20th March 2021
Recipes in this blog come from Niloufer Mavalvala’s Award winning book. It is available from the UK (with free UK Delivery) for £24.99, email the author for orders firstname.lastname@example.org. It is available internationally from http://bit.ly/NKWorld.
Navroze – A New Day
Nav- roze, Navrooz, Nauroz, simply means the dawn of a new day. It was to mark the start of a new year by the great Zoroastrian King Jamshed of the Persian Empire but proclaimed nationally as Jamshedi Navroz in his honour at a later date. It continues to be celebrated by millions of people – of all faiths and race, across the world. Even declared a holiday not just on the day off but also the days preceding. In recent years the United Nations holds special events to mark this date.
The 21st of March – is also the vernal equinox when spring blossoms and new life begins. The minuscule community of Zoroastrians across the world – followers of the Prophet Zarathushtra, enjoy this day as their New year yet it is commonly referred to as the Persian New Year.
Festivities to mark this happy occasion of Navroz includes a Haftseen or Haftsheen table. Reflecting the teachings of Zoroastrianism, it is a symbolic tribute to the seven creations of the universe – fire, water, air, earth, metal, the plant and animal kingdom. The table features candles – fire, a mirror, coins, flowers, painted eggs, nuts and dry fruit, and gold fish in a bowl of water – each one representing a creation. In addition to that any Haft – 7 items beginning with the letter S – each having a meaningful presence, are also offered as a thanks for the abundance in one’s home and with hope for continuity into the days to come.
Depending on where one originates from, the language and dialect are often interchangeable with the letters Sh vs S hence the referral to Haft – sheen or seen.
Sumac – dried berry powder represents sunrise- dawn- each new day
Semanu – sweet semolina pudding represents preparedness for the year ahead – it contains healthy strengthening ingredients
Seb – apple representing health and beauty
Sabzi – greens or lentils representing life and rebirth
Seer – garlic representing health
Senjed – olives representing love
Serkeh – vinegar representing age and patience
Sekkeh – coin representing prosperity and wealth
Sonbol – hyacinth flower to represent advent of spring
This season for my community begins 10 days ahead when prayers are offered each day remembering those who have passed on, often followed by a shared communal meal. On the day of Navroze a food laden table is laid out to share with family, friends and neighbours who continue to visit over 3 days to meet, greet and enjoy a delectable treat or two.
While India and Iran continue to follow many of these traditions especially proud of their beautiful tables called Sofreh Mehmooni – others including myself tend to celebrate it in different ways living away.
Receiving friends and neighbours into one’s home is culturally considered to be most fortunate. The dining table full of food is offered to all who come visit the family bearing gifts like sweets, flowers and wine. The buffet will often have a meat, fish and vegetable. Sweets of choice and homemade cheese laid out with fruits like pomegranate and clementine would complete the table. An offering of rose water being splashed for its perfume on guests and each one looking into the mirror to make a wish for the year ahead makes it fun-filled and light hearted. It is considered both lucky and auspicious to visit and have others visit in your home.
While there are plenty of recipes that are prepared for this occasion, I share three of them here from my cookbook The World of Parsi Cooking: Food Across Borders. Intricately entwined with my Persian and Indian heritage it includes dry fruit and nuts.
Ravo is a traditional Parsi sweet served at every festivity. It is also offered at various prayers in both a celebratory Jashan and the Mukhtad where we remember the passed-on souls. Made up of semolina and milk and traditionally flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg (sometimes referred to as Parsi food flavours.) While generally Ravo has eggs this version is vegetarian and egg less originating in India. It is an easy and quick pudding to prepare in a pinch while also being healthy enough to share with infants, toddlers and the elderly.
Serves 6 persons
4 cups full cream milk
1/2 cup condensed milk
4 tbsp coarse semolina
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp salted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 tsp freshly scraped nutmeg
In a pan heat the milk and condensed milk, semolina, sugar and salt. Stir constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens. Cook until your preferred thickness.
Remove from the heat and add butter, cardamom, nutmeg and vanilla.
Return to the stove on a very low heat, cooking for another 10 minutes.
To serve garnish with roasted slivered almonds and raisins.
Adding 3/4th cup evaporated milk will enhance its rich and creamy texture.
The Ravo can be eaten warm or cold. It is a personal preference. Try it warm before chilling it to learn about the two very different textures and consistency.
Popular in most cafes and restaurants that serve up Parsi Cuisine, the sali boti is served with fresh warm rotlis. While the boti refers to the small pieces of soft succulent mutton, lamb or goat meat, the sali is slim slivers of potatoes deeply fried to a crisp. Covering the meat completely with these crisp pieces of heaven is how it is best served.
