I love a good project. Whether it’s for the house, crafting or making the yard new again, I just can’t seem to get enough. I love the sense of making and creating and with my continual effort to do something new, cooking has long fulfilled all of these desires. I have tried so many things, and yet there is still more to be attempted and more to be perfected.
Enter, Project: Persian New Year Dinner Party.
Back in college a friend hosted a group of us on Spring Break at her parents’ house in Santa Monica and I’ll never forget having Persian rice for the first time. The crispy bottom a delicacy adding texture and extra flavor to the rice, and the rest of the rice steamed to perfection. I don’t remember much about other dishes, but in general I do love middle eastern/Afghan/Indian food, so when I read the extensive article in Food & Wine about the ultimate Persian New Year feast I was intrigued. I happened to mention to a friend about the article to which she replied that she could actually make most of the dishes (having learned from her mom and aunt) and before we knew it a dinner party was born.
I hosted at my house and filled my dining table to the max. Jenny did an AWESOME job with the stews and rice, while I managed desserts recipes straight from the inspirational article and a delightful cocktail inspired by the holiday. I had an absolute blast at the international market she suggested – in Denver these places are not as easily accessible as in San Francisco, but they do exist! I loaded up on rosewater, flat breads, Persian cucumbers and so much more. It was also a blast from the past seeing so many products/brands I was familiar with from Germany, making me oh so nostalgic.
All of the dishes came out just wonderfully and were a smashing success with everyone. All five guests loved the food and lingered late into the evening – you know people are having a good time when there is an empty bottle of wine for each attendee! Jenny explained that Persian New Year is in the Spring, aligning with the fresh start of nature outside. It starts on a specific day, but the celebration lasts for about two weeks as it’s a time to spend with family and friends, popping by each other’s houses to collectively enjoy what life has to offer, and of course, indulging and eating way too much. The dinner party felt just that: a little celebration of the life I’ve started to build here in Denver, appreciating good friends with good food and new endeavors.
The recipes we made are below, which are only a small sampling of the traditional dishes for the holiday. The Food & Wine link below has quite the variety and a Google Search will yield even more! The first three are recipes that have been passed down so they are a little less precise – go with your gut on quantities, stew consistencies and adjustments for flavor.
Fesenjoon / Chicken in Pomegranate Walnut Sauce recipe courtesy of Jenny – super thick and tangy from the pomegranate molasses, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to simmer this down!
- 2 cups raw walnuts, deshelled
- ¼ medium yellow or white onion, finely diced
- ½ can of tomato paste (about 2 – 3 oz)
- 4 cups chicken stock, homemade or low sodium
- 2 skinless boneless chicken breast
- ½ Tbsp of turmeric
- 1 ½ Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup of pomegranate molasses
- pinch of salt
In a food processor, grind the walnuts, until a fine paste is formed. You are looking for a peanut butter consistency. Set aside.
Using a medium stainless steel pot or dutch oven, over medium head, brown the chicken breast with some of the olive oil. Do not fully cook the chicken, you are just looking for some color. Once the chicken is browned, remove from pot and allow to rest. Refrigerate until time to add back to the pot.
Add the diced onions to the pan, add more olive oil if needed to keep from sticking. Add a pinch of salt. Cook the onions until they are translucent and soft, scrape the bottom of the pot as needed to remove any brown bits. Add turmeric and cook for a few minutes until fragrant.
Mix in the tomato paste and the walnut mixture. Using a whisk to break up the tomato and walnut pastes, slowly add 4 cups of chicken stock and the pomegranate molasses (at this point the mixture will look strange. Don’t worry.). Bring mixture to a boil; return chicken to the pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Stirring occasionally.
When the chicken is cooked through and shredable, remove from pot. Shred chicken and put aside. Continue to cook until sauce is thick in consistency, another 30-90 minutes. As it thickens stir often, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken back to the pot, as the sauce is reaching the thick consistency, to distribute evenly and heat through. The end consistency should be similar to a loose custard/pudding.
Serve over brown or white basmati rice.
Khoresh Bademjan / Eggplant Stew recipe courtesy of Jenny – this was a surprise hit in my book. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the eggplant was super tender and sauce flavorful, I’d definitely recommend giving this a go.
- 1 pound of chuck roast
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- approximately 3 cupsBeef Stock
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled* and diced
- 2 (large) – 6 (small) Eggplants, depending on size (you can use any type of eggplant, I prefer the Japanese or Chinese eggplants)
- 2 tablespoons of salt
- 1 cup okra
- 3 oz tomato paste
- 1/3 cup and two tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon OR 2-3 tablespoons of sour grapes
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- Salt & Pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and turmeric; cook 30 seconds. Then add meat; brown on all sides. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste and beef broth to the meat and onion mixture. Add enough liquid to cover all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and cook for an hour on medium heat. Add broth as needed.
Prepare Eggplants. Peel, cut into 1 inch wide x 4 inch long pieces, sprinkle with a heavy dose of salt. Place the salted eggplants in a large container filled with water; place a heavy bowl or a heavy lid on top of the eggplants to hold them down for fifteen minutes to get rid of the bitterness. Remove eggplants from container and pat dry.
Fry the eggplants in 1/3 cup of hot olive until brown on both sides. Remove from oil and place on a thick paper towel to take out the excess oil. (I prefer to bake the eggplant in a 350 degree oven).
Once meat is tender, add the fried eggplant, lemon juice (or sour grapes), and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 30 minutes. Final product will have the consistency of a thick pasta sauce/bolognese.
Fry okra for approximately 4 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and salt. Top the stew with the okra before serving.
*To peel tomatoes, score skin at bottom of tomato with an X, place tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for five minutes before pulling off the skin, then chop coarsely.
- Basic idea is to par cook the rice, then start the crispy bottom and add back the rice on top of the crispy layer to finish cooking. Serve by inverting rice, crispy side up, onto a platter.
- We used Lavash bread to create the crisp – some people use potato or a more preceise technique with just the rice as in the receipes above
- Three words: NON-STICK pot
- Mound the rice into a pyramid when you add back to the pot
- Poke holes into the rice mount and add butter for flavor while it steams
- Cover the pot with a kitchen towel then replace lid once rice is returned and prepped in the pot
- Once rice is added back, keep the heat medium/low, you don’t want that bottom to burn
- Use leftover Lavash to make wraps with leftovers as in the last photo above!
Persian Rose Cocktail While the recipe calls for gin, I made a mixture of everything except the alcohol, then gave guests their choice of gin or vodka upon arrival. I also substituted Sour Cherry Syrup from the international market rather than spending an arm and a leg on the Cherry Herring Liqueur.
Bastani Irani / Rosewater & Saffron Ice Cream Highly recommend, great texture and flavors, the rosewater isn’t too overpowering, nor is the ice cream too sweet
Feta Cheese Plate – feta, fresh herbs (mint, tarragon, chives, dill, etc)
Yogurt/Cucumber ‘Sauce’ – whole fat Greek yogurt + mint and salt to taste + grated cucumber (salted and drained)