NJ Dining: Everything you wanted to know about Nowruz as a foodie

March 23, 2012

The Vernal Equinox marks the start of Nowruz — an ancient festival celebrated by people of Persian descent. While many modern-day Persians are muslims, the festival is really a purely Persian/Iranian one rather than a religious one, and it has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years.

That makes Nowruz one of the oldest celebrated festivals in all of  modern civilization. In fact, the Jewish festival of Purim as well as several others may be based on Nowruz. Nowruz is also celebrated by Zoroastrians, the Bahá’í Faith and various other religions and cultures.

Officially, Nowruz marks the beginning of the new year in the Iranian calendarHowever, the main takeway for foodies is that this is one of the best times of the year to sample Persian cuisine.

I’ve written about Persian food a bit on Off The Broiler in the past, although I consider myself fairly new to it. The ingredients and flavors are exotic and very different from other cuisines in that part of the world, so it’s a real treat when you can find restaurants that do serve it.

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This year, the center for all Nowruz activity was held on March 18 at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Seacaucus, New Jersey.

The festival was held in the main ballroom, and boy was it buzzing with activity. There were merchants galore, the place was utterly stuffed with people, the room was pulsating with throbbing Iranian disco music, and there was at least four restaurants and catering businesses represented serving all sorts of Persian food.

The smells, the sounds and the atmosphere were intense.

Ready for some food fit for a Persian king? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more

Read the rest of this entry »


Make Kabobs, Not War — Or How I Started With National Meatloaf Appreciation Day and Ventured Into Political Activism

October 14, 2007

The folks over at SeriousEats have an meme going this month with meatloaf. I’ve been sort of wrestling with what kind of meatloaf to make by the deadline. I came to the realization that with my upcoming trip to Denver this next week I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything particularly cool or inventive on short notice. So in lieu of a really cool recipe, I’m going to make a political statement.

Last month’s visit to the US by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad particularly enraged me, on so many different levels — that a man, particularly a leader of a foreign nation, a man who presumably has had a higher education, and a man with an technical engineering background could say such stupid, ignorant things. A man who is sending his country on a collision course with the free nations of the world, determined to arm his extremist country with nuclear weapons and presumably with the intent to use them to destroy the only true democracy in the Middle East and to destabilize the entire region. To this I say, Make Kabobs.

Iran has been something of a pariah state for the last 30 years, and is the country everyone loves to hate, and I think with good reason. But I’m a firm believer that in order to understand a country, one must respect its traditions and culture, and we must come to the realization that it’s not the oppressed Iranian people that deserve our ire, but only its government. And we can start respecting their culture and building bridges with the Iranian people by learning about their food.

Tonight, we made some Iranian-style ground meat kebabs (Koobideh) for dinner. I have to say, these are some of the best I have made yet. To make them, I went to a local Iranian grocery store in Hackensack, NJ and picked up some spice mixes, and a bunch of other things. The recipe is not much more than taking a bunch of ground meat, mixing it with the spice mix and some chopped up vegetables, and grilling it up. Kind of like… A meatloaf!

Maybe the kabobs tasted really good not just because I love Middle Eastern food, but because I spent about an hour talking to the shop owner, making friends and learning about Iranian food customs. He taught me the proper way to make Iranian lime iced tea (made from dried Persian limes) and showed me which spices are used for what dishes, and for that I am super grateful. And because of that personal service I’m going to be a return customer for sure. This, in my opinion, is how we should conduct international relations. President Ahmadinejad could learn a lot from this shop keeper.

Below is a OTB-tweaked recipe for Iranian Koobideh Kabobs, which with a few minor modifications would make a great spicy meatloaf as well. For those of you who feel uncomfortable eating “Iranian” food, you may be interested to know the same popular dish (under different names and in slightly different spice preparations) is served in Afghanistan, and also in Israel, Iraq, the Balkans, and lots of other -Stans.

Interesting Afghan factoid: Dari, the primary language spoken in Afghanistan by about 70 percent of the population, is the same language as Persian or Farsi, what the Iranians speak.

Iranian Koobideh Peace Kabobs (Or Iranian Meatloaf)

2lbs Ground Meat (Use all beef, or a mixture of beef, veal, lamb or turkey)

1oz Package of Iranian Ground Meat Kebab Seasoning (I used the one made by Sadaf out of Los Angeles, but you can try a mixture of onion powder, salt, pepper, sumac, parsley, turmeric and cumin)

2 long hungarian-style frying peppers, or cubanelles, mixture of red and green, finely chopped. Not traditional but I thought it would add that extra “something”.

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 handful of chopped parsley

2 cloves of crushed garlic

5oz of warm water

Kabob Preparation: Dilute spices in 5oz of warm water for 5 minutes to prepare marinade. After marinade is thoroughly diluted, mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Form into ovular patties and cook on outdoor grill until desired doneness.

For meatloaf, soak two slices of bread in milk (or if you’re an Persian Jew and require a Kosher preparation, omit the milk and just use breadcrumbs) Squeeze out moisture, mix with 2 tbsp of tomato paste or ketchup and two beaten eggs. Mix with above marinated meat and spice Kabob mixture. Form in a small loaf pan, cook for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve with simple rice pilaf and salad.

Beverage accompaniments: Iced tea made from boiled dried limes, or black ceylon tea infused with crushed cardamom pods and saffron.