The Persian New Year
Nouruz (also Nowruz or Norooz), as the Iranian new year is called, literally means „new day“in English. The day is celebrated in all the countries of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, …) without being affiliated with any religion. The probably most important component of the New Year’s festival is the preparation of Haft Sin. Traditionally there are seven (haft) things on the table that begin with the letter S (sin) in Farsi (Persian language), each as a symbol for the New Year:
- Sabzeh (wheat or lentil sprouts) as a symbol for rebirth
- Sir (garlic) as a symbol for medicine
- Sib (apple) as a symbol for beauty & health/ vitality
- Senjed (silver berry/ dried fruit) as a symbol for love
- Samanu (sweet pudding) as a symbol for affluence/ rich harvest
- Serkeh (vinegar) as a symbol for patience
- Sumac (condiment) as a symbol for the sunrise & new start
Of course there are many more customs traditionally celebrated on this day. For instance, leaping over bonfires, that are set up the last Wednesday (Tuesday night to be precise) before the New Year to attract health, fortune and goodness. As could be expected in a culture which appreciates good food and common savoring, there are a lot of delicious dishes at these celebrations. Traditionally, rice with herbs and fish is eaten but I really prefer this rice with lentils. The eggplant stew makes the perfect vegetarian component. It’s a hearty plant-based dish everyone will love, not only vegans or vegetarians. My Persian grandma often makes this rice dish, while the eggplant stew (as I call it) is inspired by a recipe of Sabrina Ghayour and her gorgeous cookbook “Persiana”. I adjusted it slightly to my preferences and the condiments I had on hand.
Persian Rice with Lentils & Eggplant Stew
The combination of the aromatic rice and lentils with the vegetable stew is what makes this Persian dish so delicious and hearty. You definitely can enjoy either one on its own, though.
- 1/2 cup lentils (125 g)
- 1/2 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 3/4 cup basmati rice (150 g)
- 1 tsp cumin ground
- 1/2 tsp coriander ground
- 1 tsp cinnamon ground
- 1/2-1 tsp turmeric ground
- 1/4 tsp salt
- dash of black pepper
- 1 handful raisins optional
- 2 eggplants cut into large chunks
- dash of salt
- 1/2 large onion cut into half rings
- 3 small garlic cloves crushed
- 3 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cumin ground
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 red bell pepper cut into thin strips
- 1 handful raisins
- 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes 1 can (400 g)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1-2 tbsp red wine optional
- 2-3 tsp maple syrup optional
Cook lentils until soft for about 15-20 minutes (or according to direction on package) - they shouldn't fall apart though. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Add cumin seeds to a pot with some frying oil and sauté for a minute or so. Add rice, spices and salt. Stir in the lentils and raisins, if using, and add 1 cup of water.
Let rice and lentils simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the stove and allow the aromas to infuse for another 10 minutes.
In a pan, sauté eggplant with some oil over medium heat until browning a little, adding a pinch of salt in the process.
In the same pan, sauté onion rings until they start browning. Add garlic, bell pepper and spices (cumin, cinnamon and smoked paprika) and stew all together until the vegetables soften. Add raisins, if using, and cook for a few minutes. Finally add tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, red wine and maple sirup and cook for another 5 minutes over medium heat.
Reduce the heat and mash vegetables with a potato masher (or a fork). Add eggplants and let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the stove and let sit for a few more minutes.
Serve the vegetable stew together with the rice and lentils or enjoy on its own or with some bread.