I recently had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Fred Parvaneh, the wonderful creator of Fred’s Dog House — a creative, quirky and entirely fun foodie page on Facebook devoted to making hot dogs every which way.
I asked Fred to gift Fig & Quince with a guest post and he obliged with a very interesting and super appetizing Persianized hot dog recipe, dubbed The Arianne — as Fred is wont to name his recipes after his friends. (I’ll have to boast of getting a recipe named after yours truly as well — an intriguing melange of sausages, quince, anise pods, ginger, granny smith apples, clove and golden raisins — which, let me tell you, may have occasioned a delighted squeal.)
In a simple yet tasteful coronation ceremony earlier today, Pumpkin was crowned king. In a touching and wisely brief speech, King Pumpkin pledged his desire to carve a role in history as a just and yummy ruler.
Hi all! Let me kick start this festive post by saying that it is part of an effort by a whole gang (a veritable tribe) of us Persian food scribblers who gathered together to bring you a roundup of recipes in honor and celebration of Mehregan. Please scroll all the way to the end to see the index link to all these wonderful writers’ delicious posts: a lovely bounty in honor of a festival of love and bounty!
What is Mehregan? Dating back to 6000 years ago, Mehregan is an ancient Persian thanksgiving celebration of harvest and bounty — also referred to as Festival of fall, as it marks the harvesting season and is a tribute to nature. The word ‘mehr’ in Farsi means affection, kindness, love. It is also the name of the seventh month (coinciding with the zodiac sign of Libra) in the Persian calendar, dedicated to Mehr: the Zoroastrian Goddess of Light, Knowledge, and Love.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need tell you that Mehregan is no longer widely celebrated in modern Iran, except in a few cities such as Yazd and Kerman where there still reside a considerable Zoroastrian population, which was the religion of ancient Persia. But at one point in the history of Iran, Mehregan was as important a festival as Norooz, the Persian New Year.
In ancient Persia, the year was divided into two seasons: summer and winter. Norooz heralded the beginning of summer and Mehregan heralded the beginning of winter. Each festival was a major celebration and ancient Persian kings gave two audiences a year: one at Norooz and one at Mehregan. A perfect and harmonious symmetry. The two festivals share many rituals and symbolism in common, including: wearing new clothes; thoroughly cleaning one’s home; preparing a feast and celebrating with friends and family; setting a decorative and symbolic table with things like sweets, nuts, water, mirror, various grains for prosperity (such as wheat), fruits (specially pomegranates and apples), flowers, wine, coins (similar to haft seen) and burning candles and wild rue.
It’s funny how some of this knowledge may not be conscious but runs in one’s blood! A good few weeks ago I was minding my own business when all of a sudden I had a deep yearning – practically a physical craving – for a thorough spring cleaning. I wanted to khoneh takooni, which as you may remember means ‘shaking the house’ and refers to the vigorous spring cleaning that is one of the cornerstone traditions of the Persian New Year. It struck me as funny then to have this unseasonal instinct for spring cleaning with fall approaching and I even tweeted about it. (Because remember: if you don’t tweet or Instagram it, it did NOT happen!) And it was only when researching Mehregan for this post that I realized that my seemingly uncalled-for craving for a spring type of khone takooni was merely the ringing bell of ancient memory and instincts!
Now what kind of food does a Persian food blogger make in honor of Mehregan? Well, I once again invite you to explore the index link at the very end of this post to see the wealth of offerings. As for yours truly, since Mehregan is a festival of Thanksgiving, I chose the stuffed chicken as an homage to the stuffed turkey at the table of American Thanksgiving feast. As for reshteh polo, I chose it for two reasons. One is a nod to the meaning of ‘mehr’ which as I mentioned means love and affection and so I wanted to make something that I love and have much affection for and that is … carbohydrates! Thus: reshteh polo – a type of Persian rice made with noodles! Because if Persian rice on its own is not awesome enough, imagine it embellished with soft noodles and punctuated with the bewitching taste and texture of dates and raisins sauteed in caramelized onions. Oh, have mercy! A heavenly carb-load! The other less gluttonous reason is that reshteh is the Persian word for thread and in a pun, it also means clue, and as such, Persian noodle rice is one of the dishes served for the Persian New Year in that it symbolizes one having a grasp on the threads of their life!
A delicious way of saying: Get a clue!
