How To Host A Nowruz Party At Home, According To A Chef
This ancient festival signals the start of spring.
The spring equinox marks the awaited moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator and day and night are of equal length. It’s a symbol of clean slates and rebirth, especially for those who celebrate the Persian New Year, Nowruz (translating to ‘new day’). This holiday is steeped in tradition and has been observed for thousands of years, with family-and-food-filled festivities taking place over the course of 13 days. For Le Bon Nosh chef and owner Forough Vakili — who grew up in Iran — it’s a cherished ritual. “Nowruz is all about family and great food. For me, it’s such a special time to see those that I don’t get to often and create some of the special dishes that we only enjoy during Nowruz,” she tells TZR.
This year, Vakili is also hosting Le Bon Nosh’s first-ever Nowruz celebration (from March 17 through the 22nd) where guests can explore a Persian tablescape accentuated by a floral installation and traditional Nowruz decor. On the menu, a traditional Persian fish dish will be paired with a specialty cocktail for the holiday called the Saffron Song (cognac, muddled plum, apricot saffron cardamom shrub, and a lavender rinse). If you’re not local to Atlanta, however, she still has plenty of ideas for keeping the tradition alive in your own home. Ahead, why Nowruz resonates so strongly with Vakili and her tips for hosting your own Persian New Year bash.
The table plays a defining role in Nowruz, namely the items it’s dressed with. “Historically, we have had a spread that we put out for Nowruz that is composed of seven items, which symbolize different meanings for the year to come,” Vakili explains. Said items include: Garlic for health, vinegar for patience, coins for prosperity, apples for beauty, hyacinth for spring, samanu (sweet pudding) for fertility, and wheatgrass for new beginning.
Together, these items serve as a focal point in your home for the 13 days of Nowruz. “Buy a set of beautiful decorative bowls or plates that you only use for the Nowruz table, so that they remain special,” advises Vakili. “Also, keep some of the items that you use for the Nowruz table in a specific box and get them out every year so this way you don’t have to go searching for every item all over again.”
Just as with any other holiday, Nowruz can evoke nostalgia and fond memories from earlier years of life. “The sense of spring and new beginning, the aroma of my mom’s baking, wearing a brand new outfit from head to toe that was just bought for the occasion,” Vakili says of her associations with the celebration. “Some of my best memories are from childhood during the times that I got to help my mom bake her special cookies for Nowruz, a ginger cookie baked in a wood-burning oven.”
Now, Vakili’s skillsets as a chef go to excellent use during the holiday festivities. “The table will have several traditional dishes that all have symbolic meaning for the new year,” she shares. “Herb rice and white fish, herb frittata, and jeweled rice are some of the most traditional dishes that you will see. I also love to change up my tablescape every year and use colorful [serveware] and an elegant Italian linen tablecloth.”
On the 13th day of Nowruz, Sizdah-Be-dar is celebrated by gathering outdoors in nature. “It’s brought to an end with a big family picnic on the last day and I’ve always found it nice to pack a beautiful basket and take in the change of season at a park,” Vakili shares. Below, her recipe for cooking the traditional Nowruz rice and fish dish at home.
Nowruz Herb Rice & Fish Recipe
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 clove of garlic crushed
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro chopped
- 1 bunch dill chopped
- 1 leek or 10 green onions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 4 tbsp butter or ghee, melted
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
Soak the rice in lukewarm water for at least an hour. Fill a stockpot with water and salt, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Drain the rice and add it to the pot. Simmer until the rice softens and starts to freely float to the top of the water, about eight minutes. Drain the rice and set aside.
Mix all the herbs and garlic together. Heat up a heavy bottom pot, add the olive oil and heat until it gets warm. Pour a third of the rice in the pan and top with a third of the herb mix. Keep repeating this pattern until all the rice and herbs are finished.
Mix the melted butter (or ghee) with the saffron water, then pour over the rice in a circular pattern.
Wrap the stockpot lid in a kitchen towel, then cover. Cook on medium-high heat for five minutes, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp saffron
- 4 filets white fish, such as flounder
In a skillet, warm the ghee. Meanwhile, sprinkle the saffron over the fish filets. Then, season with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish fillets in the flour one at a time, shaking off any excess. Add the fillets to the skillet. Cook for three minutes on each side until done.
Serve a spatula of rice on each plate with a filet of fish. Enjoy.