Most cultures in the world have a mid-winter festival and in Iran it is Shab-e Yalda, which celebrates the longest night of the year. It takes place on the winter equinox around the 21st December and is a time when friends and family gather to feast on seasonal fruit such as pomegranates and quinces and stay up late into the night reciting famed Persian poets.
When your guests arrive
Pomegranates and walnuts are a Persian marriage made in heaven and they come together in this flavoursome appetiser from northern Iran. Olives cured in oil are best for this recipe but if you can only find olives in brine then soak them in a couple of changes of water for an hour to get rid of their saltiness. What elevates this dish is golpar is a deeply aromatic and citrussy Persian spice. You can find it in Middle Eastern stores or order it online but if you can’t track it down, then don’t worry the recipe is still delicious without it.
Start your meal
Pistachios are one of Iran’s culinary treasures and no feast or big celebration takes place without a big bowl of them decoratively placed on the table. This unashamedly rich and indulgent soup showcases their elegance and makes a great starter for any festive feast.
Carve at the table
It isn’t the holidays without a big bird roasting in the oven and this herb- and pomegranate-glazed chicken is a firm favourite in our house. The dark, sticky, juices from the pomegranate molasses give the dish an opulent wine-red hue and impart the obligatory Persian sweet and sour tang. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern herb mix of dried thyme, sesame seeds and sumac, that you can find online or in Middle Eastern stores.
Finish with fruit
This aromatic winter fruit is incredibly popular in Iran where they are peeled, sliced and eaten raw, cooked into jams or added to savoury stews. I like to poach them with warming winter spices and rosewater and then add a generous dollop of cream – the perfect way to end a Persian feast…
For more Christmas recipes, check out our compendium here