Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Year's to You!

As Spring found its merry way back to us last week, NPR had a brief segment on Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Because Nowruz coincides with the vernal equinox, the celebrations of the holiday (not to mention the foods) focus on fertility and the renewal of life and hope that Spring represents for the rest of us.

It's been a while since I made much in the way of Persian food or other food from various Silk Road cuisines, but I'm always open to suggestion. And since the Renaissance Man had a birthday arriving shortly after the equinox, it seemed ideal to celebrate the two different "new years" at the same time with a (mostly) Persian feast.

I can't say that my meal would have been entirely suitable for Nowruz, though I did try to incorporate a few traditional ingredients, such as nuts, garlic for health, olives (through olive oil), and the usual eggs for fertility and rebirth of the earth. I pulled out a few old favorites from my recipe book, added a new one, and made a variation of one of my signature dishes.

I love borani, the fresh-tasting yogurt dip that somehow shows up in many of my Middle Eastern meals. Though I couldn't yet find local radishes, I splurged anyway, and I tossed in some of my dried mint and basil as well as local garlic and fresh dill to make a refreshing appetizer to serve with homemade lavash crackers.

I can never resist Uzbek carrot salad, so even though it's technically not a Persian dish, I made it for the extra color and the raw texture that contrasted so well with the traditional kuku (recipe found at the NPR link above) made with the last of the green eggs, spinach, and fresh herbs.

No, eggplant isn't in season, but with half a jar of home-canned tomatoes, local garlic, and dried local parsley, the imam bayildi I made for the meal still tasted wonderful. And all the vegetable dishes worked well with the polow or rice dish made with pistachios, cardamom, fresh dill, and dried rose petals.

For such a different and exotic meal, I decided that we should have a picnic dinner on the floor of my loft, using my well-loved picnic blanket (with place settings appliqued directly onto the fabric, courtesy of the multi-talented Chef Mother) so that we could bask in the sunlight and enjoy everything to the fullest. The Renaissance Man, being the mellow sort of person he is, did not gush or rave about the meal, but as he reached for seconds on nearly every dish, I knew he was well pleased with his birthday feast.

And wouldn't you be pleased, too, if instead of a birthday cake you had fresh baklava laced with an orange-honey-rosewater syrup and studded with walnuts, pecans, and pistachios? (He certainly was.)

Those Persians certainly knew/know how to celebrate the beginning of Spring! And we definitely knew how to start a new year right ourselves, even if it's not the New Year's celebration you might expect.

So here's to you, Renaissance Man -- Happy Birthday, and Happy New Year!


At 3/31/2008 9:51 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

Wow, Jennifer. What a spread!

At 4/01/2008 7:05 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Janet... and the leftovers have been good, too!


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