Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Persian New Year and a Vegan Tahcheen (savory saffron rice cake) Recipe!

As always, a preview of the recipe to come later in this post: 
Persian New Year: Also known as "Aid eh Norooz" is celebrated  on the first day of spring each year and lasts for 13 days. It is a celebration with various traditions, each with its own significance, and all of which make this holiday so special. This holiday is all about recognizing the good and the bad from the past year, and starting the new year in this time of growth and life (spring) with your best foot forward and a clean slate.........and we get new clothes. So, that's probably my personal favorite tradition, since I clearly don't go near a mall during the rest of the year.....clearly.
Char Shanbeh Suri: This is the name of the last Tuesday before Norooz. It is a celebration that is usually held in the evening with family and close friends. The highlight of this event is that we set up little fires, usually 3, each spaced about 15 feet apart, and then jump over them in succession. I promise this isn't dangerous at all, unless you're me, in which case most things that require decent coordination are life-threatening events.......but most people aren't me, so we're good. Anyways, the fires are very low and small, and are really just symbolic.  The fires are meant to be symbolic of the sun, and while jumping over them, persians sing a phrase that translates to "take my sickness, paleness, and problems and give me your redness, warmth, and energy". I don't know how many times you're supposed to jump over them (something tells ms 3), but I am pretty much that one person who stays outsides jumping over fires by themselves for the whole night after everyone else is done; yes, everyone is aware that I am the coolest person ever, but thanks for wondering. 
Our Soffreh Haft Seen (before we lit the candles of course).
Soffreh Haft Seen: This is the name for the special spread that is set up in celebration of the new year. There are many elements to the spread all of which are symbolic. "Haft Seen" translates to the seven "s," specifically the "s" letter "seen" in farsi. The sofreh has 7 essential elements, each that start with "seen" in farsi and have a special significance, as well as other items that are symbolic but don't necessarily start with "seen." Honestly, don't worry about the whole letter thing, it still confuses me and I was born into this culture of nosy, loud people with quirky traditions; just rest assured that there is some rhyme & reason to what goes onto our table.
Here are the items on our Haft Seen table:
1. Serkeh (vinegar): represents the value of age and patience
2. Somach (sumac): represents the color of the sunrise
3. Sib (apple): symbolizes beauty and health, as well as the element of earth
4. Senjed (dried fruit of lotus tree): symbolizes love
5. Samanoo (sweet wheat & almond pudding): symbolizes affluence
6. Sabzeh (sprouts): represents rebirth
7. Sir (garlic): represents medicine and healing
There are also additional items that are symbolic but don't start with "seen" that are part of our table:
- Tokhmeh morgh (chicken eggs): symbolize fertility
- Sekkeh (coins): represents wealth and prosperity
- Shirini (sweets): represent "spreading the sweetness of life"
- Sonbol (hyacinths): a spring flower to represent spring
- Mahi (live fish): symbolizes life
- Sham (candles, one per member of your family): represents enlightenment and life, as well as the element of fire
- Aynahmeh (mirror): symbolized the sky, and self reflection
- Golab (rosewater): symbolizing the element of water

Vegan Tahcheen (Savory Saffron Rice Cake) Recipe:

The story behind this recipe is pretty simple. This is based on a traditional persian recipe for a delicious savory saffron rice cake with a crunchy rice shell. The traditional recipe uses yogurt and eggs, and also has chicken about half of the time. I have tried to veganize it a few times, and I finally came up with a recipe that works perfectly......success!
- 2 1/2 cups dry white rice
- 1 large white onion, finely diced.
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 heaping teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 1/4 cup water (divided into 3/4 cup and 1/2 cup)
- 3 tsp the vegg powder (optional but recommended)
- 2 cups plain soy yogurt (I strongly recommend WholesoyCo brand)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 package of vegan chicken strips, chopped (I used Trader Joe's brand, but you can use any vegan chicken or firm tofu you like, or you can simply use seitan)**this is optional, many persians make this dish without chicken**
This is what your onions should look like JUST before
adding the spices and the chicken.
1. In a small pot simmer 3/4 cup water with the saffron until the threads have lost all of their color. This will take awhile, so you can put this on the back burner and let it go while you move on to the other steps, but check on it occasionally.
2. Parboil the rice. This means we will cook the rice halfway, since it will be cooked again later. Simply bring the rice to a boil and let it cook for about 4 minutes. It is done when you can bite through it but it is still definitely very al dente and not cooked in the middle. Drain the rice and rinse with water, set aside for later.
3. In a medium or large heavy bottomed, non-stick saute pan, saute the onion on medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown.
4. Add the vegan chicken if you are choosing to use it, as well as 1/2 tsp of the salt, all of the turmeric, and a dash of olive oil. Continue to sauté and mix well until everything is evenly yellowed by the turmeric (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
5. In a blender or food processor, combine 3 tsp of the vegg with 1/2 cup water.
6. In a very large bowl, combine the yogurt, blended vegg, saffron water (which should now be about 1/2 cup after reducing down), 2 tsp salt, and pepper and mix until evenly colored.
7. Now pour in the rice and the sauteed onion mixture and mix well.
8. Heat up a very large, non-stick sauce pan with straight edges on medium-high heat, and add enough of the oil to make sure the bottom is well coated.
9. Slowly add the mixture, one spoon at a time, pressing each spoonful down to flatten it slightly.
This is what I am trying to describe in step 11
10. After you have covered the entire bottom and sides of the pan in this manner, and the remaining mixture gently into the pan. Make sure it is spread out evenly. Turn down the heat to medium-low.
11. Outfit the pan's lid with a large towel or washcloth such that it is spread tightly over the entire bottom surface of the lid. Then place the lide tightly on the pan and let cook for 1.5 hours. (This is so that when you cover the rice, non of the excess moisture that would have collected on the lid drips back down and makes the rice mushy/soggy).
12. After 1.5 hours, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes.
13. Remove the lid from the pan, and place a large, round, flat serving dish (by large I mean large enough to cover the entire top of the pan) over the top of the pan, and quickly invert the pan/dish so that the rice slides out of the pan and lands on the serving dish. This really has to be done in one, swift movement, I promise the rice will slide right out.
14. Cut yourself a delicious slice and enjoy!
Pure Deliciousness

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