I stand in the kitchen dying and foiling hard boiled eggs, as my husband tends the mixer, whipping egg whites for his world famous tiramisu. He pours us shots of Kahlua, and I sneak a saviordi to dip it in, giving late night dunking a whole new look. Although this could possibly be any typical Thursday night in our house, it is in fact the preliminaries for tomorrow, the first day of Spring, and the Persian New Year.
Nowruz, the first day of the solar calendar, is celebrated with a spread of haft seen, seven s’s, each symbolizing a different emblem. The foiled eggs will dry and find their way to my haft seen, a symbol of fertility, and finally my spread will be complete. Niloufar elucidates each representation as she unfolds the story of Nowruz in this post.
The Vernal Equinox is celebrated by almost every Persian household around one meal: sabzi polo va mahi, herbed rice and fish. My mother uses a white fish, similar to Branzino but from the waters of the Caspian Sea, sprinkled with flour and saffron, fried until crisp, with smoked rice, green with fresh chopped herbs throughout. Condiments fill the table: fresh herbs to grab by the handful, pickled garlic, and pitted olives tossed in a mixture of pomegranate molasses, fresh minced garlic, and ground walnuts. That’s to name a few.
But, when last weekend hubby and I set out for a rainy Saturday stroll downtown and were tempted to impulsively invest in a 12 pound Wild Alaskan King Salmon, it was decided that this year we’d be trading the white fish for something pink. So, this first day of spring our chalkboard menu is forgoing the expected without too harsh of a deviation. It’s reading: sumac salmon with ramp rice for two.
Ramps are a wild spring onion, with smooth, flat leaves a deep shade of green with a wonderfully pungent onion flavor and a garlicky aroma. Their season is short and thus treasured, a symbol of spring and a reason to celebrate. In Farsi known as vaalak, my mother often dressed her pot of rice with ramps, a dish native to her side of the mountains. And as she’s smuggled in a bag or two of the dry stuff for my cupboard’s back-up stash, I don’t have to fight to snag a bundle at the local farmer’s market. If you too are using dry ramps for this recipe, just reconstitute them in a bowl of water an hour prior.
You will need:
for the rice
2 cups ramps, roughly chopped- leaves, bulbs and all!
2 cups basmati rice, washed until water runs clear then soaked at least 2hrs in advance with a heavy pinch of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
for the fish
2 thick salmon fillets (1 per person), sustainably sourced, rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon sumac
Start by prepping your fish. To make the rub, mix in some salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and sumac in a medium bowl. Rub mixture onto the salmon pieces, massaging the spices in and completely coating the fish. Sexy thoughts. Set aside at room temperature until ready to cook.
Add the rice to a medium sized pot over medium-high heat. Cover with water, so that the water level is about one index finger joint above the rice, from the tip of your finger to your dip joint. Cover and bring to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of butter or extra virgin olive oil and stir in ramps gently with a wooden spoon.
Wrap the lid with a clean dish cloth, cover, and let steam over low heat. You can also use a paper towel, placing it above the rim of the pot and underneath the lid. This helps absorb the vapor and avoids condensation. The rice is ready once all water has been absorbed and grains are tender.
Now, while the rice is steaming, back to the salmon. In a heavy pan large enough to comfortably fit the salmon pieces without crowding, heat some oil over medium-high heat. Choose an oil with a higher smoking point- I like to use coconut oil. Once hot, place the fish skin side down into the pan, until crispy, about 5 minutes. Flip over with a spatula. Knock back the heat to low and continue to cook the salmon, about 2-3 minutes. While in Seattle salmon is enjoyed medium, this is a Persian dish and Persian foods are cooked through. It is recommended to cook salmon to an internal temperature of 145F (62C). But, to avoid overkilling the fish to an undesirable wasteland, I measure my fillet at its thickest part and turn of my stove once the internal temperature has neared 140, allowing it to finish cooking through while it rests.
Garnish with lime slices and serve with your favorite assortment of pickles.
Happy Nowruz and nooshe jan!