12 Recipes for Celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year

Welcome the promise and abundance of spring with these vibrant dishes.

March 18, 2022

Related To:

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Photo By: Zahra Siadat

Zeytoon Parvardeh

When spring arrives, Iranians set the Haft Seen and cook celebratory meals for welcoming the new season. In Farsi, Nowruz means "new day," and is marked by rituals like eating traditional foods and even spring cleaning.

When you're ready to plan your Nowruz menu, start with this classic Persian marinated olive dish. It's served alongside main courses or as an appetizer or snack, and is loaded with crunchy walnuts and pomegranate seeds, minced garlic and fresh herbs. But the real game changer is pomegranate molasses. This tangy, tart condiment (which is also great in salad dressings, marinades, drinks, and many other preparations) rounds out and elevates all the other ingredients. Zeytoon Parvardeh is traditionally made with local herbs, such as choochagh, which grows wild in the fields of Gilan province in northern Iran. Mint and cilantro make a good substitute.

Get the Recipe: Zeytoon Parvardeh

Ajil

Nuts and dried fruit are traditional snacks in Iran, and ajil is essentially a Persian trail mix that’s especially popular during the new year festivities. Here are two of the many types of ajil: salty and sweet. The nuts can be shelled or unshelled, but are usually unsalted.

Get the Recipe: Ajil

Sabzi Khordan

For Iranians, the herb platter known as sabzi khordan is a delicious, refreshing companion to any meal, served as an appetizer or with the main course. The herbs can vary, depending on one’s preferences and availability, but in Iran, the most common choices are mint, basil and Persian cress. (You can substitute the latter with arugula.) This herb platter is also a common component of Armenian, Azerbaijani and Kurdish cuisines.

Get the Recipe: Sabzi Khordan

Resteh Polo

Reshteh polo is a classic Iranian rice dish that’s common for Nowruz. It’s traditionally made with reshteh polo, which translates to “noodles for rice.” Since this type of noodle is challenging to find outside of Iran, I’ve developed this recipe using vermicelli which, when toasted, closely resembles the Persian noodles. This dish is usually served with saffron chicken for the New Year.

Get the Recipe: Reshteh Polo

Morgh Zaferani

Persian saffron chicken is a classic dish often enjoyed with white rice, herbed rice or reshteh polo (Persian rice and noodles). The chicken is cooked on the stovetop with a mixture of saffron and onions until tender and fragrant. I love using whole chicken legs for this recipe because they are very flavorful and juicy, but you can always sub in chicken breasts if you prefer.

Get the Recipe: Morgh Zaferani

Saffron Lemon Branzino

Iranians love eating fish with rice to celebrate Nowruz. It’s an old tradition honored by Iranians living in other countries, too. A white fish is the classic choice; both branzino and Mediterranean sea bass (lavaraki) work well. The fish is flavored with saffron and lemon and stuffed with an onion, walnut, herb and pomegranate molasses filling. Sabzi polo (Persian herb rice) is the perfect accompaniment.

Get the Recipe: Saffron Lemon Branzino

Keyk Sharbat Zaferan

Saffron syrup cake is a special cake with so much flavor. A light sponge is soaked in a syrup infused with saffron, rosewater and cardamom, resulting in a delightfully fragrant confection. The slices are beautiful served as is, but topping them with coconut, pistachio and rose petals makes for a stunning presentation. Make sure both the cake and syrup are cooled completely before combining them.

Get the Recipe: Keyk Sharbat Zaferan

Sabzi Polo With Lettuce Tahdig

This fragrant, herb-laced steamed rice dish is typically served with fish during the Persian new year, but it’s also great anytime with saffron chicken, kuku sabzi (Persian herb frittata) and lamb. Persian-style rice is known for its crispy bottom, or tahdig. It’s everyone’s favorite part. Adding a layer of lettuce to sabzi polo is commonplace in Iran. You can also steam a few heads of garlic with the rice. The perfectly soft and mellow cloves are wonderful squeezed onto the dish before or after it’s served. A nonstick pot helps make for an easy release and impressive tahdig.

Get the Recipe: Sabzi Polo with Lettuce Tahdig

Ash Reshteh

This classic Persian herb and noodle soup is traditionally served on the 13th day of the new year, when Iranians usually go on a picnic with friends and family. However, it’s a satisfying, hearty choice whenever it’s cold outside. In addition to spinach, cilantro and parsley, the thick soup is packed with chickpeas, pinto beans and lentils. (It’s common to cook the legumes in advance.) Kashk — a cooked fermented yogurt — is the standard topping. It’s time-consuming to make, though, so plan accordingly. Alternatively, you can use store-bought kashk or sour cream with some salt stirred in.

Get the Recipe: Ash Reshteh

Kashk

Made from fermented yogurt, kashk has a creamy, rich texture and unique sour and slightly salty flavor. It is usually stirred into a dish or added as garnish, as with the Persian soup ash reshteh. The dairy product goes by many names throughout the Middle East and Central Asia: It's known as qurut in Azerbaijan, keş peyniri in Turkey, and gurt in Turkmenistan. Kashk was originally made from the liquid remaining from churned yogurt. However, since few home cooks have access to such remnants, these days homemade kashk is made by cooking yogurt mixed with water until it thickens. Some cooks start with yogurt that has been left to ferment at room temperature. This recipe omits that step but still produces an appropriately sour and tangy result.

Get the Recipe: Kashk

Nan-e Berenji

A staple during Nowruz festivities, these delicate cookies are flavored with rosewater and cardamom and have a texture similar to shortbread. Made with rice flour, nan-e berenji are also gluten-free. Traditionally, one forms balls from the dough, then presses them with a Persian cookie stamp that leaves a curved ridged design on top of the cookie, but you can achieve a similar effect using a spoon. Be sure to let the dough fully rest in the fridge so the flour has time to hydrate and the flavors can meld.

Get the Recipe: Nan-e Berenji

Shirini Gerdooyi

Ground walnuts are one of only four ingredients in these quick and easy Persian walnut cookies, which are popular sweets for celebrating Nowruz. The cookies are deliciously chewy on the inside and a bit crispy around the edges. Since they keep well for over a week, they're perfect for making ahead of time.

Get the Recipe: Shirini Gerdooyi