At the start of this year’s Norooz holiday, I went back to my home town to cook a dinner with the wonderful folks at Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia. Lots of special people were there, including high school friends and family members. There were Iranians and Iranian Americans, “halfsies” like me, and people who knew nothing about Norooz, but came because the dinner sounded fun.
It was a great night not only because of the guests, but the awesome staff at Zahav. These people take food really seriously, but they also know how to have a good time, not least of all Chef Mike Solomonov.
It seemed strange at first to some people that we were celebrating an Iranian holiday at an Israeli restaurant. But Chef Mike uses Persian flavors and techniques (like tahdig, above) on his menu often, influenced by the many Iranian Jews who’ve immigrated to Israel, whose cooking traditions have become a part of the colorful tapestry of Israeli food. I think by celebrating Norooz at Zahav, we helped to shed light on the long history of Jews in Iran. But also, to show people that there’s more to Iran than what you read about in news headlines.
Norooz lasts for thirteen days, and today is the last day. It’s customary to spend this day outside, picnicking. You’re supposed to throw out the sprouts that you grew for the Norooz sofreh in moving water, and bid adieu to any bad energy lingering from the old year. Luckily we’re having a gorgeous day here in NYC, so I’m about to head back outside. May your New Year and your spring be happy and prosperous!
Photos by Felicia D’Ambrosio!