The Spring equinox (or Autumn equinox for the southern hemisphere) falls on around March 20th each year, one of only two times in the year that the Sun is directly above the equator and day and night are the same length in time. The Spring equinox also marks the Persian new year, called Nowruz (which literally translates to ‘new day’.); the day that Persians around the world celebrate the first day of the solar calendar. Nowruz is the opportunity to celebrate a fresh start and welcome Spring, and is a time to reset and prepare for the year ahead. One significant tradition of Nowruz is ‘haft-sin’ (‘seven S’s’), a table set up to welcome new life using symbolic items starting with the letter ‘S’ that all denote a particular meaning.
The items included on the table can vary, but usually include: Seeb (an apple, for health and beauty), Seer (garlic, for health), Serkeh (vinegar, for patience), Sonbol (hyacinth, for spring), Sabzeh (sprouts, for birth), Sekeh (coins, for prosperity) and Samanu (pudding, for fertility). Haft-sin tables are usually decorated with bright colours and candles, mirrors (to reflect), goldfish (for life), painted eggs (for fertility), poetry books, the Quran and fruit—the tables are the centre of the celebrations for the day, so they need to look festive!
Another big part of Nowruz is, of course, food. Iran is a country rich in culture, so no celebration is complete without a spread of delicious stews, rice, salad and pickles; think a tonne of herbs, spices, salt and heat.
In this edition of the series Dine in Brunswick, I’m going to take you through a typical Nowruz feast and show you how easy it is to use local food to help you celebrate a fresh start or a new change, or just to bring in the new year with friends and family. For Nowruz, Persians typically make sabzee polo ba mahi (herbed rice and fish) and kookoo sabzi (herb fritters), with a side of torshi (pickles), mast-o-khiar (cucumber and mint yoghurt) and shirazi salad. If you’re not a fan of fish, I’ve also included a little how-to on a super simple khoresh-e-morgh (chicken tomato stew). That’s not all, though. For dessert, we’ll be having sholeh zard (saffron and rose pudding). I hope you’ve cleared out your fridge for the mountains of leftovers you’ll have, and you’re ready to join me as we journey through the streets of Brunswick to find the local shops that stock the perfect ingredients to help you cook up a feast for Nowruz.
On this occasion, you will be able to find all the ingredients you need from only three shops in Brunswick. I will take you to CERES, Hyper Panda SuperMarket, and Seafood Paradise (in case you choose to make the sabzi polo with fish!).
It may sound strange that I’m suggesting a nursery as your first port of call, but hear me out. Persian food is full of fresh ingredients and relies on vegetables and herbs for just about every meal. Instead of having to buy bunches of herbs every time you cook, why not try growing them yourself? Ceres is a local sustainability centre, urban farm and nursery located in Brunswick, right next to the Merri Creek.
The nursery is well-loved and carefully managed, housing a massive range of fresh fruit trees, seedlings, herbs and natives. You’ll need around a cup each of coriander, parsley, dill and chives for the sabzee polo ba mahi and kookoo sabzi so plan your trip well enough in advance to get a head start on growing. The staff at Ceres are incredibly knowledgeable and always willing to lend a helping hand, and you can stop by for a coffee at the café while you’re there. They even grow their own produce on their market farms, so if you’re not confident in your green thumb you can always pick up some fresh produce at their organic grocery, including cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes and lemons for the shirazi salad, and cauliflower, carrots, cabbage and celery for the torshi.
Hyper Panda Supermarket
If you only make it to one place to shop for ingredients for Persian food, make sure it’s Hyper Panda. Located on Sydney Road—right next to A1 bakery—it’s about as convenient as Persian supermarkets get. With shelves packed about as high as they can go it can be a little daunting walking in, but you won’t regret it. Here you’ll find things like cherry jam, rosewater, pickles, dried herbs and spices, as well as Persian sweets, nuts and desserts. I like to spend enough time in each aisle, as there are some things you’ll find here unique to Hyper Panda that you won’t see in most other Middle Eastern grocers (like high quality Persian tea, dried limes, and saffron sugar crystals).
Grab some basmati rice and turmeric for the sabzee polo ba mahi, barberries for the kookoo sabzi and sabzee polo ba mahi, and some tomato paste for the khoresh-e-morgh. Pick up some dried mint for the shirazi salad, torshi and mast-o-khiar, dried parsley, coriander seeds and cumin seeds for the torshi (if you’re not making your own pickles, grab a jar from the huge range they have available) and rosewater, jasmine rice and saffron for the sholeh zard. While you’re there, treat yourself to a pomegranate lavoshak (fruit leather). You won’t regret it.
I’ll be honest with you, finding good seafood in Brunswick can be hard. I usually head to the Coburg Market on a Saturday or go to The Fishmonger’s Son in Carlton if I’m feeling fancy. If you want to strictly keep to Brunswick, however, Seafood Paradise in Barkly Square is the place to go. They’ve got an impressive range of fresh seafood, and the staff there are really great at helping you find the best fish for whatever meal you’re cooking. For the sabzee polo ba mahi, go for a mild tasting white fleshed fish—something like halibut, flounder or even blue grenadier.
Who would have thought that making a Persian feast fit for a celebration could be so easy, all without having to leave the suburb? The great thing about Persian food is that it calls for simple ingredients that can be used across many meals. So, once you have your pantry stocked with staples like saffron, barberries and dried herbs, cooking is simple!
Estimated total cost: $25-$30
- Use this recipe for sabzee polo ba mahi (I omit the ‘fish spice’ and just use turmeric, pepper and salt, and fry about half a cup of barberries in butter on low heat for a couple of minutes to sprinkle on top of the rice when serving) and this recipe for kookoo sabzi.
- Use this recipe for the mast-o-khiar, this recipe for the torshi and this recipe for the shirazi salad.
- Use this recipe for the sholeh zard
And finally, head to the recipe section of the Dine in Brunswick series here for a simple khoresh-e-morgh recipe.
Have you got a cuisine in mind that you’d like me to cover? Or even a particular recipe that you’re finding hard to source ingredients for? Let me know in the comments below!
If you are interested in more recipes or want to learn more about local stuff happening in Brunswick read more of our articles: