On Shab-e Yalda, the Iranian celebration of the winter solstice, elders take turns studying from a e-book of poetry by the celebrated 14th-century Persian poet Hafez, and interpret the rhyming couplets as a type of fortunetelling. Their households hear and inform tales by candlelight, sing, chortle and fill the home with gentle and heat whereas gathered across the korsi to graze on trays of delicately cracked clusters of pomegranates, glowing bowls of their ruby crimson seeds and funky, crisp watermelon slices.
A korsi is a big, low sq. desk that’s heated beneath — by coals within the outdated days and electrical heaters now. The desk is draped with blankets, to tuck your legs underneath to maintain them heat and comfortable, and surrounded by cushions to lean towards. Whereas the usage of a korsi shouldn’t be widespread outdoors of Iran, Iranians within the diaspora create equally inviting setups for their very own Yalda celebrations. On this longest and darkest evening of the 12 months within the Northern Hemisphere, symbolic meals, pomegranates chief amongst them, are handed round to welcome again the sunshine and longer days.
The Yalda night celebrations start with dinner, however in contrast to Nowruz meals, there isn’t a set menu. Households usually feast on regional warming stews, rice dishes, ash — thick, hearty Iranian soups — and particularly pomegranate-based dishes, akin to khoresh morgh naardooni, khoresh-e fesenjoon, and ash-e anar (pomegranate ash).
“Traditionally, the pomegranate — anar — holds particular significance in Persian tradition,” mentioned Nader Mehravari, the meals analysis fellow at San Francisco State College’s Heart for Iranian Diaspora Research. “Pomegranates originated within the area of modern-day Iran. From a spiritual side, the pomegranate is taken into account a heavenly fruit and maybe the unique forbidden fruit. Additionally it is an indication of fertility, gentle and goodness, which is why it’s so auspicious on Yalda evening as a symbolic opposing drive of darkness.”
This victory of sunshine and goodness over the forces of darkness has been celebrated by Iranians for greater than 5,000 years.
Based on Dr. Mehravari, the origins of Yalda date again to pre-Zoroastrian Mithraism, the worship of the god of the solar. It’s mentioned that Mithra was born on this present day, and “Yalda” comes from the Cyrillic phrase which means beginning or rebirth.
On Yalda, which falls on Dec. 21 this 12 months, it’s customary to take refuge from the darkness and stay indoors, and to welcome the brand new gentle by staying up so long as doable. It’s believed that, with the solar’s triumphant rise, our days will shine brighter and longer with hope and good will.
For his Northern Iranian-inspired dishes at Komaaj, a restaurant and catering firm, the Bay Space-based chef Hanif Sadr makes use of pomegranate in all its kinds — seeds, juice, molasses. This 12 months, his Yalda menu will embody an interpretation of seerabeh, a conventional Northern Iranian sauce. Seerabeh is tangy, made with walnuts, pomegranate juice (or verjuice), pomegranate seeds, garlic and herbs, and is usually served with fish.
The mixture of walnuts and pomegranates is a traditional pairing in Iranian delicacies. On this model, Mr. Sadr takes the traditional preparation of kaale (raw) seerabeh and serves it as a dressing for a crisp salad. Romaine hearts, purple carrots, radishes and orange segments present the chromatic canvas upon which the pinkish sauce is drizzled.
Khoresh morgh naardooni (pomegranate hen stew), additionally referred to as anar mosama, is one other celebratory dish to serve on Yalda. The mixture of pomegranate molasses and pomegranate seeds on this deeply flavorful stew showcases the assorted methods pomegranates can be utilized to realize layers of taste. Be aware that the style and tartness of pomegranate molasses varies by model. Earlier than cooking, ensure you style a bit of little bit of the molasses to get an concept of how tart, bitter or candy it’s.
After dinner, households snack on symbolic meals which can be positioned on the korsi. The crimson hue of pomegranates and watermelon flesh represents the rising crimson solar, and the melons, historically saved in cool basements in late summer time to final till winter, are believed to maintain sickness at bay within the coming hotter months. A bowl of ajeel — combined nuts, watermelon seeds and dried fruits — can be set on the korsi for prosperity, alongside sizzling tea, sweets and contemporary seasonal fruits like persimmons.
The entire meals, the pomegranates specifically, serves as a joyful reminder that the re-emergence of the solar, gentle, hope and goodness is just however an evening away.