Right around March 1 of every year, I place a cup of lentils or wheat in water and sprout them in anticipation of Persian New Year, also called Norouz. The sprouts grow into a tall green grass that is symbolic of rebirth and one of the elements on the ceremonial table spread set up for Norouz. The spread is called “Sofreh Haft Sinn” which translates as the “table of the seven S’s,” with each symbolic element starting with the letter S (in Farsi). There are actually way more than seven things on the table and not all start with S. Today’s blog isn’t so much about Trader Joe’s as it is about family traditions, but of course my hyacinths were bought at Trader Joe’s as well as everything from the wine to the apple to the garlic…
I started this tradition when my kids were little and we’d shoot for a couple of the items, but in more recent years, the table has been pretty complete! Here’s a quick rundown of what goes on the Haft Sinn table:
- Sabzi: sprouted lentil or wheat symbolizing rebirth
- Sibb: apple symbolizing beauty and health
- Sumac: ground sumac berry symbolizing the sunrise and good triumphing over evil (I believe this comes from Zoroastrian times)
- Serkeh: vinegar (originally wine) symbolizing age, patience, and wisdom
- Samanu: wheat pudding symbolizing the sophistication of cooking
- Seer: garlic symbolizing medicine
- Sekkeh: coins symbolizing prosperity and wealth
- Senjed: the fruit of the lotus tree symbolizing love
- Other elements include esphand (wild rue) burned in a brazier to ward away the evil eye, spring flowers like hyacinth (sonbol), holy books and books of poetry (from Persian poets such as Hafez and Rumi), colored eggs symbolizing fertility, a mirror symbolizing self-reflection, candles for each child in the family, rosewater for cleansing, sweets to bring a sweet year, an orange floating in water symbolizing the Earth floating in space, and a goldfish for Pisces. I’m sure I missed something but that’s the bulk of it!
On the 13th day after the new year, the day is spent outdoors and the clump of sabzi (sprouts) is thrown into a river or other running water. As they grow in the house, the sprouts are thought to absorb all the negativity of the year which then gets washed away on that 13th day. Last year, my son still didn’t seem too embarrassed to head down to the beach with me and stand there as I waded in and had the waves carry away our bundle of sprouted grass. We’ll see how he feels this year at age 13…
Persian New Year falls right on the vernal equinox (the first day of spring). This year, that’s on Saturday, although some celebrate on Sunday depending on location. We’ll have a traditional noodle soup and maybe some Persian desserts.
Here is a Persian Rice Cookie recipe that was a big hit at our last cookie exchange.
Rice cookies are a classic Persian cookie and have an amazingly delicate and unique crumbly texture. The flavors come from cardamom, rosewater, and butter and the texture is due to the use of white rice flour. The extra bonus for those who avoid wheat is that these cookies are gluten-free.
Persian Rice Cookies
- 2 1/4 cups white rice flour
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened at room temp
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 cup rosewater
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with a Silpat; otherwise, oil the cookie sheet and line with wax paper.
- In a bowl, beat together the egg, sugar, and butter.
- Add the rice flour and cardamom to the mixture and start to combine into a dough. Drizzle in the rosewater and work it in. Add more flour if necessary to result in a dough that does not stick to your hands. Don’t overhandle the dough because of the butter- if you do and starts to get really soft, stick it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- Take pieces of dough and roll into a ball the size of a large egg yolk. Place it on the cookie sheet. Repeat until sheet is filled. Using a thimble (none in this house!) or a small cap (that I can find!) make patterns on top of the cookies. Sprinkle with poppyseeds.
- Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes. The cookies should be white when they are done – if they are browning on the edges, take them out right away.
- Cool the cookies completely before attempting to remove them (They will fall apart when warm so don’t mess around with them until they cool!)
Rice flour can be found at nearly any grocery nowadays (try places like Whole Foods). I used the rice flour from Bobs Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills which are both very popular lines. If you have access to a middle eastern grocery store, you’ll find more finely ground rice flour there which is better for this recipe. I like the graininess of rice flour, personally, so I don’t mind using a slightly coarser flour. While you’re at your middle eastern grocer, pick up a bottle of rosewater. When you buy rosewater, you want distilled rosewater, not diluted rose oil – check the label. At middle eastern stores, you’ll find the right one.