Sohan Asali – Walnut brittle

سوهان عسلی

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 on being a Bacheh Baboli, a kid from Babol.

Identity!

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Ferni – Rose water rice pudding

فرنی

This is Ferni, one of the most comforting and familiar dishes in Persian cuisine; a smooth and creamy dessert that is loved by both the old and the young. Though to call it *just* a dessert really doesn’t capture the essence and significance of this dish.

Ferni is so much more than a sweet rice pudding; it is a cultural phenomenon which requires more explanation. But first let’s talk about it as a culinary creation.

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Sholeh Zard – Saffron and rosewater rice pudding

شله زرد

Sholeh Zard is a beloved and popular rice pudding that has all the quintessential flavors of a Persian dessert. Fragrant Persian rice is slowly simmered in a large body of water until it begins to soften. One by one, saffron, rosewater and sugar find their way into the pot and diligently do their part to create a creamy, aromatic and vibrant rice pudding that is as familiar to Iranians as apple pie is to Americans.

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Shirini Napoleoni – Napoleon pastries

شیرینی ناپلئونی

Shirini Napoleoni, or Napoleon pastries, are popular dessertys in Iran that are closely related to the French Mille-feuilles. The French name translates to “a thousand leaves”, referencing the layers of flaky and buttery puff pastry.

Traditionally, a mille-feuille is made of three layers of puff pastry, alternating with two layers of crème pâtissière. The top pastry layer is often then covered with cream and chocolate drizzle, pastry crumbs, or various coarsely ground nuts.

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Kayk-e Baghlava – Baklava cake

کیک باقلوا

It is that time of year: once again, Nourouz is here!

With the arrival of Nourouz, the Persian New Year, every Iranian diligently gathers specific items to be elegantly displayed on their Haftseen table (see more details below).

This is a lesser-known version of baklava that takes the form of a cake, instead of the flaky filo pastry that people are most familiar with. But it has all the familiar flavors that you would expect from a Persian baklava, such as rose water, ground nuts and cardamon. In Farsi, this cake is also called Kayk-e Sharbatie, referring to the syrup that is poured over the baked cake.

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Kayk Yazdi – cardamom and rosewater cupcakes

کیک یزدی

Kayk Yazdi is to Iranians what vanilla or chocolate cupcakes are to Americans! I have yet to serve this cake (“kayk” in Farsi also translates to cupcakes in English) without generating a twinkle in the eye followed by an ear to ear smile. For anyone of Iranian origin, this familiar little treat evokes a sweet and tender emotion, prompting nostalgic stories about a distant childhood eating Kayk Yazdi in Iran.

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Saffron and pear cake with Seville orange and pistachio frosting

Cayk-e Golabi ba zaferoon

کیک گلابی با زعفرون

There is so much to this cake, but not in the way you might think. It’s a simple cake, even if it does have some unique flavors.

This cake tells the story of my life. Every ingredient, every choice, every combination, and every approach in the cooking method results from the experiences I have had in my life.

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Cardamom and rose water rice cake

Cayk-e sheer berenji

کیک شیر برنجی

It’ll be no surprise that rice dishes are cherished and consumed in Persian cuisine. Rice found its way to Iran from China via the silk road, and took root in the Caspian Sea region, where the climate and landscape are very hospitable to rice production.

Recently I’ve been reading about the wide variety of rice that exists in Iran, and have been reminded of the distinctive characteristics of the rice we encountered when we traveled north to the Caspian Sea. I’ve been quite homesick for those familiar scents and flavors! Here in the US, the Basmati rice that I purchase at the Persian grocery store is the closest I’ve found to the rice I remember eating as a child in Tehran, with its signature flavor and texture.

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Naan-e Keshmeshi – Rosewater and raisin cookies

نان کشمشی

Sometimes simplicity is the best approach, and these rosewater and raisin cookies are just that: simple. Cream the butter, add eggs and then the rest, and you’ll have these lightly rose-flavored buttery raisin cookies.

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Koloucheh, Fuman style -Sweet pastries with creamy walnut and rosewater filling

کلوچه

This beauty is another of the Caspian Sea region’s contributions to Persian cuisine. Not only is this pastry unique to this region, but also the two provinces that border the Sea – Gilan and Mazandaran – each have their own versions. Though a walnut paste is the most common filling, possible alternatives include dates, bananas and coconut.

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