Land of Milk & Honey

PNY haftseen arr“3-2-1, Happy New Year!”  Yes, it’s that time of year again – countdown to a third-time charm.  While January champagne toasts and proceeding lunar festivities have long passed, did you know of another official start?  Let’s discuss March!  Giving birds something to ‘tweet’ about, the first day of spring denotes more than a pleasant defrosted re-awakening.  Reviving age-old customs, this seasonal arrival equally marks the launch of another highly anticipated event – Happy Persian New Year!

RedRoseP2 arrSpring is in the air, and so are many “must-haves.”  Cooking and cleaning complete, every Persian household moves on to set a visual attraction – ‘haft-seen.’  For your eyes only, this symbolic table spread translates to the collection of seven meaningful items, each beginning with the letter ‘s.’  Bringing the outdoors in, representation of the elements – earth, fire, water, sky, flora and fauna – is apparent with the placement of the following:  apples, candles, ‘golab’ (rose water), mirror, wheat-grass, goldfish; and coloured eggs to signify both humanity and fertility.  Anything but recent, this ancient celebration follows Zoroastrian customs – food included!  Resolutions out, a breaking of a new dawn equates to a ‘Nowruz’ (new day), and an opportune reason to celebrate life with a two-week Persian banquet.

RedRoseP4 arrFortunately for Persians, an authentic meal is steps away – kitchen-close.   Hungry or not, know this:  “mi casa – persa – es su casa.”  Even better, ‘finger-food’ – here – is completely lost in translation.  Serving mountainous portions of hospitality, steaming-hot dishes are ‘party-size’ in addition to being individualized, with your name on it.  So please eat, without hesitation, and to the last grain – ‘tarof’ optional.  In case you’re unaware, ‘tarof’ is a form of Persian etiquette that involves a guest’s polite repetitious refusal of their host’s offerings.  Food or refreshments, the guest humbly refuses by saying, “no, thank you,” until they finally succumb to receiving ‘star’ treatment.  Seemingly never-ending, this mannerly display always ends the same; the host offers plenty of all-things-comfort – undivided attention, conversation, edible treats, and napping pillow if desired – until the guest graciously accepts.  Familiar to most if not every Persian, ‘tarof’ is a natural and expected occurrence at social gatherings – really, I insist!RedRoseP3 arr

“What’s for dinner?” – thought you’d never ask.  Steadfast to ancestral roots, the dynamic menu is consistent with traditional cuisine allotted for the sum of 14 days.  While systemic, sticking to the plan is a must – no jinxing of fate!  Daring not to disrupt positive omens, the first meal is a plateful of ‘prosperity’ – ‘sabzi polo’ (herbed rice) and ‘mahi’ (fish).  Superiorly fragrant and fresh, aren’t we the lucky ones?  Other ‘specials’ include noodle-embedded rice to promote longevity, followed by a list of other aromatic recipes.  Superstitious or not, you can’t go wrong eating bites of ‘delicious’ – it’s destiny!

Leaving savoury ‘mains’ to my expert mother, a continuum of glorious food extends to my assumed duties – sweets.  GPS set to “Tehranto,” I take care of business the best way I know how – shopping spree of gorgeous hand-crafted delicacies.  Stepping into my preferred Persian pastry shop – Red Rose Pâtisserie – ‘beauties’ are to be found, and worth a second look:  fist-size cream-filled profiteroles; chewy walnut meringue and buttery jam-sandwiched cookies; chickpea-flour sable confections; and a trailblazer of sweet-fried dough, ‘bamieh’ and ‘zoolbia.’  RedRoseP5 arrBetween bite-size pillows or ribbon-patterned swirls, relish selecting either or both of these rosewater-infused simple syrup soaked mouthfuls – rejuvenated deep-fried cakey-batter bliss.

