related’ grains were known as kitniyot.
Kitniyot (Hebrew: קִטְנִיּוֹת, qitniyyot) is a Hebrew word meaning legumes. During the Passover holiday, however, the word kitniyot (or kitniyos in some dialects) takes on a broader meaning to include grains and seeds such as rice, corn, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds, in addition to legumes. Although Reform and Conservative Ashkenazi Judaism currently allow for the consumption of kitniyot during Passover, long-standing tradition in these and other communities is to abstain from their consumption.
The Torah only prohibits Jews from eating chametz during Passover. Chametz is leaven made from the ‘five grains’: wheat, spelt, barley, shibbolet shu’al (two-rowed barley, according to Maimonides; oats according to Rashi) or rye. There are additional rabbinic prohibitions against eating these grains in any form other than matzo.
Among Orthodox Ashkenazi and some Sephardic Jews, the custom (minhag) during Passover is to refrain from not only products of the five grains but also other grains and legumes. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community but generally include maize (American corn), as well as rice, peas, lentils, and beans. Many also include other legumes, such as peanuts and soy, in this prohibition. The Chayei Adam considers potatoes not to be kitniyot because they were unknown in the time when the prohibition was created, an opinion followed today by nearly all Ashkenazi authorities.
However, Sephardic (Jews of Spanish and Portuguese descent) and Mizrahi (Jews from the Middle East) CAN eat kitniyot – and I follow their dietary rules during Passover! Thus, this fried fish served along with herbed rice and breaded in rice and chickpea flour is clean by their standards – and Mine! 😀 If you are Ashkenazi, please do refrain from eating this on Pesach or at least check with your Rabbi first to make sure that they give the recipe the thumbs-up!
I have seasoned my dish lavishly in the TFD style – it goes above and beyond the simple cinnamon used to typically spice the rice and fish and instead uses the classic Iranian spice blend known as advieh and my recipe for it is here. Citizens, this is a delicious recipe that unites Muslims, Zoroastrians and Jews alike thanks to my specific cultural context and I hope you see fit to try the dish at earliest opportunity – whether on your Nowruz table, your Seder table or just your regular old dinner table! By the way, if you’re Jewish and looking for a new and exciting charoset recipe for your Seder plate – try my Persian version here!
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