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Nowruz, the Persian holiday celebrating the new year, is observed in Iran and parts of Western and Central Asia. It marks the first day of the vernal equinox. Najmieh Batmanglij, author of eight cookbooks on Iranian cuisine that are widely celebrated among the Iranian diaspora, reminisces about her Iranian childhood while cooking Persian new year soup with Jeffrey Brown.
Today is not only the first day of spring, in astronomical terms, the vernal equinox. It is also the Persian New Year, or Nowruz. Celebrations are taking place all over the world.
Now Jeffrey Brown samples the festive menu of Nowruz with recipes from a new cookbook by a leading Persian chef.
It's part of Canvas, our regular arts and culture series.
Tell me what you're doing here. What's going on?
I'm making noodle soup.
You should have noodle soup for the Persian New Year.
Noodles represent a part of life.
Oh, so there's a lot of meaning to those noodles?
Yes. Actually every dish I'm making, there are some — represents something. It means something.
The Washington, D.C., home and kitchen of celebrated cook Najmieh Batmanglij, as she prepares a special meal.
I'm making traditional Persian New Year meal, and I'm making fish and spring lamb, because some parts, we don't eat spring lamb for the Nowruz.
I love what I'm doing. And I'm so lucky. And I cook with all my being, and I cook with love, and I love to have people that I care for.
Najmieh is the author of eight cookbooks, including "Food of Life," a bible of sorts for Persians living abroad.
This is about three pound of spinach. If you hold this for me.
I usually make it because one of my sons is vegan. This is a trend these days. Kids, they don't want to eat meat. So we're going to put about three pounds of spinach.
She's also a personal friend. I have been lucky to dine at her table a number of times over the years, and hear stories of her growing up in Tehran.
I'm just making it the way my mother made it. She use always fresh noodles.
I remember you telling me that you didn't cook as a girl, right?
Your mother wouldn't let you in the kitchen?
Yes. I always love to cook, but my mother wouldn't allow me in the kitchen. She would say, go to university, get your education. You will have plenty of time to cook.
And she was right.
Najmieh studied in the United States, and on graduation…
I returned to Iran, and she allowed me into her kitchen.
She said — finally. She said, come and learn from me.
After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, she and her husband, Mohammad, fled, first to France, one of the few countries that didn't require a visa.
I was very homesick and nostalgic. I was pregnant when we left Iran, and I was alone. I didn't speak French. So I need to connect with my roots. I need to heal myself.
Healing that came through cooking.
I think, when you're away from home, that aroma of your childhood kitchen is very important. You want to connect with that aroma.
There are fresh noodles too in there.
This is the noodle soup. This is fried onion. You see how lovely it is. It's garlic. And going to put some kashk. This is kashk.
Mohammad Batmanglij, a helpmate and taster in the kitchen, also fosters Persian culture through his work as a publisher of ancient and contemporary Persian literature, in addition to Najmieh's cookbooks.
Their new one, "Cooking in Iran," is the most ambitious, based on her visits to the country starting in 2015, after more than three decades of exile.
You have done many books over the years, but, for this one, you really wanted to return to Iran.
For the last 35 years, I cooked outside of Iran. But I had this fantastic dream to go back to Iran, to travel throughout Iran.
I wanted to go from one region to another region. I want to cook with the cooks. I want to share tables.
Hailed by The New York Times as an engrossing visual feast, and one of the best cookbooks of 2018, the book captures the sheer diversity of the country, its population, geography, and cuisine that Americans rarely have a chance to see or taste.
One little flavor for fish.
How do you decide what to include in a book? You have to narrow it down, I assume, huh?
What I wanted to present in this book, not repeat the same thing, unless the recipe was a little bit different from my original one. That was important. And I wanted to show that Persian food is not just kabob.
Americans have one idea of Iran, which is mostly based on the politics between the two countries.
How important was it to you to show a different side?
People of the country are not representing the government.
Iranian people are very hospitable, very kind, very educated. And I wanted to share that side of Iran. What touched my heart the most were the women of Iran. Nothing would happen without Iranian women as the backbone of the country, I think.
Insight into the country, and a great meal.
My name is Najmieh Batmanglij. Happy Nowruz, or happy new year, to everyone.
What a treat.
And on Instagram, we have a Persian New Year recipe for you to try at home, a yogurt and Persian shallot dip.
You can find us on Instagram @NewsHour.
Watch the Full Episode
In his more than 30-year career with the NewsHour, Brown has served as co-anchor, studio moderator, and field reporter on a wide range of national and international issues, with work taking him around the country and to many parts of the globe. As arts correspondent he has profiled many of the world's leading writers, musicians, actors and other artists. Among his signature works at the NewsHour: a multi-year series, “Culture at Risk,” about threatened cultural heritage in the United States and abroad; the creation of the NewsHour’s online “Art Beat”; and hosting the monthly book club, “Now Read This,” a collaboration with The New York Times.
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