As in all recipes that have come down generations by word of mouth or learning in the kitchen, the variations are endless. Is it whole garam masalo or ground? Should we add a dash of tomato or none? Worcestershire Sauce can replace the khatu mithu, yet vinegar and jaggery is more authentic, does it really need the dash of turmeric or has it become a part of the ‘health conscious’ Parsi?
Do we add a bit of yogurt or cream and marinate? Well, the honest truth is far from known to anyone. It has now become a matter of choice and a personal preference of taste. All I do recommend is to use red onions over any other, that is if you are planning to fry it from scratch and not adding the store-bought variety. The red onion seems to be favoured in many original authentic recipes, perhaps it is part of our Persian heritage much like the use of dry fruit and nuts in our recipes.
Serves 6 persons
1 kg/2.2 lb diced meat of choice; lamb, mutton or goat
1 tbsp oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp fresh garlic paste
2 tsp fresh ginger paste
1 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
2 tomatoes crushed
1 tsp garam masalo – equal parts of cinnamon, cardamom, clove and black pepper ground to a powder.
750 gm/1.65 lb fried onion; preferably using red onions
1 cup water or as needed
2 tbsp fruit vinegar
2 tbsp jaggery
Optional: Fresh coriander leaves to garnish
In a pan heat the oil and brown the meat. Add all the spices and the tomato. Keep cooking and stirring for about 15 minutes until the gravy thickens releasing drops of oil on the side of the pan. This is called ”ghee tayl per avay” and an important step to cook the spices and gravy. Now add the garam masalo and onion. Mix well and add the cup of water. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover and cook on a simmer for 45 minutes to an hour or until the meat is very soft. The gravy should be thick and not at all runny. Lastly add the vinegar and jaggery. Cover and cook on a low simmer for a further 10 minutes until it has incorporated well.
Serve this dish hot topped with 250 gm/1/4 lb sali. Warm rotli on the side is the ideal accompaniment.
I personally have always preferred the flavours of the bone-in. Traditionally small pieces of diced meat are used for this dish.
Use wafers, crisps if sali is unavailable in stores near you. Alternately dice the potatoes very small, pan fry or roast in an oven, lightly sprinkle with salt. It will not be as crisp but still taste just as delicious.
To make your own Sali – peel and sliver the potatoes, wash and pat dry in a tea towel. Heat the oil and deep fry until golden brown and crisp.
Drain on a paper towel, sprinkle lightly with salt while hot and keep aside to use.
Zereshk Berry Palao
Traditionally this Persian dish is made as a rice cake- overturned on to a cake plate. It is an art to prepare it with a buttered pot where the bottom is allowed to caramelise and become crisp. The crisp “tahdig” is then shared by the elders who offer it to the youngest at the family table.
In addition to the Zereshk berries, almonds, pistachios and sultanas are scattered over to decorate before serving.
There may be plenty of recipes for this wonderful Palao also known as Shirini Palao, but this is my mother Shireen’s own way of preparing this feast she ironically has recorded as Shireen’s Zereshk Palau which I share.
2 tbsp oil
2 medium onions
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp peppercorn
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole green cardamom, bruised
2 cups water
1 kg/ 2.2 lb chicken cut in 8 pieces, bone-in skinless.
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
4 tbsp Zereshk- Barberries
2 tbsp orange peel, thinly julienned
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp saffron, crushed
2 cups rice
4 cups chicken stock
Slice and saute` the onions until soft. Add in the tomato paste, salt, peppercorn, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, chicken and water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat and allow the chicken to poach. This will be done in 20 minutes. Remove the chicken, strain the liquid and keep aside.
Make a simple syrup with the sugar and water -Allow it to boil only after all the sugar has melted, keep the heat low. Once it is sticky to the spoon or the touch, add the barberries, orange peel, lemon juice and saffron. Simmer together for a minute to infuse- keep aside.
In a large pot cook the rice in the chicken stock you just prepared. When the liquid comes to a boil and you can see the top of the rice place the poached chicken all over, press it down gently with the back of a spoon and pour the prepared sugar syrup all over. Tightly seal the pot with a cover. Cook on a simmer for 35 minutes. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
Serve immediately in a platter.
About the blogger
Niloufer Mavalvala Born and raised in Karachi, with London, Toronto and Dubai all part of her life, Niloufer has travelled extensively. Passionate about culture through its cuisine she enjoys all cuisines of the world. Self taught, her experience through the years has driven her to write a blog NiloufersKitchen.com and publish two Parsi cookbooks – receiving 3 awards. She strongly believes that while we are identified by race, religion and colour, we share the tightest bonding through food. Her umpteen zoom demos through this pandemic have picked up momentum worldwide making #revivinganancientcuisine one recipe at a time her priority. Niloufer runs regular cookery lessons via zoom and can be contacted via email at email@example.com.