I’m quiet excited as I write this blog on a rainy autumnal day in Bath. This blog is part of a global Persian / Irani food bloggers recipe roundup. This is the second one we are doing, after the success of our Nowruz recipe roundup initiated by Sanam, of My Persian Kitchen.
At the bottom of this post, you’ll see links to the other delicious recipes and accompanying stories relating to the ancient Irani festival of Mehragan. It has been a lovely way to connect with people of similar interests and make friends. I’ve met two of the ladies from this group, in Iran: Azita from Fig & Quince and Fariba from ZoZo Baking. As it happened we were in Tehran at the same time this spring. It’d be great to think that one day we can all get together each with a pot of food and stories to share.
It would seem the origins of Mehragan are a bit of a mystery to most Iranies. Some argue it is an observance of the equinox; others, the honouring of the deity Mitra. When I asked elderly relations and friends about it, they didn’t recall particular traditions around this event. It may be that this festival was forgotten in Iran post-Islam from the Sassanid period circa 7th Century. Having said this, a small number of zoroastrians continued to celebrate it. A history professor friend of the family mentioned that Mehragan was reintroduced to common parlance as a consequence of the extravagant spectacle the last Shah put on in the 1970s at Takhteh Jamshid/ Persepolis.
Either way, it has changed through time with the changes to the Irani calendar, language and religion. It doesn’t seem to coincide with the autumn equinox, which is around the 20th of September, or the first day of the 7th month, Mehr – the first day of school – in the Irani calendar. The word mehr means loving kindness. Mehri is a girl’s name, whilst Mehrabon, meaning to be kind, is also, a boy’s name.
Continuing on the etymological theme, it’d be quite nice to think it was a sort of valentine. Love is in the air, after all ……well, it certainly is for spiders. You may notice there are lots of beautiful webs shimmering in the low sunlight of autumn, or more of them in your bath. This is the time of year they are out looking for a mate! Staying with critters, it is also the time I change around my wardrobe and find holes in my clothes – pesky moths make me very cross.
I’ll come back to the topic in hand now. Autumn in Iran comes all of sudden. There is a phrase in farsi, etedal hava, which roughly translated, is equilibrium of weather – that is, not too cold and not too hot. With Iran, being a mostly mountainous and arid country, human habitations are on river banks, usually in the valleys. These valleys turn from the verdant green of summer into a blaze of autumn glory. In years past, when I’ve visited Iran, I’ve been fortunate enough to to be taken on picnics during this time. Below are photos of Igol, north of Tehran, and Daryan Valley, northwest of Tabriz. We found an eeda senjed oleaster tree in Daryan, the fruit of which we put on our haft sin to signify love.
Humans have observed and honoured these natural phenomena since the dawn of our history. They are celebrated in different ways around the earth and in this season most celebrations centre around harvest: giving thanks for what has come, hoping for a future of good harvests, and storing up gluts for the winter.
Though we didn’t mark Mehragan specifically, in our home, this was a time of harvesting and preserving. We’d go to the bogh in Osku and collect fruit, herbs and vegetables from the orchards and vineyards. The grown ups would be busy sorting, drying, pickling, brining and lavashak (fruit leather) making. The house would smell of herbs, vinegar and boiling sweet jams. Lots of glass, clay and plastic vessels would be filled with treats. Some were for special occasions such as pickled grapes to be eaten on Shab-e-Yalda, the longest night, apricot jam with the kernel inside for guests, and pickled stuffed aubergines to eat with koofteh. Then there were the everyday jams like grated apple or my favourite pickle, liteh, which I share with you below. I suppose the greeting for this festival would be Mehragan bayramuz mobarakdi, in Azeri?
I’ll finish as I started, in Bath. We are lucky in having Westonbirt Arboretum a few miles away. Having lived in Ontario for a couple of years, I concede fall colours are more spectacular there; however, I watch the virginia creepers on the buildings in the city here and as they turn red I know my annual trip to Westonbirt is due. Below are a few photos of previous years frolicking amongst the trees. Flowers give way to leaves, as Rumi says. Such beautiful decay, going out in a blaze of glory. Click on the link and sink into the music (autumn leaves).
Leeta turshisi Torshi-e-Liteh Tangy Aubergine Pickle
This recipe makes 1500ml of pickle which is about 7 – 8, 8 oz or 220g jars.
590g aubergines – peeled
374g / 2 yellow peppers – deseeded and chopped
200g 1 large apple – grated
300g tomatoes – grated (easy way to get skin off without having to blanch)
300g carrots pealed and chopped
4 – 5 large cloves of garlic or alter to your taste
Pinch of hot chilli flakes or a few small whole chillies pierced
Vinegar – I used organic white grape vinegar
Salt & pepper
Get everything you need to make this together: that is, the ingredients washed and drying, the seasoning, jars, lids, food processor, grater, knife, chopping board etc.
If you have your own technque of sterilising jars then do as you do, but if you don’t, this is what I do for my pickles made with vinegar. Make sure your jars are clean, then put them in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes on 180 c. Boil the lids and then take them out carefully and leave them to dry without touching the inside. They need to be cool when you fill them.
I started by covering the chopped pealed aubergine in a non reactive pot and bringing it to simmer and letting it cook down for 20 minutes. I used all organic vegetables as I find they give off less water. Whilst the aubergine was on, I prepared the other vegetables. Using a food processor, I vuzhed (technical term, meaning processed) the carrots, pepper and garlic as they were the hardest. Then I added the grated apple, tomato, and now cooked and slightly cooled aubergine. The aubergine didn’t have much liquid once it had cooked. Having vuzhed all of them together I added sea salt, a good grinding of black pepper and the chilli. I also added another 50 ml of vinegar and tasted it. It shouldn’t be too wet but not too dry either. It’s meant to be tangy but flavoursome with the garlic so it needs more seasoning. Add some now. I poured the mix into a large jug and decanted into the jars leaving 5mm margin. Make sure there are no air bubbles in the jar; you could use a sterilised knife to burst them. Then I top with vinegar and wipe rims clean of any pickle before I put the lids on and bask in my handiwork.
The beauty of this pickle is you can eat it straight away. It keeps for at least 6 months in a cool dark place and once opened, I keep it in the fridge. I hope you enjoy it and it becomes a family favourite for you too.
Nooshe jan نوش جان
Wishing you a happy Mehragan with loving kindness and a fabulous harvest both in food and life
Please find below lovely recipes from my foodie friends around the world
Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh | Sour Caramelized Almonds
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad
Bottom of the Pot: Broccoli Koo Koo (Frittata)
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh |Marinated Olives with Pomegranate & Walnuts
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi | Persian Lamb & Herb Stew
Fae’s Twist & Tango: Rice Meatballs | Kufteh Berenji
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew
Fig & Quince: Festive Persian Noodle Rice & Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Yummies for Mehregan
Honest and Tasty: Loobia Polo | Beef and Green Bean Rice
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto | Persian Lentils Risotto
Lucid Food: Sambuseh
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice
Noghlemey: Parsi Dal
Parisa’s Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice
Sabziblog Ashe Mast
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh | Yellow Lentils Stew
Spice Spoon: Khoresht-e-bademjaan | Aubergine Stew
Turmeric & Saffron: Ash-a Haft Daneh | Seven Bean Soup
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh | Rice with Fave Beans and Lamb
ZoZoBaking: Masghati | Persian Scented Starch Fudge