This is another teaser post! As in, I’m teasing you with what’s to come! That is:
A grassroots effort by a veritable tribe of us Persian food writers (from across the globe) to bring to you a recipe-roundup in honor and celebration of Mehregan, the ancient Persian autumnal festival of thanksgiving and love! Doesn’t that sound exciting and delicious? The participants are talented and passionate and the Persian festival of Mehregan itself is intrinsically pretty and interesting; so I’m optimistic that this will prove to be a major treat for us all! Stay tuned as we blast off our Mehregan Persian food recipe posts on October 9th! Won’t you? (Hashtag Mehregan2014 if you want to play and follow along!)
There’s a saying in Farsi when someone goes to visit someone and doesn’t leave that they have eaten kangar (cardoon) and they have put down langar (anchor.)
What is kangar (cardoon)? Picture a celery with attitude and thorns! The Heatcliff of edible vegetables! Kangar is not found in the U.S., so I’ve certainly not had any, but, it appears that I’ve most certainly put down a langar here in the DC area while visiting my folks.
— NousheJan (@NousheJan) July 25, 2014
Let’s start part 2 of the Persian nooks and crannies of cyberspace (see here for part 1 and the series’ mission statement) with Anthony Bourdain – the chef and food critic bar none who visited Iran this past spring. Very much look forward to seeing this episode when it airs.
Before continuing, let’s please note that all of the images in this post are scoured from social media sites and are live links — just hover the mouse over the image and/or the handle name. I encourage you to click and go right to the source to explore and follow their content!
If you’re very lucky, you have quince trees growing in your garden. If you’re not that lucky but still occasionally caressed and fondled by lady luck, there is a boy who volunteers to send you all the quinces from his quince tree. (Now, isn’t that a charming gesture of woo!) If you’re somewhat lucky, you can either find quinces in one of your local markets or else you can surreptitiously forage some from here and yonder. And if none of these apply, well, let’s face it, you’re entirely out of luck! At least when it comes to quinces. And that is a fate I would not wish for you, because I love quinces and I’m equally fond of you.
A decade ago, pomegranates were obscure objects of desire but by now everyone is appraised of their charm and eager to heap praise on the ruby-red-jeweled fruit. Quince — an ugly fruit with a heavenly scent and a multitude of hidden charm — is for certain destined for an equal if less glittery future of popular recognition. If you have not yet jumped on the quince bandwagon, do it! Do it now! Do it before it is commonplace and mundane.
Now, as befits a Persian food blog bearing the monicker of Fig & Quince, we have covered recipes for: stuffed quince (dolme ‘ye beh); quince kookoo (kookoo ‘ye beh); quince tas kabob (a finger licking slow-cooked fusion of many delicious things that has to be tried and marvelled at) and we were also graced by Maria’s Dulce de Mebrillo Sweet Quince guest post. By and by, delicious plans are afoot to bring you the recipes for the Persian quince stew (khoresht ‘e beh) and also for quince sharbat (sharbat ‘e beh) as well. But right now, that is at this very moment in time, when our beautiful silvery moon in the sky is in its waxing gibbous phase, it’s time to share with you the recipe for quince jam (moraba ‘ye beh.) A toothsome affair that goes mighty nicely with tea and buttered bread.
A little aside: I regret a few things about my trip to Iran. Regrets not too few to mention. Like: why did I not go up hiking on the mountains in Tehran more often ? Why did I not motivate and go visit my friend at her mother’s house that one time? (I really should have.) Why didn’t I make the time to go visit Joobin at Khoosh Nevissan cafe? Why didn’t I spend at least one whole day sitting in a cross town bus traversing this side to that side of Tehran? Why didn’t I take a Persian shirini making class? And why oh why oh why oh why did I not indulge in the traditional Persian breakfast?
For while I did allow myself to take great and even at times greedy pleasure in the plentiful goodness of the delicious Persian food (homemade and otherwise) widely available to me when in Iran, I stuck to my old boring albeit healthy breakfast throughout the trip. Yes! I do so confess! So even as my sundry Persian guest hosts broke their fast with excruciatingly soft and recklessly sweet smelling Persian bread freshly delivered or bought from the local noonvayee — lovely bread like nooneh sangak or barbari or lavash — that they wantonly buttered and then jam’d with spoonfuls of moraba (jam) and took big bites in between sips of hot tea, I in turn had my plain bowl of yogurt with sliced banana and some chopped walnuts and their quizzical looks of concern and pity! Yes, I was virtuous, but at what price! What folly was this! Tssk tssk!
It’s not possible to turn back the clock, alas, nor as of yet is it possible to replicate the amazing freshly baked bread of Iran outside of the borders of “the most charming country in the world,” but at least the moraba (jam) is one that can be remade to redress and remedy regretful neglects, and it’s specially nice when it is made with quince and I urge you to consider making it as well.
The quince moraba comes out a little soft, a little chewy, and a lot tasty.
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