نوروز Nowruz (New Day), the traditional 13-day Iranian celebration of the first day of spring (spring equinox), dates back to the Achaemenid Empire 6th century B.C. Nowruz is a celebration of nature and its revival and rejuvenation. The preparation for the Nowruz festival starts with خانه تکانی khaneh tekani, a thorough spring cleaning. Then there's چهار شنبه سوری Chahar Shanbeh Suri (festival of fire) that's celebrated on the eve of the last Tuesday of the year. عید نوروز Eid-e Nowruz is a time for Iranians all across the world, as well as other neighboring countries of Iran that share this holiday, to gather together with their families and celebrate the Persian New Year.
هفت سین Haft seen spread is embedded with symbolism and each item on the سفره sofreh has a symbolic meaning. Overall, they represent life, health, prosperity, love, fertility and patience.The Seven S's of Sofreh-ye Haft Seen include the following, سبزه Sabzeh (wheat or lentil sprouts), سرکه Serkeh (vinegar), سماق Somagh (sumac), سیر Seer (garlic), سنجد Senjed (fruit of oleaster tree), سکه Sekeh(coins), سمنو Samanoo (wheat pudding) and سیب Seeb (apples). Fragrant سنبل sonbol (hyacinth) as well as other fresh spring flowers such as لاله laleh (tulips) and نرگس narges (narcissus) adorn the table. Other items on the sofreh (tablecloth) include ayneh (mirror), candles, colored eggs, and gold fish. Nowruz sweets and ajil (nuts and seeds) may also be found on the sofreh. Food is a major part of the Nowruz celebration and a traditional Persian New Year feast includes fresh herbs which represent earth, nature and healthy eating. A typical Nowruz menu includes: Sabzi Polow ba Mahi, Kookoo Sabzi, Reshteh Polow, Ash Reshteh, Sabzi Khordan, Mast o Khiar and Salad Shirazi.
I was recently gifted an Iranian cookbook titled آشپزی دوره صفوی - Ashpazi Doreh-ye Safavi (Cooking during the Safavid Dynasty). This cookbook is a compilation of two separate books (Karnameh and Madat-al- Hayat) about cooking and recipes from the era of Shah Ismail I ( 1501-1524) and Shah Abbas I (1588-1629). According to the author, Iraj Afshar, many of the recipes in this book were dishes served at the Safavid royal court. The working class people could barely afford most of these extravagant, elaborate and time consuming meals. I suspect that this book would appeal to those interested in the history of Iranian cuisine. While many of the recipes are not easy to read or easy to make, the instructions are vague, the servings are large and the correct measurement of ingredients are left to your imagination, it's wonderful to have a glimpse into the type of food people used to eat long ago.
On a personal note, I am very passionate about recreating old and forgotten recipes and have a deep desire to bring them back to life, I decided to try out one of the recipes and among the many recipes listed in the book I came across a simple vegetarian barley soup with spinach and cilantro. I would think a warm bowl of barley soup would have appealed to the Safavid royal court as well as the working class people especially in the cold days of winter. I have written two other barley recipes in the past, Soup-e Jo and Ash-e Jo and this آش جو ash-e jo recipe would be a great addition to my barley recipes. I used this brief and loose ash recipe with vague directions and converted it into a usable recipe and I'm delighted to share it with you all. I tried to stay true to the original recipe and keep it as authentic as possible while coming up with my own measurements and proportions. Adding lime juice, butter/olive oil to the ash is simply a personal preference and you may skip it if you like.
Ash-e Jo - Barley Soup with Spinach and Cilantro Ingredients: Serves 4-6
1 cup barley
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped spinach
A handful of almonds
Salt and pepper
Fresh squeezed lime juice *optional
Butter/olive oil *optional
Place the raw almonds in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, let sit for a few minutes, remove the skins and let the almonds dry completely. You can use a food processor or a mortar and pestle to grind the almonds. Set aside.
Rinse barley under cool running water, drain and place in a saucepan. Cover the barley with a couple of inches of water, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, add 1/2 teaspoon salt. cover partially and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender.
Add the chopped cilantro, spinach and ground almonds. Add more water if needed. Simmer on low heat for another 10-15 minutes.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stir well, taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve the ash in individual soup bowls and drizzle each serving with a generous squeeze of lime juice.