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Celebrate Persian New Year With A Traditional Nowruz Dinner Featuring Guest Chef Louisa Shafia

This Sunday, March 18th, starting at 6 p.m., Jimmy’s No. 43 will be home to a special Nowruz (Persian New Year) dinner. It’s a Prix Fixe menu crafted by chef and author Louisa Shafia (Lucid Food). The menu will include traditional Persian foods such as Fish with Tamarind, Parsley, and Coriander; and rice with saffron and herbs. Tickets available online or pay $25 at the door (gratuity/beverages additional). We asked Louisa about the Nowrus celebration, and she was happy to pass along everything you need to know to enjoy this event to the fullest extent possible.

What exactly is Nowruz?

Nowruz is the Persian New Year festival that takes place at the spring equinox. It’s a celebration of new life, a clearing out of the dust and heaviness of the old year. Nowruz is about the earth coming back into bloom and longer, warmer days. It’s a time to have fun, eat good food, look forward to getting a tan, and get your nostalgia on with recitations of the Persian poet Hafez and the singing of traditional songs. This ancient holiday has its origins in the Zoroastrian religion, and it’s celebrated by Iranians of all faiths, wherever they are  living in the world. It’s observed by very specific rituals. People clean their houses from top to bottom and jump over bonfires to symbolically cleanse the soul. Every household grows wheat and lentil sprouts that are taken outside 13 days after the equinox and thrown into a river.

Like any good holiday, food plays a major role at Nowruz. Having a feast is half the reason for getting together! There are specific foods associated with Nowruz: noodles for untying life’s complications, fresh herbs for rebirth, eggs for fertility, and fish for life. Luckily the traditional way that these foods are prepared is delicious, and all of these are on our menu for March 18!

Persians love to cook! Why is a health traditional diet important to Persian families?

In a typical Persian meal, you’ll find fresh vegetables, beans, rice, a small amount of meat, and fruit and nuts for dessert. It’s all about freshness and cooking with what’s in season. Much like the Indian Ayurvedic diet, Persians have strict dietary rules determined by “hot” and “cold” foods, and if you get too much of one or the other, you can become sick. Processed food is rare, but fermented foods like pickled vegetables and yogurt are always present. It’s easy to be a “locavore” and make Persian food, because you can find most of the fruits and vegetables featured in Persian cuisine at the farmer’s market.

Your cookbook, Lucid Food, was a finalist for a 2010 IACP book award in the Health and Special Diet category. The IACP returns to New York at month’s end and you have a new cookbook coming out next year. Is this dinner a preview?

I don’t know if this is really a preview of my new cookbook, although I’m just feeling really inspired by Persian cuisine right now. I appreciate the romantic cultural traditions of Persian culture such as the love of poetry, a feeling of connection with the cycles of nature, and the old-world importance of hospitality and generously feeding people who visit your home. I’m interested in exploring the traditions of my culinary heritage. It doesn’t feel all that different from the seasonal and local cuisine that I’ve focused on until now, because so many Persian ingredients can be found at the area farmer’s markets: for example, rhubarb, sour cherries, peaches, plums, winter squash, beets, and fresh herbs. In Persian cooking, the fresh ingredients are set off by some flavors that are exotic to us, such as saffron, sumac, dried lime, pomegranate syrup, and rosewater. We’ll have many of these in the Nowruz dinner on Sunday.