World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: March, 2007

The Baker’s Passport – Iran


Aide shoma mobarak


Persian New Year, or Nowruz dates back over a thousand years and is a family event to celebrate the coming of spring. The two-week holiday begins the instant the sun crosses the celestial equator. This year it begins at  4:07 and 26 seconds PM-PST.

Norouz means "new day" in Farsi, the language of Iran, which is present day Persia. It begins on the first day of spring and is a two-week celebration of rebirth and renewal. Dating to pre-Islamic times, when much of the vast Persian Empire followed the religion of Zoroastrianism, Norouz today is the biggest holiday of the year in Iran. Schools and businesses are closed, and the well-to-do take vacations or retreat to the countryside.

Foods served during Norouz communicate spring themes. Sweet and sour flavors are meant to represent the duality of good and evil. Eggs represent fertility, and are served in dishes like the popular kuku (somewhat similar to an Italian frittata). Ash reshfte  a warm noodle soup, typically begins the new year meal. The symbolism of the noodles it is said represent wishes for the unraveling of life’s knotty problems. The main course for a typical Iranian New Year’s meal is sabzi polo hami, or green herbs and rice, served with a white fish sauteed with chopped onion, lemon juice, turmeric, salt and fresh garlic.

The number seven has been sacred in Iran for thousands of years. Significance of number seven historically was to represent the "Seven Eternal Laws", which embodied the teachings of Zarathushtra. The teachings included having a good mind, good guidance, and discovering the ultimate truth among other things.  At this time Iranians prepare a table or sofreh (a plastic sheet used as a tablecloth on the ground) on a rug with a variety of foods. Traditionally, these seven symbolic items are displayed for haft sin, the ceremonial table set for the Persian New Year.   Sofreh-ye haft-sinn or "seven dishes’ setting,"  each standing for the seven angelic heralds of life: rebirth;  health; happiness; prosperity; joy, patience, and beauty. The holiday dishes — each of which starts with the Persian letter sinn — represent the keys to a happy life. The symbolic dishes consist of sabzeh, or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil, representing rebirth. Samanu is a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding, and represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking. Sib means apple and represents health and beauty. Senjed, the sweet, dry fruit of the wild olive, represents love. It has been said that when the wild olive is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else. Seer, which is garlic in Persian, represents medicine. Somaq, sumac berries, represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil. Serkeh , or vinegar, represents age and patience.  In addition seven sweets are often included:

"On the same table many people place seven special sweets because, according to a three-thousand-year-old legend, King Jamshid discovered sugar on Nowruz (the word candy comes from the Persian word for sugar, qand). These seven sweets are noghls (sugar-coated almonds); Persian baklava, a sweet, flaky pastry filled with chopped almonds and pistachios soaked in honey-flavored rose water; nan-e berenji (rice cookies), made of rice flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with poppy seeds; nan-e badami (almond cookies), made of almond flour flavored with cardamom and rose water; nan-e nokhodchi (chick-pea cookies), made of chick-pea flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachios; sohan asali (honey almonds), cooked with honey and saffron and garnished with pistachios; and nan-e gerdui (walnut cookies), made of walnut flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachio slivers."

                                  ~~excerpted from New Food of Life, Najimieh Batmanglij

A traditional menu includes ash-e reshteh, a hearty noodle soup; sabzi polow ba mahi, fresh herb rice and fish; and kuku ye sabzi, a lighter-than-air herb souffle. As with everything at Nowruz, many foods have meaning as an example: eating the noodles symbolically representing the Gordian knot of unraveling life’s knotty problems. Before we wander too deeply into the vast waters of Iranian food culture this needs to work itself back to desserts in the Persian new year with this recipe for the traditional walnut flour cookie enjoyed at this time.

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What is Irish Soda Bread?


I’ve met a lot of soda breads in my life. Some dense, some light and some disguised as soda bread but actually, technically something else.  My mother’s annual Irish soda bread (another recipe I need to add to ask for)  was distinct made with caraway and currants with a tough exterior but tender tangy bite. Turns out it’s more of a kissing cousin to true soda bread.

First a bit of history of the bread which isn’t really as old as you may be thinking.  In it’s most simplest description it is a quick bread earning it’s name for it’s leavening agent, baking soda which was substituted for yeast. The climate being a bit damp and all. In fact it wasn’t until the 1840s that bicarbonate of soda (i.e. bread soda) as a leavening agent was introduced to Ireland.  The use of buttermilk reacts with the baking soda and carbon dioxide bubbles cause the bread to rise.  According to the Boston Globe, "traditional model of soda bread is based on four ingredients: whole – wheat flour, buttermilk, baking soda…and salt." 

If you’re traveling around the south of Ireland, you’ll hear soda bread referred to as soda cake, which is baked in the oven and served as a circular, well, cake. If you’re wandering across the north, you’ll probably hear it called farl, a variety that’s baked on the stove in a pan and cut into triangular pieces. A skillet version of soda bread farl is a central accompaniment to an Ulster Fry. It’s a hearty start to the morning but not too heart-friendly: fried eggs, fried Irish bacon, fried soda farl, fried potato farl (a 1/4-inch thick griddle-cooked potato bread), fried black pudding, fried sausages, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms. The name originates from the Gaelic word fardel, meaning "fourth part."

As to the cross in the center is made, so folklore tells us, it is either to let the fairies out or to ward of evil or more practically perhaps to allow the dough to rise and for even slicing.

3leggedoven Nuances exist partly due to families living in remote farmhouses where most kitchens had only open hearths, not ovens, so the breads that developed were baked on griddles or in large three-legged black iron pots over fragrant peat fires.

According to a few research points if your recipe, contains raisins, eggs, baking powder,  sugar or shortening, it’s a cake not a bread.  Historically raisins were imported and as a result expensive and not commonly used. The sweeter is all the better to go with a ‘cuppa at teatime. Keep in mind that soda bread with raisins is sometimes referred to as spotted dog. If you pre-soak those raisins in Irish whiskey you have sotted dog. My mother’s variation is actually a seedy bread due to its use of caraway seeds.  Brown bread is one that has been made with whole wheat flour. Variations on soda bread also can be found in, Treacle, Feckle and the Australian outback bread called Damper

A few tips when making Irish soda bread, don’t over knead the dough as it will produce bread which Irish mums call "hard as the hobs of hell." However you decide to make this bread serving it with Irish Kerrygold butter is a tasty choice.

WOP Ireland Post: Erin Go Blah No More

Recipes around the food blog world:

BlogHer RoundUp – Irish Soda Bread

Soda Bread with Candied Oranges and Dark Chocolate

Agnes O’Sullivans Irish Soda Bread via Tea & Cookies