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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Morgh Shekam Por – Saffron-glazed stuffed chicken with fruits and nuts

مرغ شکم پر

Morgh Shekam Por is a traditional stuffed chicken that is packed with a wide range of flavors, textures and colors. Chickens – often the smaller varieties that have the best flavor – are marinated in citrus juice, spices and oil, and then filled to the brim with the stuffing.

Shekam Por is an endearing Persian term used when vegetables, meats or fish are stuffed. In Farsi, Shekam means belly and Por means full, so Shekam Por is what I am hoping you will experience after preparing this dish!

In the northern part of Iran by the Caspian Sea, it is quite customary to use ducks instead of chicken, in which case the name of the dish changes to Morghabi Shekam Por.

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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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Khoresh Kadu Halvaee – Butternut squash and golden plum stew

خورش کدو حلوائی

For me, there is something so special about this dish as it marks the beginning of Autumn by celebrating the season’s bounty.

Every year I find myself eagerly looking forward to the arrival of Fall and its seasonal produce: from an amazing variety of squashes including the sweet and tender butternut squash, to fruit like persimmons, quince, and pomegranate, and above all the extraordinarily flavorful Persian golden plums, known as Aloo Zard. These plums are golden in color and have a unique tart flavor which wins the hearts of all Iranians.

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Javahar Polo – Jeweled rice with saffron chicken

جواهر پلو

Javahar Polo (jeweled rice in Farsi), also known as Morasa Polo, is truly the ultimate rice dish that is often served at Persian New Year celebrations or at weddings. But you certainly don’t need to wait for spring equinox or a marriage proposal to treat yourself to this gem (all puns intended!) of a dish.

Persian food is a complex balance of abundance, color, flavor, design and presentation. No other dish matches the sophistication and elegance of this dish and the care given to its presentation. The sparkling ruby color of the barberries is enhanced with glistening, exquisite saffron. Accompanied by emerald green Iranian pistachios, sweet and tenderized carrots and caramelized orange peel, this dish is truly a visual and gastronomic feast.

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Reshteh Polo – Rice layered with noodles, raisins and dates

رشته پلو

Reshteh Polo: another signature Persian dish that blends familiar ingredients and brings them together in an unpredictable and distinctive way!

This rice dish has it all! Dates and raisins; onions and toasted noodles; saffron and rose water; cinnamon and turmeric. Finished off with a crispy bread Tahdig, and served with slow cooked lamb shanks in a rich broth to bring it all together! Though this dish can be consumed year-round, it is most often associated with Persian New Year celebration.

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Khoresh Hulu – Saffron chicken and peach stew

خورش هلو

While everything about this dish appears striking and eye-catching, it is a relatively easy and simple Persian stew. This Khoresh is consumed primarily in the summer season when fresh peaches are abundant in Iran.

The chicken first simmers slowly in a saffron broth, along with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a touch of sweetness. Then, fresh but not overly ripe peaches are lightly caramelized with a touch of oil and placed on top of the chicken for the last few minutes of cooking. Each cook choreographs the dance of sour and sweet flavors to suit their family’s taste preferences.

While the peaches are the focal point of this stew, a fair amount of good quality saffron makes this dish shine and come to life!

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Khoresh Seeb – Beef and yellow split pea stew with apples

خورش سیب

Khoresh Seeb is a highly adaptable stew whose stars are the firm and tart apples (Seeb in Farsi) that are gently sauteed in butter or ghee and then placed on top of the stew as it finishes cooking.

The base of this dish is made with beef and yellow split peas, patiently cooked in a turmeric and tomato sauce which by itself is often called Gheymeh. Gheymeh is not only served alongside fried or roasted potatoes, but is also used as a decorative topping on various dishes such as Aash.

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Albaloo Polo – Sour cherry rice with meatballs

آلبالو پلو

Albaloo Polo has it all: sweet, sour, salt, carbohydrates, protein, soft, crispy, and bright uplifting colors – all packed into one surprisingly humble dish. It is a delicious and flavorful meal and a true gastronomic experience that satisfies all the different taste buds in your palate. Albaloo is the Farsi word for Morello cherries, which with their distinctive dark red skins and intense flavor are highly prized in Persian culture and cuisine.

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Adas Polo – Turmeric rice with lentils

عدس پلو

So much of this dish is familiar and comforting, not just to Iranians but also in many cultures around the world. This definitely makes it to most Persians’ top 10 list of favorite rice dishes, albeit under different regional names and slightly different cooking methods.

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