The vernal equinox is upon us - the length of the day and the night are equal, 12 hours a piece, and the Persians are celebrating the start of Spring - Nowruz is here, I would like to wish everyone a prosperous one, and last night I celebrated in what I hope was appropriate style.
A trip up the A3 to Suroor Market for some ingredients was a starting point. Outside is arrayed the wealth of fruit and veg that I have come to expect of this exotic emporium: white onions, okra, several types and colours of fresh chilli pepper, tiny courgettes with a pale hue, aubergines in many different sizes, mangoes (not the cream of the crop yet, the compact, majestic Pakistani beauties that will hit the shelves soon(ish), but still… ), tiny sweet cucumbers, and, today, some fresh boxes of clementines, some plump, purple, perfectly honeyed figs, and some fuzzy, fresh-faced green almonds that will need nothing more than a bowl of salt for dipping them in.
Inside, ready to take a look around the dry goods - the spices and legumes and the nuts and dried berries that are not so easy to find in your average UK supermarket - I am stopped at the door by some herbs that I do not recognise. Madame at the counter is keen to help - the first one that I pick up she tells me is za'atar - I have never seen it fresh but she tells me I am in for a treat - the second one, not even she can name - but she knows exactly how to use it - chopped with tomatoes, peppers, olive oil, salt and a little lemon juice - “salad” - I am so excited, I put both in my basket.
(za'atar - a long leaf variety)
(who knows? - not me or Madame - but wonderful and fleshily fresh)
A careful trawl around the shelves later, some Lebanese yogurt, some barberries, some gold and some green sultanas, some sweetly sour plums, some freshly baked unleavened bread and a mound of fresh herbs, and I am ready to go - back home to have a look through my Persian recipes for a little refinement to the plan.
Where to start? A feast in prospect!
There will be rice, with a crust, some spices and saffron a little bejewelling, a stew with maybe some spinach and, of course the salad!
I gathered my ingredients:
(for bejazzling the rice)
some fragrant basmati
(sitting in a rice colander - every home should have one)
I settled on a menu:
(chicken with walnuts and pomegranate - fesenjân)
bejewelled, bejazzled, encrusted, spiced, saffroned rice (before
and after presentation )
and the Persian fixings (yogurt, with a little herbage, and bread - which I forgot to take pictures of, but I’m sure you get the idea).
So, all in all, a bit of a treat.
Oh, and the goldfish? I have no idea why there should be a goldfish, but I know that there should - it is symbolic of something and is often there, on the table, at Persian New Year gatherings. I am informed by number one daughter, who has discussed this very matter with other non-Persians some time ago when they were hosting celebrations, that when the question of the goldfish came up, a little thought was needed before their decision was made, reluctantly, not to include one - a goldfish is not just for Persian New Year, after all.
“Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling”
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, (translation, Edward Fitzgerald)