Superseding in rich taste, texture and technique, traces of ancient influence is rampant.  Generously sprinkled, coated or enrobed, Red Rose adds signature touches to an assortment of crisp, flaky, dense and sponge pastries using the finest imports:  pistachios, almonds, and walnuts; fragrant orange blossom and rose waters; canary yellow saffron; and flavourful enrichments via cardamom and cinnamon spices.  Visibly in the “land of milk and honey,” I patiently wait in queue to fulfill a vital request – some of everything – boxed and ready-to-go!   Time-elapsed and prized possessions in hand, I walk away satisfied – like most – with many happily ever-‘afters.’  Three times a ‘new’ year – perfected – this festivity is clearly tailored for good times, entertaining company, and appetizing eats.  Marking your Persian calendar, then, forget about eastern/western standard times, and get ready to party – like it’s 1393!

© DISHFUL, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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‘Healing’ Waters

Poppins – who?  Before Mary came into the scene, traditionalists have long used sweet sugar to ease ‘troubles.’  Also requiring no sing-along, my Persian mom – like others before her – already knew the soluble response to minor stomach ailments.  Hunger pangs or over-indulgence, the known ‘treatment’ remains unchanged and in following ‘the method’ – the old-fashioned way.

MintWater arrThanks to the former housewives of Persianville, trusted homemade solutions are safely locked into memory and made using a touch of age-old necessity – ‘healing’ waters.  Diverse in application as in scent, find these ‘waters’ in tall translucent bottles – possibly – along the “international aisle,” and definitely available on the shelf of local Persian grocers.  To name a few, popular varieties of floral-infused waters – also stored in my fridge – include:  rosewater, orange blossom water and mint water.  While the number of distilled ‘waters’ are endless, aromatics via fruits, herbs and flowers are commonly used to create these wonderfully fragrant liquid elixirs.

Ancient in existence, but perhaps recent to some, perfumed waters have been around for centuries – talking about past generations!  With yesterday’s ‘news’ – now recycled – daily appearances of these ‘waters’ are more common than one may think.  Gently washed onto one’s face or incorporated into food, rosewater can be identified with beauty regimens or among Middle-eastern baking staples and fusion cuisine.  Still confused?  Just think about the last time you ate simple syrup-laden baklava – that mystery component was most likely rosewater.  Clearly a multi-purpose item, some even resort to these ‘waters’ for its medicinal purposes.   And, if you’re like my mom, mint water is the remedy to realign your ‘center.’  Equally appealing to my preference for all that’s effective, reliable and natural, this digestive aid works – all the proof I need.RoseOBlossomWaters arr

Previously tried, I can attest to mint water’s restorative ‘powers.’  But, people are people – we’re different!  As such, unique tastes will undeniably carry diverging reactions.  So if you don’t like mint, are allergic or – heaven forbid – are suffering from appendicitis, please don’t try this at home.  Seriously, in case of emergency – needless to say – you know what to do!  In the meantime, this agreeable recipe stands as my sure-fit non-prescription for refreshing alleviation.  Non-accidently made aware of this ‘medicinal’ drink, it comes highly recommended – even directly made – by my Persian matriarch line of ‘naturally’ instinctive doctors.  For your own glass of settling comfort, simply blend these ingredients:  a generous pouring – tablespoon or two – of mint water; then dilute with actual water – H2O; and to complete, mix the ‘remedy’ with a stick of crystalized sugar rocks or the famed alternative – “spoonful of sugar” – until ‘caster’ is dissolved.  Easily prepared and fitting of fast relief, this pleasant beverage need not be limited to a minty ‘curative.’  So go ahead, if you wish, and drink your ‘greens’ – anytime!

Appetite redeemed, satisfying cravings for more ‘aromatics’ is another flavourful bottle away.  As your bonus instruction, simply scoop and combine into a bowl:  premium quality real-cream vanilla ice cream, dash of rosewater or orange blossom water, and – though optional – top with a hint of ground saffron and crushed pistachios.  Sweet tooth or sore throat, whatever the ‘suffering,’ being under the weather is immediately corrected with ‘rosier’ alternatives – Persian food and drink!

© DISHFUL, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.