World of Mouth: New Day for Persians

Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is seen as a time of renewal and fresh starts; in preparation, houses are cleaned top-to-bottom and new clothes are bought.

March 29, 2011 11:53
4 minute read.
Sabzi Polow

Persian rice 311. (photo credit:


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Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.

For the past several days, Persians around the world have been in the midst of celebrating their biggest holiday of the year- Nowruz (translates as “New Day” or “New Light.”) Nowruz is the New Year’s Day on the Persian calendar and it has been celebrated for over 3,000 years!

Nowruz is begins on the first day of the Vernal Equinox (when the sun crosses the equator and winter ends) which is usually around March 21. However, the holiday is celebrated for almost two weeks.  As is typical with many New Year’s celebrations around the world, Nowruz is seen as a time of renewal and fresh starts. In preparation, houses are cleaned top-to-bottom and new clothes are bought.

One of the most important traditions of Nowruz is the visiting of friends and family. During these visits, celebrants share a wide variety of delicious foods, many of them chosen for their symbolism. The main dishes at Nowruz are often loaded with fresh spring herbs, symbolizing new life and the changing seasons. Foods such as Sabzi-Polow, a rice dish containing plenty of chopped green herbs such as parsley, coriander, dill, fenugreek and chives; and Kookoo Sabzi, a sort of omelet with fresh herbs and walnuts; are both popular during this time. It is also common to see a soup called aash-e reshteh which has beans, noodles, yogurt and herbs. Eating the noodles is said to unravel the difficulties in the year to come.

Without a doubt, the most important food-related Nowruz tradition is the setting of the Haft Sin, a display of seven traditional items, all beginning with the Persian letter S. These items symbolize seven creations and the holy immortals that protect them. They include:

    * sabzeh - wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish - symbolizing rebirth
    * samanu - a sweet pudding made from wheat germ - symbolizing affluence
    * senjed - the dried fruit of the oleaster tree - symbolizing love
    * sīr - garlic - symbolizing medicine
    * sīb - apples - symbolizing beauty and health
    * somaq - sumac berries - symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
    * serkeh - vinegar - symbolizing age and patience.

Additionally there are often other items on the the table as well such as candles, painted eggs and goldfish swimming in bowls.

Azita from the food blog Turmeric and Saffron writes about “ancient Persian cuisine with a modern twist”. Not surprisingly, her blog has a number of delicious recipes for Nowruz. Here is Azita’s recipe for Sabzi-Polow. In Persian, Sabz means green, and "polow" is the method of cooking the rice ("pilaf" in English).



1 cup of chopped parsley
1 cup of chopped dill
1 cup of chopped scallions or leek (green parts only)
1 cup of chopped coriander (optional)
3-4 tablespoons dried herbs (optional)
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled (optional)
2 1/2 cups of long grain rice
2-3 tablespoons of salt
oil for the bottom of the pot (2-3) tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water


1. Clean vegetables, wash and finely chop either by hand or by using a food processor. Mix well and set aside.
2. Wash rice and soak in 4 cups of salted water for two hours.
3. In a non-stick heavy pot bring 6 cups of water to a boil.
4. Drain rice and add to the boiling water, let it boil for ten minutes on medium to high heat for about 10 minutes.Check to see if the rice grain is firm at the center and soft on both ends.
5. Using a colander drain rice and rinse with cool water.
6. Wash and dry the pot and put back on the stove on medium to high heat.
7. Add 2-3 tablespoons of oil, add rice and layer with the chopped vegetable and sprinkle the dried vegetables over each layer to cover the rice evenly.
8. Put the cloves in the rice and make a few holes in the rice with the bottom of a spatula.
9. Sprinkle the liquid saffron over the rice.
10. When the rice starts steaming, add about 1 cup of water.
11. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 45 minute.
12. For a thick bottom crust, leave it 15-20 minutes longer

Azita Mehran contributed this recipe.

Read more of Johanna's thoughts on food at:

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