It is all about the flowers, spring, purity, life affirming and the cookies that my mom makes.
Persian New Year is next week. I haven’t blogged about it because I haven’t been very good about keeping up with the biggest challenge to starting the New Year, which is cleaning up your messes from the previous year.
That sounds really vague doesn’t it?
Really, the few weeks leading up to New Year are pretty much the same – clean house, settle debts, make lots of yummy food, prepare altar and get your life in order. This year, this has evaded me, partially due to travel, partially due to inertia, and mostly due to ennui.
All together it makes for a muddled end to one year and no real clarity to the next.
I think there is no way I can catch up and make it all spic and span by the Spring Equinox. I’m just going to settle for a 70% solution and call it good.
Makeshift haft-sin or altar from New year 2006. We were in Rome, so we winged it. Looks pretty darn good, IMHO.
The last Tuesday night before the New Year is a big deal in Iran – Chahar Shambeh Souri. I call it the Super bowl pre-game, the Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer special before Christmas of Persian New Year. You build a bonfire in the street, on the beach, in your backyard and you jump over the flames cleansing your health from a pallid and jaundiced to a vigorous and life affirming pink or red. In my recounting, I call it get rid of the bad juju and move on. While we can’t always to go to those great lengths of bonfire makings, we try and jump over a candle at home.
The best part of the celebration is the Persian Snack mix that goes along with the event, because gathering wood, making a fire and jumping over it takes a lot of effort.
This year's ajil, the mixture varies year to year, but its all so good.
Ajil, or snack mix is sold all over Iran and is a staple of any Iranian’s diet. Much like the GORP mixes that are life sustaining foods of coach airline flyers and hikers around the US, Ajil is nutritious and easy to make. It keeps for a long time and it is hard not to take great handfuls of it at a time. It calls for a nice mix of salty and sweet components that balance well off each other. Everyone has a little different riff on the mix, but it pretty much consists of equal proportions of various nuts and dried fruits. My mom’s mix this year consists of hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, dried chickpeas, sultanas, raisins and dried tiny figs. In the past she has added dried cranberries and apricots, but we’re more likely to stick to the standard mix these days.
Ajil for the last Wednesday before the New Year – Ajil Chahar Shambeh Souri
This is a pretty casual recipe, a little of this, a little of that, no need to be precise with measurements, but proportions are important. Nuts are all shelled; no one needs to work hard at eating this stuff.
Makes 9.5 cups
1.5 cup walnut halves
1.5 cup almonds (unsalted)
1.5 cup hazelnuts (I like them toasted, unsalted)
1 cup pistachio nuts (salted)
1 cup dried chickpeas. lightly salted (available at Middle Eastern markets)
1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 cup flame raisins (the bigger, the better)
1 cup currants
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined. The chickpeas tend to fall to the bottom of the bowl, so tell your guests to scoop all the way to the bottom to get the proportion of sweet and salty together. My TH leaves the chickpeas behind, go figure. If you have picky eaters, you can leave them out. Store leftovers in a sealed bag for up to a month, if they last that long.