I've been working so hard organizing the Bakesale for Japan
that I forgot to write about the most meaningful holiday of the year for me: Nowruz.
I don't even know how this is possible?!
Growing up in Southern California I was pretty disconnected from the concept of seasonality, but my parents went to great lengths to instill in me and my brothers an understanding of the rituals and symbolism surrounding Nowruz, or Persian New Year, which happens, aptly, on the first day of Spring.
Though Nowruz originated as a Zoroastrian celebration thousands of years ago, its rituals persisted even after Muslims arrived in the Persian Empire, and today we still celebrate the holiday with many of the same symbolic foods and items that were important in those ancient times.
As a young girl, Nowruz was always my favorite time of year. From the gorgeous aromas that filled our home, including the perfumes of hyacinths, saffron, cardamom, and rosewater, to the deep spring cleaning that restored a shimmer to even the dullest surfaces, I savored each element of preparation. But, of course, my favorite part of the holiday revolved around its foods--rice with fava beans that have just come into season; rich baklava doused in rosewater syrup; and the rice, soup, and cucu, or frittata, laden with spring greens and herbs that appear on the Persian menu at this time of year.
According to tradition, over the course of our holiday preparations and celebrations, we prepare and eat these foods to bestow ourselves with plentiful good fortune and welcome a sweet, fertile, healthy, wealthy year. Each dish may carry with it a different cultural significance, but what strikes me now, as I type these words just a few blocks away from Berkeley's Chez Panisse
, the home of the seasonal/local/organic food movement in this country, is that all of those foods are also right for this moment in time.
Besides signifying wealth, fertility, happiness, and health, all of the foods of Nowruz are, quite simply, the exact right things to be eating in this moment because they are harbingers of Spring.
Tantric philosophy states that the most integrated path is always the one that's aligned with nature. As a cook, what I revel in most is the place where tradition and nature intersect, proving and re-proving that the way things are is the way they are meant to be.
Herb Cucu: Persian green and herb frittata
Cucu Sabzi is one of my favorite traditional Nowruz dishes; whereas most Western frittatas are predominantly eggs flavored with some greens, cucu is mostly greens, barely held together with eggs. The fresh, bright flavors of the greens and herbs in this dish invoke on our plates and palates the symbolic rebirth that Spring offers.
4 small leeks or 2 large leeks, sliced thinly (including the green tops)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped finely
1 bunch parsley, chopped finely
1 pound wild nettles, stemmed and washed
Slice leeks, wash, cook until tender over medium heat with some butter and salt.
Saute nettles with olive oil until tender. Let them cool a bit, then squeeze excess water out and chop finely.
Crack eggs in a large bowl. Mix in greens and herbs. Season mixture with salt.
Heat a cast iron or non-stick pan, add olive oil, pack in the mixture, cook over medium heat until set on that side. Carefully flip the cucu and continue to cook on the second side until the center is set.
If the center is not setting properly, you can finish in a 400°F oven for a few minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature with flatbreads, feta cheese, and pickled vegetables.
photo courtesy of Alice Tu