To most Persians, Sohan Asali is a beloved and familiar sweet that is a prime example of Mehmoon-Navazi, a uniquely Persian style of over-the-top hospitality!
To me, Sohan Asali is a reminder of the nearly forgotten years of 40 years ago when I lived in Iran and celebrated the Winter Solstice, called Shab-e Yalda in Farsi. Shab translates to night and Yalda is the reference to the longest night of the year.
I have not really celebrated Shab-e Yalda for many, many….many years! But this year – with everything that is going on in the world – I am finding reassurance in traditions that keep me connected to my roots. These rituals help me stay grounded and get through the dark days and long nights.
Over the past few years, I have found a new home and a sense of belonging to my Iranian community here in Seattle. One way I get to make up for the lost years of connection to my Iranian roots is to be an active member of a local organization that is dear to my heart.
Seattle-Isfahan Sister City Advocacy works diligently to promote the commonality between these two cities, and offers programs and opportunities to bridge cultural gaps. These programs and events bring more awareness of the best parts of both Iranian and American cultures. It is one of my biggest sources of pride to serve as a board member of this organization.
This year we are having to think creatively about how to safely celebrate ancient traditions and rituals. So we have planned a collaborative virtual effort with other local Iranian organizations to showcase Shab-e Yalda. This walnut brittle is my contribution to this ancient celebration.
Back to the brittle…..
My father rarely took part in day-to-day food production for our family, but when Shab-e Yalda approached he was responsible for preparing this gem of a treat. Sohan Asali is the commonest name for this walnut brittle, but in our household, we would call it Beshteh Zeek, which is a northern Iranian expression. My father would cook the brittle, and then use a river rock to crush each piece while it was still hot to create a smooth and uniform texture.
Background on me….
My parents and most of my family are from the Caspian Sea region of Iran from a charming town called Babol, where a very unique dialect of Farsi known as Baboli is spoken. Other Iranians would probably understand a word of Baboli here and there, but the dialect is distinctive enough that you definitely need a translator. As far as I know, Google has not quite come up with that feature yet!
Though I can’t speak much of the Baboli dialect, I am still capable of teasing out the core meaning when I hear my mother speak with my aunts. This brings me such joy!
To this day, after all these years of living outside of Iran, I still have such a deep pride in being a Bacheh Baboli, a kid from Babol.
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons oil or butter
- 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon rosewater
- 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a medium sized sauce pan combine sugar, honey and oil, and heat over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Be sure to stir every once in a while and keep an eye on the heat level so as to not burn the sugar.
- Reduce the heat to low, toss in the walnuts, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Stir frequently.
- The sugar mixture should be golden brown at this stage and starting to bubble.
- Add in the rosewater and saffron and continue to simmer on low heat for another minute.
- Carefully remove one spoonful of the mixture at a time and transfer to the parchment paper, leaving one to two inches between each spoonful. Allow to cool fully before handling.
- Once cooled, keep the Sohan Asali in an airtight container.