Fresh from the Farm by Katie Malich

Spring officially began at 10:23 a.m. this past Saturday, March 20. The vernal equinox generally falls on either March 20 or March 21, depending upon the phases of the moon. At the vernal equinox, days and nights are equal in length, and we begin the upswing from the short, dark days of the winter into the peak of summer.

As you visit the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market, make a point of stopping at the two lovely flower stands at opposite ends of the market. You’ll find a profusion of spring flowers to brighten your home and your life. Narccisus (or its jaunty yellow cousin, the daffodil) is a traditional spring flower. Budding branches with apple, peach and cherry blossoms are also signs of the fertile promise of spring.

The advent of spring is celebrated as the Persian New Year, or Norwaz. A moveable holiday, so-called because it follows the phases of the moon, Norwaz has been celebrated as the start of the new year for over 3000 years by Zorastrians and others in Persian and adjacent countries. Among other traditions, the new year is celebrated with special foods symbolizing life, birth and renewal. A traditional Persian New Year’s dinner includes fish and Sabrazi Polo (rice with fresh herbs). Fish is served on the new year because it brings good luck. J & P Seafoods at the Culver Boulevard end of the market has plenty of fresh caught fish and fish fillets for sale. A number of Farmers Market vendors have all the fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruit needed to make this spectacular, light but filling dinner.

Sabzi Polo Ba Mahi, or Rice with Fresh Herbs and Fish
(serves 6)
3 cups of long-grain (preferably basmati) rice
1/2 cup chopped chives or tips of small green spring onions
1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped parsley
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup or more chopped fresh fenegeek leaves
2/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp ground saffron, dissolved in 2 T hot water
3 whole cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 whole leeks, thoroughly washed, chopped (discard last 1/3 of green ends)
1 large white-fleshed fish or large fish fillet, about 3 pounds
up to 1/2 cup flour for dredging
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 bitter oranges, or 1 meyer lemon and one orange
Perfect Persian rice is fluffy with every grain distinct – the exact opposite goal of most Asian rice cooking. In order to achieve the desired separation, rinse the rice carefully and soak it in fresh water for at least an hour. Cook the rice. Combine the herbs, saffron, garlic and leeks. Set aside.

In a pot, heat 1/3 c. butter. Add a drop of the dissolved saffron. Then add 2 large spoonfuls of rice and 1 large spoonful of the herbs, garlic cloves and leeks. Repeat, arranging the rice in the shape of a pyramid. Pour over it the remaining butter, and half the saffron and hot water. Place a clean dishtowel or paper towel over the pot and cover with a lid. The presence of the towel absorbs moisture, and ensures rice will be fluffy. Cook 10 minutes over medium heat and then 50 minutes over low heat. While the rice is cooking, clean the fish (if necessary). If the fish is whole, cut into six pieces. Wash and pat dry. Dredge in a mixture of flour and salt. Brown fish in the oil in a skillet, over a low heat. Remove the saucepan of rice from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes. Open the pot and remove 2 T of the saffron-flavored rice and set it aside for a garnish. Using a spatula, gently remove the rest of the rice and set it on a platter, without disturbing the crust at the bottom of the pan. This golden crust is a prized part of the meal and is set on a separate platter. Arrange the fish on a serving platter and garnish it with the bitter-orange or meyer lemon/orange juice and the remaining saffron.

(Adopted from family recipe .)

The Culver City Farmers Market is held each Tuesday from 2 to 7 p.m. on Main Street between Culver and Venice Boulevards.

Katie Malich is looking forward to a late Persian new years celebration with friends. Better late than never is her motto.

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