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!
- 1 whole roasting chicken
- 2 1/2 cups long grain rice
- 1/2 or 1/3 pound toasted specialty Persian noodles called reshteh (can be purchased online here)
- saffron – a few pinches
- cinnamon – a few pinches
- dates, pitted and halved – approximately a dozen
- 1/4 cup raisins
- half dozen black plums (optional – we used it to garnish the rice serving dish)
- 4 tablespoons yogurt
- 1 large onion (chopped or sliced uniformly)
- olive oil
For the stuffing:
I used a mixture of 1/2 cup prunes, caramelized onions and 1/4 cup crushed walnuts. Please feel free to substitute whatever is pleasing to you.
- In a big skillet (a wok type of skillet would work best) heat 4 tablespoons of oil till sizzling. Add chopped onions, sprinkle with some salt, lower heat to medium to medium high, and sautee onions till golden. Usually takes around 10 minutes. During this time, stir onions as needed but not too frequently (otherwise they will release liquid instead of getting golden and crispy.) Once onion is golden and translucent, add the pitted dates, raisins and prunes. Sprinkle with a touch of cinnamon and sautee for a minute or two. Sort out prunes with some of the onion separately and set aside to use for the stuffing. Sort out dates and raisins and the rest of the onion and set aside to use with the rice.
- (If you want to use black plums as garnish as we did for this recipe, make another batch of golden onions with a small onion and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and and sautee black plums with cinnamon and 1-2 tablespoon of sugar for just a few minutes.)
- Wash and dry the chicken, removing the giblets and etc. Rub the skin with a generous amount of olive oil. Optional: brew a little bit of saffron (couple of pinches) in 1/2 cup of boiling water and brush the skin and inside the cavity with the saffron water. Stuff the chicken with a mixture of golden onion, sauteed prunes and (optional) crushed walnuts. (If using walnuts, you may want to sautee the walnuts for a minute or two for enhanced taste and flavor.) After stuffing the chicken to your preference, roast the chicken per your usual methods till nicely juicy and done. (We preheated oven to 350 degree and then roasted it for almost 2 hours.)
- Clean and wash rice until the water runs clear. Soak rice in cold water for two hours or overnight. (See detailed instructions for cleaning and soaking Persian rice here.) Drain rice just before adding to the boiling water in step #3.
- Break off the long noodle strands (taking a bunch in hand at times) in half and then break each bunch in half again. Ending up with approximately 2″ to 2 1/2″ long noodle strands.
- Bring 8-9 cups of water to a rapid boil in a large non-stick pot on high heat. Once boiling vigorously, add: 1/4 cup of salt; the drained, washed rice; and the noodles to the water. Stir gently a few times to loosen any grains stuck to the bottom of the pot. Boil briskly for approximately 6-10 minutes till rice grains lengthen and soften. Tip: Bite a couple of grains and when the grain feels soft to the bite it is ready to be drained. (For detailed instructions for preparing Persian rice, please see here.)
- Drain rice in colander and rinse with tepid water. Set the drained rice in the colander aside.
- Meanwhile, rinse the pot used to boil the rice. Then add 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup water to the pot.
- In a medium sized bowl mix 4 tablespoons of yogurt with a pinch of saffron. Take a few spatulas of the drained rice and mix with the yogurt. (But don’t smoosh the rice.) Evenly line the bottom of the pot with this rice and yogurt mixture. (This mixture will become your tadig, bottom of the pot crunchy crust.) Place a few spatulas of rice over this. Then add some of the dates and raisins and golden onion mixture prepared earlier. Repeat this layering process and when done, arrange the rice into the form of a pyramid. Sprinkle the top of the rice with some ground saffron and cinnamon. Using the end of the spatula, make a few wells in the rice. Cover pot with a lid and cook rice for 10 minutes over high heat. Then reduce heat to medium and cook for an additional 45 minutes.
- Wet a cloth and set over the counter. Once rice is done, remove pot (w/out removing the lid) and place over the wet cloth and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
When ready to serve the rice, take a couple of spatulas (of the saffron and cinnamon sprinkled) top of the rice and set aside for garnishing. Place the rest of the rice in a serving dish, shaped into the form of a dome and top it with the saffron and cinnamon set-aside portion of rice. (Optional but delicious: pour 2-4 tablespoons of either olive oil or melted butter over the rice.) Next, detach the the ta’dig (crunchy crust at the bottom of the pot) and cut into wedges and serve with the rice in the same serving dish or separately in another plate on its own. Enjoy alongside with the roasted chicken.
Make it. Enjoy it. And noosh’e jaan!
And finally, here’s the index link file to the recipes of the glorious bounty of Persian yummies and goodies for Mehregan. It’s been a pleasure to be part of this group and I want to try everyone’s recipes!
Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad
Bottom of the Pot: Broccoli Koo Koo
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew
Honest and Tasty: Loobia Polo | Beef and Green Bean Rice
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto Style
Lucid Food: Sambuseh
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice
Noghlemey: Parsi Dal
Parisa’s Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice
Sabzi: Yogurt Soup with Meatballs
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh
Simi’s Kitchen: Lita Turshisi | Torshi-e Liteh | Tangy Aubergine Pickle
Spice Spoon: Khoresht-e-Bademjaan | Saffron-scented Aubergine Stew
Turmeric & Saffron: Ash-a Haft Daneh | Seven Bean Soup
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh