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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For as long as I remember these delicate and brittle little cookies were present at the tables and spreads of a Persian home. Most significantly these cookies would have their place at the Nowruz table (Persian New Year), which would also meet the company of a variety of other sweet treats, dried nuts, and fruits. These cookies are so popular among Iranians that you typically ended up just buying them from the neighborhood bakery. I actually don’t ever remember my mom making them!
Valentine’s day has come and gone and I am just getting around to posting this cake recipe on the blog. To state the obvious, Valentine’s day was not always a day that was celebrated in Iran and there was certainly no cake to go with it! But as times have changed, so have some of the traditions and rituals around these holidays.
Sweetened basil seed, rose water, and lime sherbet
Before there was sugary and processed soda (can you even remember that time?!) there was sharbat in Iran. Sharbat is a homemade beverage that has 3 main components: acid, sweetener, and flavor. For the acid, citrus juice or vinegar is used to bring forward the tartness element; typically honey, sugar, or grape molasses is used for the sweetener. As in all of Persian cuisine, flavor choices are endless, ranging from fresh herbs to rose water/orange blossom water to preserved fruits.
I have such fond memories of my mother making these tasty treats as a young child. Qhotab is traditionally deep fried (though, I bake mine), creating a delicate and flaky textured crust with creamy and aromatic cardamom and rose water walnut paste on the inside. I can still recall the scent of the oil and the sweet pastry as a 4-year-old in the Amirabad region of Tehran, in our first home!