My glorious Citizens! The Persian New Year celebration of Nowruz is now in full-swing, and coincidentally this weekend is also the start of the week of Passover (aka Pesach in Hebrew)! As such, I wanted to share a crossover recipe that can easily grace the tables of those celebrating Nowruz as well as Jews of all nationalities in these dark and troubled times.
Known as ‘toot’, this delicious Iranian marzipan is not only a traditional celebratory food of Nowruz – it’s also clean to use for Passover, when most grains and ALL leavened wheat products cannot be served on the tables of observant Jews! So, you’re getting two recipes for the price of one on this post, since there are still 15,000 Jews in Iran and a lot more in the Diaspora! The Nabob of Nowruz, the Prince of Pesach – YOUR TFD! – wants all of TFD Nation to feel included in our gastronomic uprising celebrating good taste and better history and this dish really fits the bill (of fare)!
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. Despite being indelibly associated with Iran, the following geographies, religions, and ethnicities also celebrate the holiday!
- Albania (by Bektashi Muslims)
- Armenia (by Iranian Armenians, Kurds and Yazidis)
- Bangladesh (by Bangladeshi Shia Muslims and others)
- China (by Tajiks and Turkic peoples)
- Georgia (by Azerbaijanis)
- India (by Iranis, Parsis and some Indian Muslims)
- Iraq (by Kurds and Turkmens)
- Israel (by Persian Jews, Kurdish Jews, Mountain Jews and Bukharan Jews)
- Pakistan (by Baloch, Baltis, Iranis, Parsis, Ismailis, Shia Muslims and Pashtuns)
- Russia (by Tabasarans)
- Syria (by Kurds)
- Turkey (by Azerbaijanis, Kurds and Yörüks)
- Ukraine (by Crimean Tatars)
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.
Each 2820 year great grand cycle contains 2137 normal years of 365 days and 683 leap years of 366 days, with the average year length over the great grand cycle of 365.24219852. This average is just 0.00000026 (2.6×10−7) of a day shorter than Newcomb’s value for the mean tropical year of 365.24219878 days, but differs considerably more from the current average vernal equinox year of 365.242362 days, which means that the new year, intended to fall on the vernal equinox, would drift by half a day over the course of a cycle. As the source explains, the 2820-year cycle is erroneous and has never been used in practice.
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. 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.
One of the most evocative desserts served during Nowruz is called ‘toot’ – and yes, I know in English that word is amusing, as seen in this famous (doctored) comic panel…and yes ‘Doctored’ is also a pun on Dr. Doom! 😉
As elucidated on turmericsaffron.blogspot.com, this is an excellent summary of the history of toot:
توت Toot (mulberry) is the sweet fruit of the mulberry tree. The black mulberry fruit is called shahtoot (king mulberry) in Persian. Toot Badami is a Persian-style marzipan mulberries made of a mixture of ground almond and sugar molded into the white mulberry fruit.
Toot is traditionally made for Nowruz (Persian New Year) and wedding ceremonies to bring in the sweetness. This is a simple and quick sweet that doesn’t require baking and is made with only a few ingredients. It’s also something fun to make with your kids for special occasions.
If you grew up in Iran, you most likely have a memory of either climbing up into the mulberry tree, shaking the branches and/or excitedly collecting the ripe fruits. In spring time, when I pass by the mulberry trees filled with white, red or black fruits on the trees on my way to the park where I live, a small town on Long Island, I can’t help but think of the joy and the memories of picking mulberries as a child.
Fresh, ripe mulberry fruits are sweet and juicy. White mulberries are usually sun-dried and served along with tea as a milder, healthy alternative and delightful sweetener. They are the preferred sweets for those who need to control their sugar intake.
White mulberry leaves are the main source of food for silkworms. Planting mulberry trees and producing luxurious silk had been encouraged many centuries ago since Persia was one of the countries along the trade route from China to Europe called Jadeh-Abrisham (The Silk Road). Some of the towns on the route include, Kermanshah, Hamadan, Ray, Yazd and Nayshabour.
So, unsurprisingly, my version of toot is unquestionably more complexly-flavored than the typical two-note (sweet and more sweet) marzipan ingredients of ‘normal’ toot – mine revels in the complex and fragrant notes of a range of flower essences and royal spices! Nothing less is worthy of the palate of TFD or His mighty Nation of gastronomic zealots of the highest order! For my Jewish Citizens considering this for their Passover table – be advised that powdered sugar usually has cornstarch in it, which is a major no-no for Eastern European Jews on this holiday.
If you’re not consuming cornstarch during Passover, you can use granulated sugar that’s been ground VERY fine in the food processor. Be sure your almond flour is also made from peeled almonds, so that the color of your toot resembles white mulberries as it is supposed to! I’ve made some fairly substantive changes to this recipe from the original, but I’ve noted all of them and they are indeed listed as optional if you prefer the classic version.
First off, rather than using pedestrian rosewater as some recipes call for, I prefer to use edible Bulgarian rose essence as it is the finest in the world and YOU can control how floral a note you prefer in your toot – you can buy my preferred brand here. While rose is a flavoring agent in several versions of toot, violet essence is not – but I dearly love that (very optional) flavor and it combines beautifully with the rose – top-quality violet essence can be found on Amazon here. I also dearly love cardamom, and have added a goodly hit of it in my recipe. I also added a bit of mahlab spice, which is the ground pit of a type of cherry and adds both cherry and vanilla notes to the toot – you can buy some here.
Orange blossom water adds a welcome hit of bright citrus and is a classic dessert ingredient in Iranian cooking – my preferred brand is here. The last ingredient is going to seem REALLY weird – but trust me Citizens, it works incredibly well with the other fragrances going on in this dessert – I’m talking about using ground-up musk-flavored lifesavers! ‘Muskies’ are VERY popular in Australia, and musk-flavored desserts were beloved by the Persian Caliphs of yore so I’m bringing back that lost flavor profile. Life Savers are basically sugar and flavor, so grinding them up works perfectly in this recipe – and if you choose to use this highly-optional ingredient, you can buy them here.
Citizens, my toot recipe truly makes a dessert worthy of Princes and Potentates alike, and can grace either your Nowruz table, your Passover table, or if you’re a Persian (or Silk Road-based) Jew – congratulations, you can serve it on both! 😀 Toot is a very easy recipe, involving zero cooking and only two real steps, so it’s ideal for a party or festive gathering of any form. After all, who doesn’t love marzipan transformed by the blessed touch of the mighty TFD, pressed into a jalapeño (actually, mulberry) shape and with slivered pistachios masquerading as the mulberry ‘stem’? Consider enjoying this as a dessert after another great Nowruz or Jewish recipe for herbed steak kebabs, as laid out here!
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