Nowruz: Recipes and Traditions

Holidays | Nowruz Haft Sin Table

The ancient Persian spring festival of Nowruz, Persian for "new day," is considered the beginning of the New Year not only in Iran, but throughout Central Asia. The holiday falls on the first day of spring, usually March 21st, and celebrations continue for 13 days.

Image Creative Commons by Hamed Saber

Origins of Nowruz

The history of Nowruz stretches back more than 2,600 years to the time of Zoroaster and the ancient Persian kings. While initially a religious festival, Nowruz is now mostly secular, though it is steeped in symbolism and rich traditions.

March begins with spring cleaning. Families plant small pots of wheat, barley or lentils that quickly germinate into lush green sprouts. Visits to family and friends are an obligation.

Hajji Firuz Singers

The arrival of Nowruz is announced in song by streetsingers called Hajji Firuz, men in red suits and blackface, tapping on a tambourine.

Red Wednesday

At sundown on the last Wednesday before the New Year, bonfires are lit for Chaharshanbe Suri, or Red Wednesday. Revelevers jump over the fires to cleanse themselves of fear and weakness. Children dress up in disguises to represent ancestors, and knock on doors for treats in a ritual similar to Halloween.

The Haft Sīn

The centerpiece of Nowruz observances is the Haft Sīn, a tablesetting of with seven symbolic foods all starting with the letter 'S'. These often include wheat, barley or lentil sprouts (sabzeh), a wheat pudding (samanu), dried oleaster berries (senjed), garlic (sīr), apples (sīb), sumac berries (somaq) and vinegar (serkeh). The table also includes other items like candles, mirrors, colored eggs and even goldfish bowls with live fish.

Nowruz Foods

All kinds of sweets, pastries, nuts and sherbets are eaten in large amounts during Nowruz. Some of the more popular Nowruz dishes include:

  • Sabzi Polo ba Mahi -- rice tinted vivid green with herbs and served with fried fish. Served on New Year's day;
  • Kookoo Sabzi -- an herbed omelet;
  • Reshteh Polo -- chunks of lamb with rice and noodles;
  • Dolmeh Barg -- grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice and ground lamb; and
  • Shekar Polo -- a sweet rice pilaf.

The final day of Nowruz is a time for families to drive to the countryside for day-long picnics. People revel in the fresh and warming air. Because the next day, it's back to work.

Nowruz Recipes

Kookoo Sabzi

Breakfast | Kookoo Sabzi Herbs Image

(Persian herbed omelet)

A kookoo — also spelled kookoo-ye, kuku, or kou-kou — is a Persian-style egg dish that is similar to an Italian frittata or an open-faced omelet. Iranians make many, many different types with a variety of flavorings. The kookoo sabzi, flavored with a variety of herbs and tinted a deep green, is probably the most popular. Read more »

Reshteh Polo

Grains | Basmati Rice

(Persian aromatic rice and noodle pilaf layered with meat)

Reshteh polo is a pilaf made with a mixture of rice and toasted that is traditionally served in many Iranian homes on the night before the spring festival of Nowruz. Parcooked rice and noodles are layered with an bewitchingly aromatic meat mixture and gently steamed in the traditional polo manner. The result is fluffy, fragrant and incomparably delicious. Read more »

Sabzi Polo

Grains | Sabzi Polo

(Persian herbed rice)

Sabzi polo is a brilliant green version of the famous Persian "polo," or pilaf, rice dishes. The green comes from a variety of herbs that give an otherwise plain dish a sublime flavor. Pair sabzi polo with fried fish, and you have sabzi polo va mahi, the traditional Nowruz Persian New Year meal. Read more »