It’s that time of year again. The start of spring, March 21st, Norooz the Persian New Year is nearly with us and it’s time to start preparing for the ‘haft seen’ table. I love this time of year when we know it marks the end of the dark winter months and the coming of light and life again. The time of rebirth and good things to come. Norooz literally translated means ‘new day’.
The traditions of Norooz have their roots in the ancient times of the Zoroastrian religion when people would offer the god Ahura Mazda trays of symbolic gifts representing the principles of their faith: good thoughts, truth, justice, virtue, prosperity, good deeds and generosity. Today this tradition continues through the setting of the ‘haft seen’ table.
The ‘Haft seen’ table is both a tradition and spiritual. I’m always surprised when I hear that so many Iranians in diaspora no longer carry on with this tradition. It’s like christmas without the tree or Easter without chocolate. It’s made up of seven ‘S’s. These are the most popular in these modern times and there are many other things people add. The items in red are the most traditional of the ‘S’s’ and each has a special meaning.
- Sabzeh. Wheat, barley or oats sprouts grown in a small dish to symbolise growth, new beginnings.
- Sir or garlic one of the worlds most natural medicines.
- Sib or an apple which represents beauty
- Sanjed is the dry fruit from the lotus tree which symbolises love.
- samaq or sumac, dried berries powder red in colour to represent the warmth of the sun
- serkeh or vinegar symbolises age, patience and wisdom.
- Sonbol or a hyacinth a sign of spring
- sekanjabin a sweet mint syrup
- sekkeh or coins reflecting wealth
- A mirror to smile into and wish for a happy year ahead.
- 2 Candles to represent fire
- decorated eggs, one for each member of the family to represent fertility
- Goldfish in a bowl to symbolise life itself
- A bowl of rose-water for it’s cleansing properties.
- samanu a sweet desert to symbolise affluence.
TO GROW SABZEH
You will need some wheat grass seeds and about a week to 10 days to grow the seeds. You can buy the seeds from almost any nursery, garden centre, health food shops and even sometimes from your local supermarket. They usually cost around £1.50 per packet.
1. Place the seeds in a flat bottomed bowl or dish. Soak in water for about 2 days to soften them. They absorb water pretty quickly so you need to keep them moist by spraying water them regularly. After 2 days you should begin to see little white sprouts emerging. If you want to force the seeds on, cover with damp kitchen towel / paper and place in a warm dark environment, an airing cupboard is perfect. You will see results within 24 hours. Small white shoots will begin to emerge.
2. Monitor the seeds, spray when needed and keep them warm.
3. After 2 days or 3 days when the seeds have some growth, remove the damp cover and place into the light. A kitchen windowsill is perfect. Somewhere warm and sunny. Continue to keep them moist but don’t drown them.
4. Within a week your seeds should be getting stronger and darker in colour. To have a really impressive display for norooz, prepare about 10 days in advance and remember to water regularly.
5. Before placing the sabzeh on the Haft seen table, take a sharp pair of scissors and trim, tie a ribbon around the grass seeds. It’s traditional to use a red, white or green ribbon.
After the 13 days of Seezdah Bedar (the 13 days celebration of norooz) the sabzeh is said to have collected all the illness and bad luck of the previous year is now thrown into running water which it is believed will help rid the house and family of evil or bad luck. Another old custom would be for single women in the family to tie the sabzeh into knots in the hope that they will find marriage before the new year is out.
Egg painting is a traditional norooz activity. The eggs represent fertility and usually you would have one egg for each member of the family. Children love to take part and decorate their own eggs.
First boil the eggs and allow them to cool off and then be as creative as you are in the mood for.
TRADITIONAL NOROOZ FOOD
Sabzi Polou ba mahi or Herb rice with fish and Reshteh polou or Persian Noodle Rice .
- Basmati rice 1 cup per serving
- 1 handful of reshteh per three servings For coeliacs use rice noodles or gluten-free spaghetti.
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 tablespoon of oil
- 1 small onion
- Follow the recipe for making Persian rice to step 3 and then place to one side.
- Break the noodles into pieces. It doesn’t matter what size
- Chop and gently fry the onion in the butter and oil and add the noodles until golden
- Combine the rice and noodles in one pan as from step 4 and continue through the rest of the instructions to step 14.
- Some people like to add cinnamon and raisins which is delicious and you can sprinkle these on just before serving.
- Sabzi for polou is usually shivid or dill and tareh or leek chives. You can use fresh herbs or dried.
- 1 cup of rice per serving
- Follow the recipe for making Persian Rice
- If you use dried herbs add them at step 5 or if you are using fresh herbs add them about 20 minutes before serving and mix in gently.
- Follow the rest of the instructions to step 14.
Other Norooz Traditions
In preparation for Norooz it’s traditional to thoroughly ‘shake’ the house clean, ”Khane tekani’ . The walls are freshly painted, floors, furniture, curtains and other soft furnishings are all cleaned and scented with rose-water. Flowers are brought in from the garden and decorate the tables. This is a very symbolic ritual which comes from the Zoroastrian’s and is about purification and ridding the house of negativity.
Tips for shiny, sweet smelling houses:
- White vinegar . It’s cheap and goes a long way. Pour a little on some kitchen towel and clean your windows and mirrors squeaky clean. The great thing about this is there are no smears! Pour into toilets, in bathtubs, hand basins and use on the kitchen work surfaces. Great for cleaning tiled floors and walls and even laminate flooring.
- Lemon juice is great for cleaning soap scum, fantastic for brass and copper. Mix with baking soda to make an abrasive paste and use for more ground in stains.
- Also put lemon peel in the garbage bin, it will help neutralise those nasty smells. You can also use orange or lime peel in the same way.
- If you can’t repaint walls, wash them down in a solution of vinegar and lemon juice to wash the walls down. Place in a spray bottle and it’s easy.
- Pour some rose water into a spray bottle and spray your furniture, curtains, beds etc for a lovely sweet smelling home. Keep it nearby and spray just before guests arrive.
- In keeping with old traditions, place some Rose water in a small dish or jug and invite arriving guests to rinse their hands. This is a Zoroastrian Norooz tradition and is thought to wash away any illness.
- If you can find some scented rose petals place in small pots around the house.