On the first day of spring the smell of new beginnings waft through the air. Hyacinth and tulips bloom. Fresh green grasses bud. Inside a Persian kitchen, though, fragrant aromas of saffron, herbs, and decadent sweets prevail. On the stove sits a pot of rice, and next to it a pan of fish fried in olive oil get are garnished with slices of citrus like lime or orange. Such are the scents of Nowruz.
The spring solstice marks a time of new beginnings and familiar smells, especially for Iranians who celebrate their new year, Nowruz, on the day of the vernal equinox. This year the holiday lands on March 20. The new year brings a bright array of food traditions of Iranian culture.
Last year, COVID affected Persian households during Nowruz celebrations, as the lockdown had just begun almost exactly a year ago. Families weren’t able to congregate for their customary Nowruz dinners and Eidee gift-giving. Most festivities that are held in Dallas for Nowruz were canceled. Instead, Persians celebrated with their immediate families in their homes abiding by social distancing rules. This March 2021, Persians look forward to expanding their festivities and celebrations to more family members as more and more people are getting access to the vaccine. Get togethers may remain smaller than in years past, but nothing will change about how we celebrate. And what we eat.
After all, the food is the most incredible part of this celebration for me and my family because of the importance of what we serve.
Find such colorful arrays of dishes on the haft-seen, where seven (haft) foods and items that begin with the letter “s” (seen) symbolize rebirth, renewal, and prosperity. Bowls of fruits, nuts, and beautifully plated sweets are placed alongside the haft-seen table. The traditional Nowruz dish, sabzi polo ba mahi (herb rice with fish), combines fluffy, steamed basmati rice along with freshly prepared cuts of white fish. The herbs in the sabzi polo include dried parsley, dill, and cilantro—a verdant mixture known as tareh. Sabzi polo represents the arrival of spring with the beautiful representation of green from the herbs in the rice, while the white fish symbolizes life, fertility, and rejuvenation.
The combination of aromas that fill a Persian household on Nowruz provide me with everlasting memories. Our table is always filled with plates of Persian cookies and sweets such as nokhodchi, a sweet delicacy made from chickpea, pistachio, cardamom, and rosewater that simply melts in your mouth.
Aside from cooking and eating—and there’s plenty of both—we wish our elders a happy new year first thing in the morning before cleaning the house of old, negative energies, and then go shopping to replace a lovingly used item with something new.
When the new year begins, the world is literally turning on the axis and transitioning into a new season. Change will always come and big gatherings with family will eventually return. But nothing can take the beauty out of Nowruz or our savory food—not even COVID.
So, if you see one of your Persian friends walking around Dallas this weekend, make sure to wish them a happy new year—or, if you’re daring enough try: Ayd-eh shoma mobarak!