persian new year: 6 posts

Haft Seen and Hafez

Happy Nowruz! نوروز مبارک ! Nowruz is also called the Persian New Year, and it’s celebrated on the spring equinox, usually on March 20 or 21 in the Western calendar. This year, it took place on Wednesday March 20, 2019 in New York and Brussels, and on Thursday March 21 in Tehran. It’s a holiday that cuts across religious and geographical divides, and it’s celebrated in many countries around the world, especially the ones that had a link with ancient Persia. Along with Easter, it’s my favorite holiday, because it’s about rejuvenation, light and spring.

I’ve already written about the tradition of haft seen, a special spread of symbolic items that have deep significance on Nowruz. As I’ve mentioned, a book of Hafez’s poetry is an important part of haft seen. In the same spirit, I’ve selected a poem to share with you. I hope that the new year will be filled with beauty, happiness and inspiration for all.

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Persian Flower Delights

In time for Nowruz, which falls on March 20 or 21 in 2019, depending on where in the world you are, I wanted to share with you my favorite Persian floral delights. Flowers don’t only bloom in Persian gardens and adorn Qajar art and textiles, they’re also used in cuisine. Rosewater adds a bright note to savory and sweet dishes. Willow flowers flavor sugar and candy. Orange blossom accents tea blends. As good as flowers smell, their flavors are equally beautiful.

So I took a walk through my local Iranian store and came home with a whole treasure trove of floral delicacies.

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The Garden of the Seven Beauties of Nezami

For the Persian New Year and the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, I would like to take you to a secret garden with thousands of blossoms and thousands of scents. The passage will be provided by the twelfth-century Persian poet Nezami, who described this enchanting place in his poem Haft Peykar, The Seven Beauties.

Nezami (1141-1209), also known as Nizami Ganjavi, lived in the city of Ganja, the area of Azerbaijan that was part of the Persian empire until the 19th century. Like most poets of his day, Nezami had skills in various branches of arts and science. He was a philosopher, a mathematician, an astronomer, a historian, and a botanist, to name only a few fields in which he was skilled, and his marvelous erudition and knowledge of Persian literature and folklore make his works vivid.

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Persian Olives in Walnut-Pomegranate Sauce

For the symphonic complexity of Persian cuisine, with all of its rice pilafs bathed in saffron and rosewater, meats flavored with dozens of herbs and desserts made out of nuts and flowers, it’s the simplest dishes that illustrate most fully the imaginative riches of this venerable culinary tradition. It can be said that Persian cuisine is the closest relative to perfumery. It’s based on accords and notes.

One of the most popular accords is walnut and pomegranate. It’s a perfect harmony of sweet and sour, delicately smoky and fruity. You can build plenty on this base, but one of my favorite recipes is a simple blend of green olives in a walnut-pomegranate sauce. The dish is called zeytun parvardeh, which means preserved olives, but with the word “parvardeh” having the secondary meaning of “nourished,” it also makes me think of olives that have been well taken care of before they ended up on my plate. You will be too after tasting this dish.

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Haft Seen

Out of all holidays, Nowruz and Easter inspire me the most with their promise of rebirth and hope. Nowruz, which means “new day” in Persian, falls on the spring equinox (March 20th in 2016) and is celebrated for the thirteen following days. Often called Persian New Year, it’s an important celebration not only in Iran, but also Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Georgia, India, Turkey, and other lands that were once part of the political or cultural Persian sphere.

haft seen1

I received a glimpse of Nowruz through my Azeri stepmother, although my own explorations directed me further down the path. While today it is by and large a secular event, observed by people of different religions and communities, Nowruz is a 3000 year old holiday with rich symbolism and ties to ancient Zoroastrian traditions. Nowruz contains beautiful, colorful and uplifting elements, a great reason to celebrate it.

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